Sure, you know that French is one of the top languages on the internet.
You know there are countless online French resources to explore.
But how do you get there?
How do you explore le Web like a native French speaker would?
When you want to research a particular topic in French or even make travel plans using actual French (or Swiss, or North African) websites, where do you begin?
It may seem like Google rules the world.
But there are actually dozens of independent search engines you can choose from, including several powerful French ones.
We will introduce you to the most useful French search engines and help you decide which one might best fit your research interests.
Why Not Just Google It? Benefits of Using a French Search Engine
Sure, you could just type a French word, question or phrase into your Google search bar and you would probably get some results in French. You could even change your language and region search settings in Google to French.
While those are helpful tricks to know, a French search engine is your best bet to access authentic French-based websites.
For one thing, even if you change your Google search region to France, Google still takes your location into account when showing you results. Depending on what you search for, you are likely to get .com sites mixed in with the French .fr sites (more on that below).
Furthermore, as you will see below, French search engines offer you more than just a window to the French internet. They also often have extra features or content available from the search page, giving you additional exposure to the authentic language.
Another benefit of French internet searching is that you can expand your vocabulary with image searches (whether you are using a French search engine or Google with French settings). Connecting a French word to an image, as opposed to simply an English equivalent, is always a more natural way to study vocabulary.
Plus, images can be particularly helpful when distinguishing between two nouns that have similar meanings. Take gateau and galette for instance, both of which may be translated as “cake.” If you type them both, one at a time, into a French search engine’s image search box, you will discover that un gateau is very similar to what Americans think of as cake, while une galette is more like a tart or a filled pastry shell.
You may not want to do that if you are hungry, though.
Need some ideas to start exploring the French web? Take a dive into real French culture with the videos on FluentU. You will find everything from movie trailers, to music videos, to news reports—the stuff native speakers actually watch all the time. Hit up a French search engine to learn more about an interesting event in a FluentU news clip or that cute French actor you discover (are they single?).
To make things even easier, FluentU is not just a video player. It provides tons of built-in learning tools like clickable subtitles, full transcripts, flashcards and fun quizzes. That way you are not just absorbing French language and culture, but also actively building your language skills. Since the videos are organized by genre and level, it is easy to find the ones that work for you.
What Are the Domains Around the French-speaking World?
Sure, using authentic French websites sounds like a good idea, but how can you really know if a given site is actually operated in a French-speaking region or simply a site that has been translated into French?
There is a good chance that most of the websites you visit end in .com. Others might end in .net, .org or .gov.
The letters at the end are technically called “top level domains.” Just as .org tells you the site is for a nonprofit or other organization and .gov tells you the site is run by the U.S. government, international top level domains can tell you the country in which the site is operated.
We have compiled a list of some common domains from several French-speaking countries.
- .fr (France)
- .be (Belgium)
- .ca (Canada)
- .ch (Switzerland)
- .ci (Ivory Coast)
- .ma (Morocco)
Goodbye Google! 5 French Search Engines for Knowledge-hungry Language Learners
Founded in 2013, Qwant may be one of the most well-known search engines based in France as well as one of Google’s top competitors.
Qwant’s main selling point is that it is a private search engine, meaning that the browser will not store a history of websites you visit.
In many search engines such as Google, the browser will track which sites you visit in order to display ads that you are more likely to click. For instance, I was once researching storage locker options near me, and what ad did I see on my computer later that day than an ad for a storage locker service!
There are, however, some advantages to website tracking. I often use the “history” tab on my browser to return to a web page I visited recently. If you use Google regularly, you probably have also noticed that if you start to type in a site you visit often, the browser will supply the rest of the web address.
Regardless of your personal views on internet use and privacy, Qwant can help French learners because French sites are more likely to come up as results, especially if you type in French. Just be sure to click the flag in the upper righthand corner to make sure the search results come from a French-speaking country.
A cool bonus feature is the “Social” results box that appears on the righthand side after you search something. You will get a glimpse at what native French speakers are saying, in real French on Twitter right now, regarding the topic you searched.
You may also search specifically for news, images and videos. Those options are on the left side once you search something.
Exalead is a French search engine geared towards businesses.
This means that Exalead features advanced filters based on language (another simple way to ensure you get French sites as results), file type and category (“arts,” “science,” “reference” and more).
What exactly does that mean for French learners? Exalead can be an asset for more scholarly or intellectual search topics, such as a French author or other historical figure.
A site such as Qwant is more generic and can be used for a variety of queries. With a focus on categories such as social media and shopping, Qwant caters to more everyday uses.
Exalead, however, has tools to help you refine a search and find a more specific kind of resource in French.
Orange may be my favorite color, but that is not the only reason this site made the list.
Orange was not originally founded to be a search engine. It is actually a French telecom company.
However, Orange’s homepage is often used by French people as a search engine. The layout is similar to Yahoo’s main search page and features news articles, advertisements and entertainment, as well as a search box.
Although Orange’s search feature is basic and is actually powered by Google (you will still likely get French results, provided you type in French), it is widely used in France and is an option for research.
In any case, the homepage acts as a good springboard for authentic French content.
You can easily browse current news, tabloid articles (if you are going to read them, you may as well make the experience educational!), videos, music and more.
Even the ads can be helpful for a French learner. It may not be the most exciting material, but if offers a chance to practice numbers, currency and imperatives such as achetez maintenant! (buy now!)
What makes Xooloo unique is that it is designed for kids. However, that does not mean that it is only good for young French learners.
In any language, children’s books, shows and content tend to feature simpler words and style. (When was the last time you saw a word like “ecoterrorism” in a picture book?) Thus, Xooloo might offer less intimidating practice for beginner or lower intermediate learners.
Furthermore, you are not likely to get overwhelmed by results on this French search engine. Since it is designed to be kid-friendly, Xooloo will only display results that have been reviewed for relevance and safety. Since it takes time to review any given web page with kids in mind, their search feature generally yields limited results.
Xooloo is not only useful for basic searching and reading practice. The Xooloo main page also functions as a portal to various activités (activities), which can offer an engaging language experience.
You might even be able to learn more than just French with educational activities such as underwater exploration.
Lilo is another private French search engine, but it has one very unique feature.
Lilo donates 50% of their ad revenue to various causes and you get to choose which you wish to support.
Every search you do generates a virtual goutte d’eau (drop of water). As your drops accumulate, you may choose the organization you want that profit to go to.
Do not worry. Lilo is still free to use. The profit comes from ads posted on sites you visit.
The possible charities span environmental, social and health or education causes. Within these categories, there are dozens of organizations to choose from. You are sure to find something you care about.
What a beautiful marriage of French learning and making a difference!
Now you know how to stroll (scroll?) through the French-speaking web like a native.
Knowing how to find good resources yourself is a key skill as you advance in the language.
So whether you wish to do an in-depth search, play educational activities or support a worthy cause, with these French search engines you now know how to do it French-style.
Rachel Larsen is a lifelong francophile and freelance writer who dreams of living in France one day. She’s currently a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. To learn more, visit her LinkedIn page.
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