Learning French means learning all kinds of crazy stuff.
There are complex grammar rules and exceptions, genders and plurals and agreements all around.
But at the core of the language, there’s one element holding everything together: Vocabulary.
If you don’t learn enough French words, nothing else matters.
While learning new words might not always feel like the most pressing issue in our French-learning lives, building your vocabulary can actually mark the difference between remaining a stammering speaker and blossoming into a fluent conversationalist.
Focusing on your vocabulary should be a top priority, and that’s why we’re about to take a look at the very best resources for doing just that.
If you want to flourish in French, it pays to use your words well!
Why Vocabulary Matters
It helps you express yourself out loud
Vocabulary is an essential part of every element of the French language. Even when you learn about grammar rules or tenses, you do so within the confines of French vocabulary. So having a larger vocabulary can massively improve your ability to speak in French.
The more varied your French vocabulary is, the more fluently and eloquently you’ll able to make small talk, share news and know the right thing to say in any given situation.
It helps you progress in reading and writing
Learning new words also helps your ability to both read and write well in French. Although knowing correct verb usage is very important, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t understand the basic definition of the words you’re working with. Understanding more words means being able to read much more smoothly, which will in turn help you to better express yourself in written French.
It improves your French overall
Simply knowing more words is likely to improve your overall level of French. Trickier grammar rules take a little longer to master, but French vocabulary is something that you can grow steadily, building a little every day.
Learning 10 new words a week is a great way to improve your language skills, and will really boost your confidence, too!
Vocabulary variations are important
When you’re learning a new language, it can feel incredibly tricky at first, but once you get going, you might be surprised how easy it is to pick things up! Learning French vocabulary becomes easier once you realize there are many similarities and variations within the language.
However, the way a word is used in French can change subtly depending on the context, and knowing the different shades of meaning that words contain, as well as the differences between similar words, will really pay off when you’re trying to communicate in French.
In short: The more words you know, the better.
There are many different methods you can use to build your vocabulary and, depending on your learning style, lots of different platforms, too!
Below, we’re going to take a look at some great vocab builders you can use to make learning new words fun and efficient.
Once you get a study routine going, there’ll be no stopping you!
7 Lively French Vocabulary Builders to Get You on Your Feet
“Instant French Vocabulary Builder”
Vocabulary books are often a good place to start out when you’re just beginning, and at any stage of French they can really help you brush up on things. “Instant French Vocabulary Builder” is a great book to have in your arsenal.
- Teaches common word ending patterns
This book looks into 23 of the most common word endings. There are certain word endings in French that you’ll see repeated time and again, and this book will help you master them.
- Comes with a pronunciation CD
Of course, learning French vocabulary is all well and good, but if you don’t know how to pronounce words, you’re going to get a little stuck when you try to speak the language. “Instant French” arms you with a pronunciation CD of some of the most common words, making retention a whole lot easier. Hearing the words spoken aloud will increase your ability to remember them and help you impress natives with your incredible language skills!
- Is designed for self-studying French
If you’re busy or just starting out, then chances are you’ll be doing a significant portion of your learning on your own. If that’s the case, you want to be sure that the content you’re using is really accurate and simple. “Instant French” is structured with the self-studier in mind, containing easy-to-follow vocabulary lists and accessible explanations.
“The Oxford French Cartoon-strip Vocabulary Builder”
For those past the beginning stages or who prefer more authentic learning, traditional learning methods can often seem a little tiresome. “The Oxford French Cartoon-strip Vocabulary Builder” is perfect for those who really want to challenge themselves by learning vocabulary in the context of everyday, idiomatic speech.
- Includes visually-based vocabulary lessons
Each vocabulary topic is accompanied by a cartoon strip, designed to increase your memory skills. If you think you might benefit from a more diverse teaching method, this book has you well covered.
- Focuses on real French life
While many French vocabulary books are more focused on basics, this book works a little outside the lines, focusing more on vocabulary used in everyday French. If you’re looking to take your learning a step further and to begin to pick up some native speaking points, this is a good resource for doing that. You’ll soon be speaking like a local!
- Contains a glossary and vocab lists
Of course, reading great cartoon strips won’t teach you everything, and from time to time, you do need to take a look at the technical side of the French language in order to really progress. This book also takes a formulaic and supportive approach by providing a glossary and useful words in lists, which make learning and using your new vocabulary much easier!
Learning useful vocabulary doesn’t have to be all about books. In fact, it shouldn’t be. When it comes to studying on the move and interactively, digital tools can be the way to go!
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% personalized experience.
It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
French Your Way
Podcasts are a great avenue to take when brushing up on your vocabulary skills, and there are a huge number of different series out there! French Your Way is one of the very best and contains lessons specifically focused on vocabulary. As they can be downloaded onto your portable devices, the podcasts can be repeated as and when you need to, making review incredibly simple.
- Is presented by a native speaker
Getting your accent right when speaking in French is incredibly important, especially as many French words sound deceptively similar! Presented by a native speaker, French Your Way helps ensure that you communicate your new vocabulary in the correct way, and will be able to hold an in-depth conversation with a local.
- Focuses on potential errors and pitfalls in French
Learning new vocabulary is an incredible thing, but if you don’t take care with certain words, it’s very easy to make a mistake. Using the wrong word in a certain context is the most common pitfall, and luckily, this podcast has you well covered in that area. The presenter gives new language information alongside important vocabulary dangers to be aware of. So you can rest assured that you’ll use your new words in the right scenario.
There are a ton of great websites out there for learning French vocabulary and Language Guide is among the very best.
- Contains all of the essential vocabulary
Separated into different language sections, it enables you to focus on any type of French you want to. The vocabulary section is particularly well-stocked, containing every type of learning context you need in order to flourish in French!
- Gives you access to pronunciation guides
If you really want to get on top of French vocabulary, then it’s worth accessing a really great pronunciation guide. Language Guide contains audio files of all new vocabulary, enabling you to both read and hear new words at the same time.
- Includes listening and speaking challenges
It’s all well and good to read vocabulary lists, but in order to really make sure you’re retaining new information, you need to test yourself. After vocabulary sets, the website links to listening and speaking challenges, which have you match up new words with words and symbols on the screen. Going through each challenge a few times will cement the new words much more firmly in your mind.
If you’re on the search for a really interactive way to improve your vocabulary, the website French Games is the perfect place to begin. Formatted around vocabulary lists and interactive learning games, the website uses many different formats to test what you’ve already learned. Often, the best way to get to grips with new information is to mix up the ways in which you approach it, and with French Games, you’re able to try a number of different approaches.
- Offers tutorials, games and tests
French lessons aren’t always all fun and games, unfortunately, and along the way, it’s important to sometimes simply focus on new information as you would during a tutorial. The website’s structure progresses from tutorials to games and tests, giving you the opportunity to really try out the vocabulary you’ve learned.
Alternating between different learning styles will require you to think about the new information in various ways and make it stick in your mind. At the end of each round, you might be surprised by just how much you’ve learned.
- Includes level-specific vocabulary
One of the best things about this website is that you can access French vocabulary suitable for your level of comprehension. If you find yourself whipping through the content at a rapid rate, you can take the option to move up to a higher level, where your skills will be tested in a similarly diverse way.
Barron’s “Mastering French Vocabulary: A Thematic Approach”
“Mastering French Vocabulary” is a really comprehensive option for a vocabulary book. It’s actually one of the most in-depth vocabulary guides out there. Better yet, having access to the book means that a huge amount of French words will always be at your fingertips—you can always learn something new!
- Divides vocabulary sections into themes
Often, the easiest way to learn new vocabulary is to organize it according to theme, and often the best vocab lessons are those that run thoroughly through a new topic before moving on to something new. This book works with that approach, dividing vocabulary into specific themes and contexts. Finding new words is much easier when they’re arranged in this way, and that removes some of the stress of learning.
- Includes MP3 files
Like other great guides, this book comes equipped with a number of audio files that you can download to your portable device. Taking new words with you wherever you go will enable you to learn French vocabulary at a much faster rate while improving your ability to pronounce at the same time!
French vocabulary is the backbone of the language.
Taking it really seriously could mean the difference between just getting by and flourishing.
There are a ton of useful words out there, and many different ways you can access them.
If you make vocabulary study a part of your regular learning routine using some of the resources above, you’ll have absorbed a huge amount before you even realize it.
Now’s the time to tackle French vocabulary!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.