It’s no secret: learning French is a lot of work.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun too!
Turning your French learning experience into something that you truly enjoy is one of the best ways to ensure that you’ll stay the course and really advance in your foreign language studies. Here are our top 5 fun ways to learn French that actually work.
- 1. Read French Comic Books (BDs)
- 2. Watch Recent French Movies with Subtitles!
- 3. Make a French Recipe
- 4. Meet a French chat pal
- 5. Book a Trip
1. Read French Comic Books (BDs)
In France, comic books are far from being solely for children and teens. Known as bandes dessinées or BDs for short, these books can cost a pretty penny – around 10 euros a volume – and are beloved by children and adults alike. The proof is in the pudding: clubs like the International Bande Dessinée Society and BD events exist the world over, and stands devoted to the genre pop up at Paris’ famous Salon du Livre.
BDs have been known as “the ninth art” in France since the 1960s, with some of the most famous hailing from either France or Belgium, including “Astérix,” “Tintin,” “Lucky Luke” and “Spirou,” just to name a few. The stories combine history, general culture and a good dose of word games for enjoyable books whose appeal spans generations.
The highly intelligent language typical of most classic BDs combined with their innate illustrated aspect make them the perfect way perfect your French: what can’t be deduced from the words themselves can be gleaned from the context and the accompanying images. Your resulting vocabulary may be a bit unconventional, featuring terms related to pre-common era Rome or the early American west, but you never know when that might come in handy. You’re bound to gain more useful vocabulary as well, not to mention talking points with other culturally-astute BD readers.
2. Watch Recent French Movies with Subtitles!
It’s no secret that learning a foreign language can be made even easier with foreign language films, but it’s gotten even easier now that pretty much every film is available via the web or DVD soon after release. To make your foreign film experience even more enlightening, don’t forget to turn on the subtitles.
Now before people start getting up in arms, let’s take a moment to explain. I’m not talking about English subtitles, which past a certain level are more of a hindrance than a help, causing learners to rely on their native language as a crutch instead of seeking meaning through context. The subtitles to which I’m referring to in this case are the French subtitles intended for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
As opposed to other subtitles, which tend to stick to the meaning without replicating the dialogue verbatim, this closed captioning should honor the words being spoken fairly accurately, meaning that if you miss something due to an accent or someone swallowing their words on screen, you have a back up.
Expand your vocabulary even further by veering away from classics of French cinema so frequently touted in favor of newer films like “Les Petits Mouchoirs” and “Intouchables,” which will help you brush up on your French slang.
To get more active learning practice from videos and subtitles, the online language program FluentU has movie trailers, quick scenes and other short clips with interactive subtitles that can show you definitions and usage of any unknown words. The subtitles are both in French and English, but you can turn off the English subtitles at any point. After each video, you can practice the French you’ve picked up with quizzes and flashcards.
3. Make a French Recipe
French cuisine is reputed the world over. While there are many iterations of classic French recipes available in English, why not try your hand at a tried and true French recette (recipe)? French recipe sites like Marmiton or Elle à Table allow you to track down your favorite French dishes and make them as though you were in your very own French kitchen.
Of course, your American kitchen may be missing a handful of essentials, and we’re not just talking about French mouths to feed. Be sure to either buy a metric kitchen scale or get familiar with conversion websites, as all French recipes will be written in grams and milliliters. Traditional Oven isn’t a French site, but it will become your new best friend if you need to convert grams to cups. Remember: volume and weight will not be the same for every ingredient, so 100 grams of sugar and 100 grams of flour will have very different volume measures in cups!
A few ingredients commonly available in France don’t exist or are quite difficult to track down in the States. Recipes calling for fromage blanc or fromage frais (creamy cheeses) can usually be made with either Greek yogurt or sour cream, respectively. Feuilles de brick (small, thin sheets of dough) can be replaced with phyllo dough.
Though you will confront a few hiccups like these, you will notice that instructions for French recipes are almost always written in the infinitive – a nice way to ease yourself into the language of French cooking. So tie on your tablier (apron) and get cooking!
4. Meet a French chat pal
If you want to brush up on your French conversation skills, there’s no better way than to practice with a native. Try visiting your local Alliance Française or French cultural center and putting up an ad for a language exchange, or join formed Meetup groups in your area devoted to French language exchange. By speaking 30 minutes in your native language and 30 minutes in French, both you and your pal will benefit from the language savoir-faire that only a native has.
If you can’t find someone in your city, turn to the next best thing: the Internet. A variety of sites like Conversation Exchange and The Mixxer allow you to pair up with a local in France to chat via Skype for a meeting that’s almost as good as the real thing. And if you have a couch to crash on, consider hosting French-speaking Couchsurfers in your home or at least meeting one passing through your town for coffee.
5. Book a Trip
This option might require a bit of foresight, but there’s really no better way to learn a foreign language than to spend some time in the country; in this case, it’s time to go to France to learn French!
If you can, try to plan a week-long stay, and sign up for morning classes at a local language institute. You’ll brush up on your French skills in the natural environment, and you’ll also meet like-minded travelers looking to learn the language, just like you.
In the afternoon, you should, of course, take in the tourist sights, but also be sure plan ahead and look to see if there are any clubs or other activities that you can visit on your stay. If you’re a karate aficionado, try to find a dojo offering free test courses (many in France do!) If you’re an artist, try to find a painting class with a French instructor. If you can’t get enough of French food or wine, try a French-language cooking class or wine tasting. Learning about something you’re interested in in French will make the language learning a piece of cake.