Want to learn French, but don’t have time to go to class?
Wondering how to learn French by yourself—or if you even can do that?
You’re not alone. Lots of people are on the lookout for the best way to learn French all on their own.
And luckily, yes, you can do it.
In fact, there are quite a few options to learn French fast and successfully by yourself!
While having a native French teacher to correct your mistakes is always helpful, there are a lot of French self-study resources and techniques you can use to ensure that the time spent learning by yourself is time well spent.
Try out some of these ideas for how to learn French at home, and discover how solo studying can successfully take you to fluency!
How to Learn French by Yourself in 8 Shockingly Simple Steps
1. Do Written French Exercises (with an Answer Guide)
Written exercises tend to be the bane of many students’ French learning experiences, but don’t knock this useful practice tool. It helps you make the most of all those grammar rules you try to memorize by ingraining them into the way that you write and speak.
The first step of doing written exercises when you’re learning French by yourself is to find a way to check yourself! Doing exercises on your own is useless if you can’t check to make sure you’ve answered correctly.
That’s why we recommend either purchasing a French textbook with answers in the back, or using a site that automatically lets you know if you’re on the right track.
Another good one is the French page offered by the BBC, which includes fun games alongside all those grammar exercises.
If you’d rather invest in a book, one of the best for all levels is “Une fois pour toutes.” This book was developed by several prep school teachers to have on hand, once and for all, all of the French grammar and vocabulary rules a French language learner needs.
The book is often used with intermediate and advanced students—most notably for AP high school classes.
It can be a good primer on learning French for beginners, with chapters on the present tense and vocabulary genders.
It’s also a great resource for more advanced students, specifically for things you might need to brush up on, like the simple past tense or the subjunctive. Many of the exercises’ answers are available at the back of the text, but complete answer guides are also available online depending on which edition of the book you purchase.
2. Make and Use French Flashcards
Remember memorizing your algebra equations or periodic table with flashcards? There’s a reason this time-honored technique has been popular for generations—it works! So when you start wondering how to learn French words and all those confusing irregular verb conjugations, don’t be afraid to go old school.
Flashcards are obviously not ideal for all aspects of learning French, but the simpler elements of the language like vocabulary definitions or translations, genders of words and different verb forms can be effectively practiced using homemade flashcards.
Once you’ve identified the element you’d like to practice, you’ll need to make the cards. Choose thick cardstock and a ballpoint pen so you’re not tempted to cheat by looking through to the other side!
For a really interactive way to engage with digital flashcards, try FluentU.
The program sets up multimedia flashcards for you (with images, example sentences, full audio and even videos) but lets you choose practically any words from any FluentU video to add to your flashcard deck. You can also choose from pre-created flashcard decks for a more structured learning experience.
FluentU also tests you on how well you’ve learned your vocab with quizzes that adapt to your learning level—the better you learn a word, the less you’ll see it in your testing (and vice versa).
Here are a few tips if you’re setting up your own flashcards:
For vocabulary flashcards, write the French word on one side. On the other side, write either the English word, a French definition of the word or an image of the word.
Whenever making vocabulary flashcards for French, always include the grammatical gender with a definite or indefinite article (le/la — the; un/une — a). Since these words cannot be separated from their genders, it’s always better to practice both at the same time!
This will help you learn French fast—you’ll thank yourself when you start putting words in sentences and can just choose the right gender naturally, instead of running back to your dictionary.
For verb flashcards, simply write the infinitive of the verb on one side along with the tense you want to practice. On the other side, write the conjugation. If you’d rather break down your conjugation memorization into parts, you can also write the person and number on the front side of the card.
For example, for the verb parler (to talk), you might write “parler, 1st person, singular” on one side, and just write the conjugation on the other side (je parle).
Whenever you’re practicing your conjugations, be sure to include a subject pronoun. As with the genders of nouns, conjugated verbs in the French language can’t be separated from their subject pronouns. It’s always better to practice both together.
3. Use Songs to Replace French Dictations
The dictée (dictation) is a common exercise for young French children in elementary school. With a dictée they’re ensuring that they learn how to write in French correctly—and it can be just as effective for learning French as a second language! All it takes is a text and someone to read it to you.
That’s the major difference when you learn French at home! Who’s going to read to you?
Usually, a dictée involves copying down what the teacher reads out loud, making sure that all of your spelling, verb conjugation and adjective agreement is correct. When you’re learning alone, you don’t have someone else to read to you. However, you can still do a dictée by listening to some of your favorite French songs.
First, get some ideas by listening to the French radio, and purchase some songs for download online.
You can also find suggestions for listening material over at FluentU’s French video library, like the extremely catchy “Tell Me Again That You Love Me” by Gaetan Roussel. For an added level of learning, you can read the full transcript of the song in the “Dialogue” tab before watching it (and add any words you need to your vocabulary list).
Pick something you love to listen to so you won’t get sick of studying with it.
Here’s how to learn French using a music dictée. Let’s say you’ve picked out a great French song. Play the song several times. Three times is the norm for dictées. Songs will be a bit faster, so you can go up to five.
Copy down everything you hear. Then, get your hands on a copy of the lyrics and see how you did! LyricsTranslate is a great resource to find French songs with English translations.
If you’re using FluentU, do your dictée while only listening—not watching—the subtitled video. Then click your way back to the beginning and read along!
When it comes to learning French for beginners, you might want to start these dictées by just filling in blanks. Print out a copy of the song lyrics and blank out words or phrases with white-out. Then try to fill them back in correctly while listening to the song.
4. Watch French TV and Movies
When you’re learning on your own, learning doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom. Learning French by yourself can extend into your free time as well.
Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you do grammar exercises all day and night, but something as simple as kicking back in front of the TV or watching a movie can be helpful for your French language learning.
First, pick a French TV show or movie you want to discover. Watch it for the first time with English subtitles.
If it’s a movie, you’ll have to watch it again. If it’s a TV show, you can just move on to the next episode. This time, watch it with French subtitles instead of English subtitles.
If doing this with a full movie or TV show, you can stick to clips like the ones you find on FluentU. Luckily, FluentU’s subtitles can be used in French, English, both or neither! Plus, you can filter by type of content, so you can easily find a movie clip or trailer.
As you get used to this, you’ll soon be able to turn off the subtitles entirely.
Why does this help?
As you get used to a character’s way of speaking and the vocabulary used in the show or the movie, you’ll have a smaller need for the subtitles. The English subtitles are a crutch. Even if you think you aren’t looking at them, you’ll soon notice how much you were relying on them once you switch them off.
And that’s okay!
Now you’ll have the French subtitles to rely on. Maybe they’re a bit more difficult to understand, but the advantage here is that you’re no longer switching from French to English or translating the movie as you go.
Listening to French while reading French reinforces your French comprehension without translation, which is one of the key steps towards fluency and truly thinking in French like native speakers do.
Once you’ve gotten truly comfortable with the film or show, the subtitles won’t be necessary at all!
5. Write in French with a Goal in Mind
One of the most difficult tasks to accomplish when you’re learning French by yourself can be developing writing skills. You won’t be able to achieve writing perfection all on your own, but you can definitely refine certain skills.
The key is writing with a specific goal in mind, such as practicing the simple future or the different uses of the conditional—which is really how French teachers in lower and intermediate levels function as well.
“Assign” yourself one grammar point or vocabulary list. Write a paragraph or a page showing what you know without looking at your book or notes. Then check your work for that particular element of French grammar against your textbook, correcting any errors.
To make this easier for the “teacher” (that’s you!) you can even highlight all attempted uses of the grammar point or vocabulary in the text before beginning to correct. This way, your eye will know where to go in order to correct the different instances of this point.
But there are also several online French grammar checkers that can find mistakes you would’ve missed on your own.
6. Keep Up With the News
Today’s news media is so widespread that the day’s top news stories make it onto your radar without you even seeking them out! Wouldn’t it be great then if you could learn French while keeping up with the headlines?
Best of all, you don’t even need to visit a newsstand or get a physical subscription to a newspaper or magazine in French. Using online news will not only keep you up to date with current events, but you can learn French at the same time.
For beginners, I recommend News in Slow French. These regularly-released podcasts are about 30 minutes in length, and they are slowly spoken recitations and analyses of the week’s top news stories in simple French. With a subscription, listeners can get access to a full French transcript, a PDF with translations and flashcards.
Radio France Internationale (Radio France International) or RFI also offers a podcast called journal en français facile (news in easy French). This podcast has daily episodes that are about 10 minutes in length each, has downloadable transcripts and is completely free.
For written news, I recommend Mon Quotidien (my daily newspaper). This newspaper offers online news for children, and this is perfect for beginner French learners because it has easy-to-understand articles as well as discussion questions to practice writing in French.
Another website for news for French children is Mary Glasgow. While its full magazine requires a subscription, learners can access 4 articles for free. These articles are always updating, so even non-paying users can get use out of the magazine. As expected, the articles are aimed at kids with corresponding discussion and comprehension questions. For both Mon Quotidien and Mary Glasgow, I recommend doing these written exercises to practice producing French and to internalize the French vocabulary used in the articles.
You can also head back to FluentU for over 150 (and growing) news clips on many topics.
Whether reading, watching or listening, you can make the most of your French news article by writing down unknown words and phrases. With these, you can doing simple writing or speaking exercises such as summaries of the news or creating your own flashcards (see step #2!).
7. Scroll Your Way to Fluency
Have you ever looked into that place in your smartphone settings where you can see a daily breakdown of how long you spend on each app?
If you’re anything like me, that is a scary place. In short, I spend a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, and I have a feeling I’m not alone.
Instead of feeling bad, turn all that wasted time on its head! Social media and other online activities are great ways to learn French.
For starters, there is a gigantic YouTube community aimed at teaching the French language to beginner and intermediate learners. Some of the best include Learn French with Alexa and Learn French with Vincent, two YouTube channels that offer grammatical tutorials, vocabulary explanations and easy dialogues in French.
For YouTube channels linked to smartphone apps, I recommend FrenchPod101, a multi-faceted online French learning program for all levels of French, and Lingoni French, an app that focuses on listening comprehension and interactive exercises.
In addition to French learning channels, you can watch French YouTube videos for fun and to learn at the same time. Some popular French YouTubers include Cyprien and Natoo. I recommend watching videos from these YouTubers with subtitles on and a pen in hand, however: they use quite a bit of French slang, so it’s perfect for learning French as it is spoken today in French-speaking countries.
Another little known trick for discovering French-language YouTube videos lies in your account settings. In fact, you can change your account language to French and change your location to one that speaks French such as France or Belgium. In return, YouTube will recommend French-language content for you to watch.
The same can be done for other social media channels. Simply switch your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram language to French to become digitally immersed in the language. I also recommend following the #French or #français hashtag on Instagram for great French-language posts.
Do you like the fluff news pieces, listicles and quizzes on Buzzfeed? Well, you can also pass some time on Topito, the French equivalent.
There are also loads of subreddits where you can read and practice French such as /r/French for learners of the French language and /r/France for news and conversations pertaining to France. Keep in mind that the latter subreddit is completely in French.
8. Play Games & Master French
At the end of a long day at work or school, playing games is a fun way to relax. They can also be educational and a great way to learn French.
As I’m sure you know, there are many gamefied apps online that are geared toward teaching the French language in a game-like format such as Duolingo and Flash Academy. While Duolingo is a more traditional language learning app with game elements, Flash Academy actually uses flash games such as bubble popping and matching to teach French.
You can also play many online games that are aimed at teaching French. Some of the best include Digital Dialects, Frenchgames.net or Sam Amuse (Sam Amuses). These games are perfect for beginners looking to practice common vocabulary topics or grammar constructions such as verb conjugations.
I also recommend “Ici” radio Canada (“Here” Canada Radio). Developed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), this website has games that are more geared toward native French-speaking children. For example, you can solve a crime mystery or adventure in the Canadian Arctic. As such, I recommend these games for intermediate learners.
If you’re a serious gamer, I recommend trying to play your game of choice in French. Simply change your language setting to French, and voilà (there you go). Next, you can play online games with actual native French speakers. I recommend meeting and conversing with them on a number of French-language discords.
Learning French alone only becomes easier when you take advantage of all the resources that are around you. Use this list of ideas for how to learn French by yourself as a jumping-off point. If you want to get creative, the sky’s the limit!
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