How to Learn French by Yourself in 14 Shockingly Simple Steps
Wondering how to learn French by yourself—or if you even can do that?
Yes, you can learn French by yourself.
Try out some of these ideas for how to learn French at home, and discover how solo studying can successfully take you to fluency!
- 1. Actively Watch and Listen to French Content
- 2. Immerse Yourself in French by Using FluentU
- 3. Do Written French Exercises (with an Answer Guide)
- 4. Make and Use French Flashcards
- 5. Take French Dictations with Songs
- 6. Use Written French to Practice Grammar Points and Vocabulary
- 7. Keep Up with the News
- 8. Scroll Your Way Through French Social Media
- 10. Make Friends with French Speakers and Learners
- 11. Mine the French Classics and Contemporaries
- 12. Take a Self-Guided French Course
- 13. Eat, Drink and Live the French Way
- 14. Teach French!
1. Actively Watch and Listen to French Content
When you’re learning on your own, the learning doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom. It can extend into your free time, as well.
Don’t worry, I’m 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.
Learning French from authentic content is more important than you might think. Seeing the language used naturally by French speakers won’t just introduce you to the language and culture, but it’ll also help you hear words and grammar concepts in use, learn what sounds natural to reproduce in your own speech and hear the correct pronunciations of words. On top of all these benefits, it’s fun! And having fun while learning can be a huge motivating factor to keep up with your studies.
To make the most of your studies, the key is to study actively, not passively. This means that you should engage and interact with whatever you’re watching.
How? Well, the first step is to pick a French TV show or movie that you think you’ll enjoy.
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.
And it’s important that you turn those English subtitles off or switch to French. 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.
When you’re reading along to the French subtitles, keep an eye out for high-frequency words. If you see a French word more than three times, that might mean it’s a commonly-used word, and it’s probably also important for the understanding of whatever you’re watching. Write this word down and use it actively. You might add it to your flashcard deck, use it in sentences in context or even make an audio recording of you using this word in everyday speech.
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 the way native speakers do.
You can also use different resources to practice listening and reading. A good place to start could be with content like podcasts that come with transcripts or listening to audiobooks while reading along to the text. These resources expose you to a lot of new words that you might not come across in daily speech and train both your listening and reading skills at once.
2. Immerse Yourself in French by Using FluentU
I just mentioned how important it is to study with real French content, but it’s equally important to be aware of the potential pitfalls.
You might start up a movie only to find that you’re struggling to understand more than a few words at a time. You might find that you’re relying on the English subtitles too much, but no French subtitles are available. If there are French subtitles, how do you know that they’re accurate, or which of a word’s 10 definitions are being used in a particular sentence?
Whew! Studying on your own definitely has its challenges.
Luckily, you don’t have to do it completely by yourself.
The FluentU program provides a bridge between learner-oriented and authentic content by taking real videos made by and for French speakers and enhancing them with learning features. The program’s content library includes videos like movie clips and trailers, short films, hit music videos from French artists and even content from popular vloggers like Cyprien.
If you’re not sure where to begin, you can filter the videos by language skill level, format (clips, commercials, talks/speeches, etc.) and topic (food and cuisine, business, humor, etc.). This takes the guesswork out of learning with authentic content, since you’ll know exactly what to expect and can tailor your studies to your level and interests.
The subtitles on FluentU have been vetted by language experts, ensuring their accuracy, and you can actually toggle the English and French captions on or off—so you can go ahead and hide the English text if you find yourself getting too distracted by it. And you don’t have to worry about not understanding what you’re watching, because you can hover over or click on any word in the subtitles to see its contextual definition and other videos where the word is used.
Save new words as flashcards and you’ll be able to practice them through personalized quizzes that allow you to select, type or speak your answer.
You can choose whether you want to study in your browser or take FluentU with you on the go with the iOS app or Android app. Or, switch between the two as you wish—don’t worry, your progress will be saved.
3. 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. By honing your writing skills, you’ll also be reinforcing all those grammar rules you’ve been learning.
The first step to 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 I 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.
For the latter option, there are several different choices. I quite like “Bonjour de France,” which offers exercises based on your European DELF/DALF level.
Another good option 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 French subjunctive. Many of the exercises have answers at the back of the book, but complete answer guides are also available online depending on which edition of the book you purchase.
But don’t just settle for written exercises from a French textbook: You can also make your own writing exercises. Not only will it be more fun for you to choose your own exercises topic, but you can also ensure the topic is more applicable to your learning goals.
The process is simple. After having studied a grammar topic or group of vocabulary words, turn it into a free write activity. For example, let’s say you have been studying vocabulary related to the household and chores. As a free write activity, pretend you are giving a tour of your home to a cleaner. Write down instructions for what rooms you’d like cleaned, as well as instructions for how to clean each.
The options for free writes are limitless and can include diary entries, news reports, letters and even fictional stories.
If you want to check your grammar or make sure your writing is solid, you can share your work on the /French subreddit or HiNative, both of which have native French speakers who would be happy to help you out.
4. Make and Use French Flashcards
Remember learning 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’re looking for a way 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!
Alternatively, there are so many resources that let you create digital flashcards, like Anki or Flashcard Machine, or use existing flashcards, like Memrise.
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. You can even include a French example sentence to see the word use in action.
Focus on words that you use the most often. These include high-frequency French words, or words that you’re most likely to use in your everyday French conversations. For example, it’s much more useful to create flashcards with the words for food items, locations around a city and clothing than it is to create flashcards for the different components of garden soil—unless, of course, your goal is to speak French in a garden center.
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 can’t 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.
5. Take French Dictations with Songs
The dictée (dictation) is a common exercise for young French children in elementary school. It ensures 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.
You can find out what you like by listening to French radio or checking out a Spotify playlist of hit French songs.
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 a beginner, 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.
As you get more advanced, you can write down the lyrics from scratch as well as translate them into English. Pay particular attention to the parsing of words as well as silent grammatical information. For example, you may not be able to hear the -e and the -s added to a feminine, plural adjective in a song, but that information is crucial to the writing of the sentence. Advanced learning with musical dictées should focus on the nuances.
6. Use Written French to Practice Grammar Points and Vocabulary
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. I suggest typing out your work and then pasting it into a website like BonPatron. And don’t forget your old friends on Reddit and HiNative from the first step!
7. 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?
For beginners, I recommend News in Slow French. These regularly-released podcasts are about 30 minutes in length, and consist of 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), a newspaper geared toward children. Its young audience makes it a perfect choice 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 the full magazine requires a subscription, learners can access four 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 the written exercises to practice using French and to internalize the vocabulary used in the articles.
For more advanced French learners, there are major online news agencies that tackle national and international news for adults in French. These include Le Monde and Le Parisien.
For watching the news online, France 24 has a direct feed on their YouTube channel. Euro News offers select French news stories on their YouTube channel, as well.
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 create your own flashcards on topics that are current and relevant to the world (see step #2!).
Writing summaries is another great exercise to use with news articles. After you finish watching or reading the news, write a paragraph or two summarizing the main ideas of the news piece. This is a great way to check your understanding and use the vocabulary words that are crucial to the article.
8. Scroll Your Way Through French Social Media
Have you ever looked at your smartphone’s daily breakdown of how long you spend on each app?
If you’re anything like me, that’s a scary place. 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.
You can treat these YouTube channels like real French classes. Take notes, engage in the comment sections (in French) and do any exercises or activities that the YouTubers suggest for practice. Some channels even offer membership through Patreon that allows viewers to access transcripts, exercises and additional media.
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 learning 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 they’re perfect for learning French as it’s spoken today in French-speaking countries.
Another little-known trick for discovering French-language YouTube videos lies in your account settings. You can actually 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. If you enjoy your experience on /r/French, you might also like /r/France for news and conversations pertaining to France. Keep in mind that the latter subreddit is completely in French.
9. Play Games to Strengthen Your French the Fun Way
At the end of a long day at work or school, playing games is a fun way to relax—and learn some French.
As I’m sure you know, there are many gamified apps online, apps that strive to teach the French language in a game-like format. One of the most well-known of these is Duolingo, which turns French learning into a fun experience through mini-games, levels and learning streaks.
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 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). You can also play online games with actual native French speakers, by checking out French-language discords.
10. Make Friends with French Speakers and Learners
Perhaps the most appealing part of self-studying French is that you have complete control over what you want to learn, how yo want to learn and when you want to learn.
The flip side to this, however, is that you might not get much interaction with French-speaking people or other learners. Without actively seeking someone else, self-studying French can mean studying French, well… alone. But learning French requires actively using the language with someone else. So, what should you do?
The most obvious solution to this is to travel to a French-speaking place. You can plan your own trip to France or another French-speaking country. Doing this will allow you to be immersed in the French language, giving you the opportunity to learn new words and phrases and practice what you’ve learned on your own.
Of course, traveling isn’t a possibility for everyone. Luckily, you can still benefit from interacting with French speakers without leaving your city or town!
Since French is such an international language, most non-Francophone places have at least some native French speakers. These French speakers may open bakeries, pastry shops and other stores. They may even partake in cultural events and celebrations. These days, a simple Google search will let you find French-owned establishments in your area and even French social gatherings that you might be able to attend.
Another option is to join a website that allows you to organize gatherings around shared topics of interest, like—you guessed it!—French.
If you aren’t the organizing type, let someone else do the work! Try browsing the social gathering website, Meetup, which helps members organize and attend events. These events can span many hobbies, including sports, books and academic topics. As such, there are many Meetup groups that come together regularly and speak or practice French. Some Meetups require you to “join” the group, and meets can be in-person or online, so you can find someone to converse with, no matter where you are!
If you’re looking for an opportunity to speak French in a one-on-one setting, then a website that helps you find a French language exchange partner might be the best resource for you.
Websites like mylanguageexchange.com and italki specialize in connecting French learners with native French speakers. Learners can directly hire a French teacher or French tutor from italki, but there’s also an option to do a more traditional language exchange with another language learner. For example, someone may be willing to let you practice French with them if you let them practice English with you. These conversations happen completely virtually via Skype or WhatsApp (or another chat program of your choice).
11. Mine the French Classics and Contemporaries
It’s no secret that the French language is known the world over for its literature. Whether in high school, college or even as a small child, chances are you’ve read a piece of French literature or seen a movie or TV show based on one of French’s beloved literary pieces.
The classic French books associated with the French language span many different time periods and genres. One of the first French novels was called “Manon Lescaut,” published in 1731 and written by Abbe Prevost and, ever since, the French novel has covered many different topics such as love, class society, struggle and even philosophy.
Some of the most studied novels in Western society were first written in French. Popular examples include Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” Alexandre Dumas’ “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo” (The Count of Monte Cristo) and Albert Camus’s “L’étranger” (The Stranger).
If the classics aren’t really your vibe, you’re guaranteed to find a book you love in contemporary French literature. The French language produces thousands of books every year, and they’re no longer limited to wealthy authors living around Paris. Other French-speaking regions such as Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and the Francophone countries of Africa publish their own modern French books.
When reading French novels, whether classic or contemporary, I recommend making the most of their learning potential. This means reading with a dictionary and a notebook nearby. Your dictionary can be a physical one or a digital one such as an app or a website like WordReference.
As you come across words you don’t know in French, write them down. I don’t recommend writing down every single unknown French word; rather, you should only mine for the ones that you see most often or ones that are vital to the understanding of the section of text.
Once you’ve written these words down, you need to use them actively. This could mean creating sentences for context, recordings of you using these words in speech or creating flashcards.
12. Take a Self-Guided French Course
In the first lines of this post, I mentioned that this step-by-step guide is perfect for learners who don’t want to or don’t have time to attend a class. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t benefit from a French course.
No matter what level, a self-guided French course can be a great way to learn French grammar and vocabulary in a systematic way. It can also give you more opportunities to speak, listen to, read and write the French language at a level that’ll be most useful to your current skills.
There are many courses out there today that consist of informal lessons and tutorials which you can tackle at your own pace. Other online courses can give you a more complete experience with exercises, homework and maybe even a personal tutor, but without the time constraints of a traditional course.
You can give informal French courses a try on websites like ielanguages.com. The original French tutorials on this website span six levels and cover topics such as verb tenses, lists of common vocabulary and even advanced topics such as the subjunctive mood. Don’t expect anything groundbreaking—the lessons are quite simple, consisting of an explanation of the topic, some example sentences and audio recordings. But they get the job done!
Other informal courses such as TV5Monde (TV5World) and ToLearnFrench offer more in the way of interactive learning. These courses have lessons structured around the progression of learning French skills and include videos and audio recordings, reading and listening comprehensions as well as an array of exercises.
If you’re after more structure but you still want complete control over your French course, there are a number of options for you. Lingoda is an online language school that specializes in learning French at any time of the day, with hundreds of small group French classes being offered every week by a native French teacher.
Other websites also offer MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). These courses are high-quality offerings from universities around the world, often completely for free. They’re usually structured more like traditional courses with lectures, interactive exercises and, on occasion, even on-call teachers or tutors.
13. Eat, Drink and Live the French Way
The word “immersion” is tossed around a lot, but how can you incorporate French immersion into your life without actually moving to a French-speaking region?
Well, with a little bit of deliberate effort, you can let French take over some of the most crucial aspects of your life!
Let’s start with the basics: food. We all need food to live, don’t we?
Making French a part of your cooking and eating routine is an easy—and tasty!—way to practice. Simply look up recipes for your food of choice in French and get cooking. You can find French recipes on websites such as Ricardo Cuisine and even find recipes for some more traditional French food on Zeste.
In order to maximize the French learning potential, I recommend printing these recipes out so you have hard copy versions of them. Not only will this make it easier to compile your French recipes in a cookbook so you can make them again, but you can also make notes on them, allowing you to translate certain words in English if need be.
Food isn’t the only way to immerse yourself in French in your everyday life. You can also incorporate the French language and life through fashion, beauty and other aspects of culture such as books, TV and movies. Watch French shows and listen to French music. Dress like the French and entertain the French way, too. Surround yourself with the sounds, tastes and culture of the French language to truly immerse yourself in it!
For a well-rounded resource for all things lifestyle, check out websites such as Marie Claire. You can also find blogs in French that specialize in specific topics that interest you, such as fashion, beauty, green living and lifestyle.
Can’t find a blog you’re looking for? Try creating your own (in French, of course!).
14. Teach French!
It seems counterintuitive to suggest that in order to learn French, you should teach French, doesn’t it?
Believe it or not, teaching is actually an extremely effective way to learn French. That’s because that you need to completely understand a topic if you want to teach it. But you don’t need to achieve mastery before you start: Teaching has a way of exposing weaknesses in our knowledge and driving us to learn what we don’t fully understand, if not for our own purposes but for the needs of our students.
There really are a number of options here depending on your level of French.
If you’re at the beginner stage of French, you might take on a co-teaching relationship with another learner who’s close to your level.
You and your language buddy can learn together, using each other to practice speaking French and clarifying misunderstandings as a team. You can also divide up topics that neither of you has learned yet. In this situation, you’d learn about a given topic on your own, then teach it to your learning partner. This type of co-learning can take the form of in-person or online interactions.
If your level of French is higher, you might decide to take on a more formal teaching arrangement. You could ask to assist in a formal French course or at a French club, helping those with lower levels of French while improving your level at the same time.
If you’re an advanced learner, you might even decide to run your own French lessons through in-person or online private tutoring. Plus. you might even make some extra income to fund your trip to a Francophone location!
If the thought of teaching French formally is too intimidating, then you can become a mock-French teacher! This means that you prepare and execute French lessons but you don’t have students. You can perform these lessons to yourself on a particular topic such as regular verb conjugation or common vocabulary or record these lessons and watch them back for added practice and error detection.
In all these scenarios, make sure to create a lesson plan that you can follow. This will keep you on track and make sure you hit all the main points of your “lesson.”
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!