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Learning French for Free Isn’t Hard When You Have a Library Card!

As an avid reader, writer and language-lover, one of the most valuable resources I have is the public library system.

The New York Public Library extends to all five boroughs, and the sheer extent of the services they have is astounding. Of course, they carry more than just the new Stephen King novel—the library is one of the best places to find French language resources. From books and movies to iPhone apps and language classes, the library has everything you need to perfect le passé composé or dig into some Proust for free.

While all public library systems aren’t as extensive as the NYPL, many have a robust online component that will give you access to e-books, iPhone apps and more online goodies that will help your French skills soar in addition to the physical book collection available to you on-site.

Read below to find out how to take advantage of your valuable library card—after you find your local public library and sign up for one (if you haven’t already).


6 Types of Free French Learning Resources at Your Local Library

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1. Books in French

The first place you should explore as you start to dive into your library’s resources is the foreign language shelf. Depending on the system, libraries carry anything from modern novels to the classics to translated American literature to grammar books—all intended for French learners or native speakers. If you’re a beginner, it may be worth asking if the foreign language section extends to the children’s books—meaning you could check out great kid’s books and comics in French, as well.

What’s great about the library is that you can often request products they may not have in your neighborhood branch or even not at all. The library is for the public—so if there’s a book you’d like to read but don’t see on the shelf, ask an employee and see if they’re able to locate it somewhere else (this is called an Interlibrary loan, and what they often do is find the book at a different library and have it shipped to the one that’s local to you).

2. Movies in French

There are many great ways to watch French films, but perhaps the cheapest way to get a hold of the newest movies is from the library. Again, every library is different, but most branches will at least have copies of all the classics (think Godard, Cocteau and Tati). The New York Public Library also tends to get a copy of new and popular French films soon after they release on DVD.

Just like children’s books, there are movies made especially for kids that you can choose. Pick up the newest film starring Asterix or just something geared toward kids. You’ll get the best of both worlds—simple language and subtle adult jokes that the creators slide in for the adults who watch these kinds of films with their children.

In addition to movies, many libraries are bound to have movies and educational films for French learners. These may be found in the language-learning section rather than the movie section of the library. This is a great option for beginners who are still learning the basic grammar and structure rules of French.

3. Music in French

Even though we’re in the age of online music and streaming, physical CDs do still exist—and you can often find them at the library. I’ve never found the collection of music to be very large, especially in small branches, but it’s still a great place to start if you’re looking for some new French music.

The larger branches will acquire new, popular CDs, meaning you have the opportunity to listen to the same music the French do—but for free!

4. Newspapers and Magazines in French

Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the library is access to magazines and newspapers. Instead of a subscription or a hike out to the nearest shop that carries foreign newspapers, you can simply stop by your library and read the latest issue.

The New York Public Library keeps major newspapers like Le Monde, L’Express, Journal de Paris and more for daily use at your local branch. Of course, many branches don’t carry foreign newspapers on-site—but many libraries have an amazing online program for reading foreign publications, which we’ll discuss later in this post.

5. On-site Language Programs

A hidden gem of many public libraries, language classes are often free and open to the public. In New York, French class is offered, in addition to Chinese, Braille, American Sign Language and English. If these kinds of classes are offered at your local library, take advantage of in-person French learning time and sign up!

The easiest way to find out if your branch offers language classes is to check online or give them a call. It’s possible that, even if your library doesn’t offer a course, they have a connection with a studio or educational facility where you could take free or discounted classes.

6. Online Learning Resources


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Familiar with Duolingo? This is the library’s version of it—with a twist. The app asks you to pick a language you’d like to learn, then takes you through a lesson that’s centered around a certain theme, for example, going to dinner or playing a sport.

The lesson begins by teaching you keywords and verbs that are useful to have a conversation centered around that topic, then slowly pieces them together to create full sentences. It then asks you to translate from English to French, using the information you were just taught and building on the information you’ve learned in previous lessons.


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Stuck in the car in traffic? Is your train ride hours long? After you’ve loaded your iPod with music you checked out from the library, download OverDrive on your phone and start scouring it for audiobooks. OverDrive allows you to log into your library account, check out an audiobook and download it onto your phone.

When the loan ends, the book disappears from your phone. But before it does, you can find books galore for any level. My library has a plethora of audiobooks in French, and I typically listen to them on my walk to the train station and whenever I’m commuting and am unable to sit down to read a physical book.


Not a fan of carrying around a physical book or going to the library to pick one up? Welcome to the wonderful world of ebooks. Unless a book is so old that the publisher hasn’t yet developed an e-book, almost any title will be available in this format.

The New York Public Library works with three different platforms—3M Cloud Library, Kindle and iBooks. All three of these apps are available for both Android and Apple. It’s best to have all three ready, since there’s not a clear consistency regarding which format a title will be available in. Once you select a title from the library website, you can download it directly to your phone or computer, or, if it’s a Kindle book, send it directly to your Kindle device. Just like the audiobooks, they will auto-delete when your renewal expires.


This is arguably my favorite feature the New York Public Library offers.

PressDisplay is an online database that contains newspapers from all around the world—including the major French newspapers like Le Monde, Le Parisien and Le Figaro. They even have the major magazines, ranging from fashion to sports to current events. It’s an incredible resource. To get access, go to your library website and see if they have purchased a subscription to the website that you have access to with your library account.


So go take advantage and reduce the cost of your language learning, but enhance your experience!

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