You can learn French for free without skimping on quality.
You can access a world of free French learning materials, often without even leaving your house.
You just need a library card.
If you think your local library is just good for dusty old books, you’re way off.
There are French learning websites, apps, movie streaming services and more online goodies, which you can log into totally for free with your library card. Then of course there’s the on-site foreign language section for everything from French novels, to language workbooks, to trendy magazines.
We’ll show you how to take advantage of these free resources and learn French online or offline at any level. Whether you’re a beginner who needs to master verb conjugation or an advanced learner brave enough to dig into some Proust, the library’s got your back with tons of options to learn French for free.
Learn French for Free: The Best French Learning Websites, Apps and Other Tools You Can Access from the Library
Before we get into the free resources, don’t forget that FluentU offers a free trial that gives you full access to all of the platform’s features.
Each video is equipped with dual-language interactive subtitles which are also connected to the app’s grammar tools. All you have to do is hover over a word in the subtitles to see a definition, or click on it to see example sentences or add it to your custom vocab list or flashcard set. You can even create your own quizzes.
Give FluentU a try to see what it’s all about.
1. Mango Languages: Learn and Practice French on This Free App
Familiar with Duolingo? This is the library’s answer to it. Mango Languages is a fun but effective tool to learn French online, and the company is especially focused on providing free access to public library members.
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.
2. Kanopy: Watch Free French Movies
Getting a little tired of that Netflix bill? Did you know you can access thousands of movies—including French gems—for free with Kanopy? Just enter your library card information and watch from anywhere, on any device.
Navigate to “World Cinema” and then scroll down to the filters and select French as the language.
Every library is different, but most branches will at least have access to all the classics (think Godard, Cocteau and Tati). Major city libraries such as the New York Public Library also tend to get new and popular French films soon after they release.
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. You may be more likely to find these in the language-learning section of your physical library, rather than Kanopy. This is a great option to learn French for beginners who are still focused on basic grammar and structure rules of French.
3. Libby: Borrow French E-books, Audiobooks and Digital Textbooks
Not a fan of carrying around a physical book or going to the library to pick one up? Stuck in the car in traffic? Is your train ride hours long?
Welcome to the wonderful world of French e-books and audiobooks.
Libby is an incredibly convenient tool that lets you browse, borrow and read free e-books and audiobooks from anywhere. Just go to the “Explore” page to browse for different types of digital loans, whether you want a French textbook or a classic read to cuddle up with. You’ll easily see whether titles have audiobook versions as well.
Try to mix and match e-books, digital textbooks and audiobooks for well-rounded learning. You can even get the e-books and audiobook versions together so you boost your reading and listening comprehension at the same time.
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.
Depending on your library, you may have to use an old version of the app called OverDrive. It’s not as nice-looking but the French learning benefits are the same.
Want to read on a Kindle or other e-reader? E-book downloads are usually available in a variety of formats like 3M Cloud Library, Kindle and iBooks. 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.
4. The Foreign Music Section: Listen to French Music
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!
5. PressReader: Read French-language News from Across the World
Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the library is access to magazines and newspapers. This is a great way to learn French for free while you expand your knowledge of French-language cultures.
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. Or, better yet, read French newspapers and magazines without getting out of bed by using PressReader.
This is arguably my favorite library feature to learn French online.
PressReader 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 the sign-in page and then select “Library or Group,” and search for your local library.
Of course, if your library doesn’t have PressReader access, you can always visit your local branch for physical copies. Most libraries have major French and other international media available for reading, either in print or in digital archives.
6. On-site Language Programs: Get Free French Classes or Conversation
A hidden gem of many public libraries, language classes are often free and open to the public. At the New York Public Library, 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 free, 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 French classes.
7. The Foreign Language Section: Read Free French Books
Here we are—the heart of the library! Your local library’s foreign language shelf is one of the most useful places you can go for free French learning material, even as a beginner.
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 learning French for beginners, 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).
So go take advantage and reduce the cost of your language learning, but enhance your experience! Your library card is all you need to learn French for free.
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