learn-french-step-by-step

The Step-by-step French Learning Guide That’s Full of Free Resources

At first, she was thrilled.

My best friend had decided to learn French.

She loved the idea that the internet is filled with free resources she could use to go full Frenchie.

She started out strong, looking up lists of vocabulary and downloading conjugation exercises.

But by the third week, her interest had already begun to dwindle.

She explained the problem to me: there’s just too much out there and I don’t have time to sort through it all and study it.

For my friend and many of you who’ve tried unsuccessfully to learn French, the one thing you’re missing that’s harder to find on the internet is a concrete learning plan.

You need a curriculum that’ll guide you through French step-by-step, and hand you the resources you need.

So that’s exactly what I’ve created for you here.

This article will walk you through a three-month study plan to learn the fundamentals of French vocabulary and grammar. We’ll start with beginner topics and work towards actually communicating with real French speakers by the end of three months.

Through these learning steps, I’ve included tons of free French learning resources so you can spend less time searching and planning and more time actually learning!

Learn a foreign language with videos

Find Your Motivation to Learn French

One of the best ways to build French learning momentum at every stage is to remember why you’re studying it in the first place.

For starters, consider the fact that French is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world—and its popularity is only growing.

As such, it opens you up to many different careers and makes you a competitive candidate in the workforce.

Learning French also prepares you for going abroad and lets you communicate with people from many different cultures, not just in Europe but also in Africa, where a large portion of the population speaks French.

As you advance in your French learning journey, you may become a language learning addict! Good news for future polyglots: speaking French will help you to learn other romance languages like Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, as they all have similar Latin roots.

Finally, at least in this girl’s opinion, French is a stunningly beautiful language with its lilting liaisons between words and its soft Frenchy r’s.

Hopefully, you’re now itching to get started, so without further ado, here’s the promised guide with 100% free resources that you can use to learn by yourself, anytime and anywhere, broken down into 12 simple weeks.

Bon courage! (Good luck!)

Learn French Step-by-step: A 3-month Study Plan

Weeks 1 and 2:

Purpose:

  • Learn the fundamentals of French sentence construction
  • Learn how to spell and count in French
  • Start building a French phrase stockpile with basic greetings

The Alphabet

As you can imagine, the first step to learning any language is to learn its alphabet. You really can’t do anything else until you get this down pat.

For many learners, myself included, the easiest way to do so is to memorize it through song. Personally, I find YouTuber Kylie Hicken’s letter pronunciation and song video a great way to master the French alphabet.

Numbers 1 to 100

When you teach a child their native language, what do you teach them right after the alphabet? Most of you would answer the same way: numbers.

It’s the same for foreign language learners and you’ll need to study French numbers before moving on. I would recommend learning how to count up to 20 in the first week, and reinforcing that info during the second week. If you have time during your second week, try to get up to 100.

This guide to counting in French will help you master those basic numbers. Fortunately, the formula for saying numbers above 20 is pretty easy to remember.

As for numbers higher than 100, save them for later, after you’ve mastered this three-month curriculum. Those won’t be as necessary in everyday French life as the other topics in this curriculum are.

Subject Pronouns

Here’s another extremely important basic concept: the six basic French subject pronouns. They shouldn’t take long to learn.

They’re as follows:

Je (I)

Tu (You, singular)

Il/Elle (He/She)

Nous (We)

Vous (You, plural)

Ils/Elles (They, masculine/They, feminine)

Simple, right?

Before you move on, take a minute to check out So Frenchy’s video guide on how to pronounce these pronouns. Without them, you can’t really say anything at all!

Common Greetings

If you want to speak French with actual people—which I’m guessing is the goal—then learning the basic hellos and goodbyes are pretty essential.

It’s best to practice these now before you add more vocabulary to your repertoire, as you’ll need them to start any conversation. It’s also smart to get in the habit of speaking conversational French early on, so real conversations aren’t as intimidating later.

Chances are you prefer to practice greetings without just talking to yourself. The solution is Primary Games Arena, a game site geared towards learning.

Their French phrases and greetings page has all the essential greetings complete with audio pronunciations and English definitions. As a bonus, you can test yourself with text and audio games when you think you’re ready, which is a great way to solidify what you’ve learned and have some fun while you’re at it.

FluentU is another vital source to start learning how to communicate in real-world French. You can start using it to master common greetings, but it’ll be helpful throughout every stage of this French learning plan.

FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks.

Since this content is material that native French speakers actually watch regularly, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French the way it’s spoken in modern life.

One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:

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Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions guide you along the way, so you never miss a word.

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Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on your screen:

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Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video through word lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”

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As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience.

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.

Conjugate the Two Most Important Verbs: Être and Avoir

I bet you can guess what these two words mean just by thinking of the two most important English verbs.

That’s right—être means “to be” and avoir means “to have.”

These two little verbs will be your best friends throughout the whole French process, as you’ll use them to form almost every common expression and to construct past tenses in French.

Reverso Conjugation is a great online tool that shows you how to conjugate any verb, including these ones. For weeks one and two, learn only the present-tense forms of être and avoir (the forms in the upper left box after you type a verb into Reverso Conjugation). These are the first steps of verb conjugation that you’ll be building on as you progress.

Basic Definite and Indefinite Articles

This will be your final subject to end the first two weeks, and you’ll certainly need it before learning any nouns or basic sentences.

While definite and indefinite articles may sound like a scary topic at first, it’s actually a super short lesson with only six tiny words to memorize!

Essentially, you need to know the following:

  • Le/la/les (the): Use le for masculine nouns, la for feminine nouns and les for plural nouns.

Le bureau, la chaise et les crayons (The desk, the chair and the pencils)

  • Un/une/des (a): Use un for masculine nouns, une for feminine nouns and des for plural nouns.

Un bureau, une chaise et des crayons (A desk, a chair and pencils)

These small, simple words may seem unimportant but you’ll use them more than just about anything else when speaking French.

Weeks 3 and 4:

Purpose:

  • Learn essential vocabulary for the day-to-day
  • Start conjugating regular French verbs

Days of the Week and Months of the Year

Think back to some of the first weeks of your kindergarten class, and there’s almost surely a little days-of-the-week jingle or chart in your memories somewhere.

The days of the week are some of the simplest vocabulary you’ll need to know, and you can start practicing by visiting BBC Primary Languages, a site filled with vocabulary, songs and audio clips of all languages.

Their days of the week guide gives you everything you need to know, going far beyond just the names of the days to include the French words for weekend, day, afternoon, night, etc. Their guide to the months includes bonuses like how to talk about your birthday and how to say which month you’re going on vacation.

As a bonus, each word is accompanied by an audio clip so you know exactly how to pronounce it.

How to Tell Time

Weeks three and four in this curriculum are really all about how to get by with day-to-day vocabulary, and telling time is one of the most important things you’ll want to know from the moment you wake up!

Whether it’s asking someone for the time or reading your French train ticket, you’re going to need to master this concept.

Since you learned French numbers in weeks one and two, putting them together now to tell time should be easy. You just need this phrase: Il est ___ heure(s) ___. (Literally: It is ___ hour(s) ___.)

The hour goes in the first blank and the minute goes in the second blank.

Il est six heures vingt. (It is six twenty.)

Like English, French has special words for noon and midnight:

Midi (Noon)

Minuit (Midnight)

French learners from the U.S. should note that the French use the 24-hour clock when writing out the time.

17h50 (5:50 p.m.)

How to Talk About the Weather

Continuing with the day-to-day theme, you’ll need to study-up on weather words. At the very minimum, you’ll want to know how to say things like it’s cold, it’s raining and the weather is bad.

Try memorizing three words a day from this guide to French weather vocabulary, and you’ll have a stockpile of new weather words by the end of week four.

Even if you’re not going to be memorizing all 43 words in that guide, I love it because it has a great section at the end that looks at weather phrases that the French use as double philosophical meanings—so cool!

Family Vocabulary

Now is a great time to change up your study method (so you don’t get bored) and head over to Quizlet, a website that boasts loads of great study sets and games.

Their page on French family vocabulary is fantastic, complete with flashcards, writing and spelling tests and several fun games.

Many of these family words are similar to their counterparts in English, so with just a few hours of play, you’ll have these words down pat.

Present Tense Conjugations of –Er Verbs

Now that you’ve come to the end of weeks three and four, it’s time to introduce yourself to a slightly higher-level concept: conjugating verbs that end in -er.

Essentially, there are three main groups of verbs in the French language and this one is good to start with since it’s arguably the most intuitive (we’ll get to the others later).

In order to learn how to conjugate these, I recommend Tex’s French Grammar, which has an excellent guide to regular –er verbs with explanations, examples and audio clips.

Weeks 5 and 6:

Purpose:

  • Warm up with the last of the day-to-day vocabulary
  • Add more complex types of sentences to your grammar

Colors

You didn’t think I’d forget this simple but necessary lesson, did you? I purposefully put it here because by now, after learning some rich vocabulary and starting to conjugate verbs, you might be ready for a bit of a break.

Relax and enjoy learning these easy color words using some more of Quizlet’s games and quizzes—their study set for colors is full of all the same fun tools you used to learn family vocabulary.

House Vocabulary

Now that you’re warmed up, it’s time for some more hefty vocabulary: house words.

Have no fear! As it’s no fun to just memorize huge lists one after another, I recommend ProProfs Flashcards, a platform that lets anyone create study flashcards. Their French household flashcards are a fun way to learn and once you’ve practiced enough, there’s an option to keep score of how many you get correct each round.

They’ve also got some games like matching French words with their English definitions so you have plenty to keep you occupied while you learn.

How to Ask Questions

Haven’t you heard the old adage that those who ask the most questions are the brightest pupils?

Well, it’s time to learn French questions so that you can continue on your way to fleshing out nice sentences and changing up your speech patterns. You now have some great vocabulary at your disposal, so let’s learn another way to use it.

I find this guide to asking questions extremely useful, as it covers every nitty-gritty detail of interrogatives so that you don’t have to be left standing there with tons of—yes, I’ll say it—questions!

Present Tense Conjugations of –Ir Verbs

Here’s the second verb group I alluded to before: verbs ending in –ir.

Again, I recommend Tex’s French Grammar, as I really find their –ir verbs guide to be quite simple and complete. It contains many examples of these types of verbs and how to conjugate them.

You can’t beat sweet, short and simple.

Forming Negatives

There are many different ways to form French negatives, but even if you learn two or three of them, you’ll be in business.

This helpful guide to French negatives covers basic negatives, negative adverbs, negative pronouns and much more. Try to focus on one type of negation every day so that you leave this study stage equipped to negate anything.

That guide even has a section that explains n’importe (no matter/whichever/any)which happens to mean many different things depending on the situation and which is used religiously by the French but glossed over in many French language guides.

Weeks 7 and 8:

Congratulations if you’ve made it this far—you’re now past the halfway mark!

Purpose:

  • Learn how to navigate basic situations in a French-speaking region
  • Finish memorizing regular conjugation rules

Food Vocabulary and Ordering at Restaurants

By this point, things should be starting to make sense and it’s time to continue adding tools to our French toolbox, starting with talking about food.

In week seven, focus on learning basic food vocabulary. BBC Primary Languages’ guide to food has all the essentials plus an amazing extra list of French recipe-specific terms—it’ll be like talking with Julia Child and you’ll love it!

In week eight, take what you’ve learned and combine it with this guide to ordering food in French and you’re well on your way to devouring some delicious French cuisine.

Money and Shopping Phrases

In order to shop and purchase items in a French-speaking region, you need to know some essential phrases.

Start by visiting Quizlet’s money flashcards and games to learn basic shopping expressions like, “How much does it cost?”

Next, head over to YouLearnFrench’s shopping dialogue video, which will help you apply the vocabulary that you learned with Quizlet. Listen to and repeat the words and phrases that you hear until you’re confident in your French shopping skills.

As a bonus, check out these fun, simple online games that teach you clothing vocabulary while you play.

Present Tense Conjugations of –Re Verbs

Now that you’ve had time for the first two groups of verbs to sink in, it’s time to learn the final one.

Stick with Tex’s French Grammar because you’re already used to the way in which this website presents the verb groups and start reading up and listening to audio clips on their guide to conjugating regular –re verbs.

Weeks 9 and 10:

Purpose:

  • Start constructing descriptive and more complex sentences

Adjectives

Continuing towards creating good sentences, let’s add some interesting adjectives.

Believe it or not, For Dummies—which we all know from the famous book series covering just about every subject—has a short and sweet guide to adjectives and where to grammatically place them.

Don’t get bogged down by the particularities at this point, but rather verse yourself in the most commonly used adjectives and their basic usage.

Reflexive Verbs

The French language is in love with reflexive verbs, ones where the subject performs the action on itself. You’re ready for this topic now because you’re comfortable with subject pronouns and French verb conjugation rules.

A little complicated at first, you’ll use them constantly once you get the hang of them, like when saying se laver (to wash) or se reveiller (to wake up).

The first thing you need to do is memorize the French reflexive pronouns. Try to learn these during the first day or two of this study stage.

me: me, myself

te: you, yourself

se: him(self), her(self), it(self)

nous: us, ourselves

vous: you, yourself, yourselves

se: them, themselves

Now you can spend the next two weeks practicing creating sentences with reflexive verbs. This guide shows you the different types of French reflexive verbs and how to use them in different contexts and tenses.

Places Vocabulary

You didn’t think you could escape these two weeks without some more good ol’ fashioned vocabulary, did you?

In preparing for the final weeks, try your hand at memorizing some vocabulary having to do with places. You have plenty of options here, and chances are you’ve already found your favorite French-learning sites from this list of resources.

Try out some town vocabulary with games at Quizlet, keep it short and sweet with travel words at For Dummies or settle down to some BBC Primary Languages audio clips about school-related vocabulary.

Weeks 11 and 12:

Purpose:

  • Add more complex descriptions to your sentences with adverbs
  • Wrap up vocabulary essentials
  • Start speaking in French!

Adverbs

You’ve made it to the last two weeks of the course!

It’s almost time to celebrate, but first we must perfect our adverbs. This helps you add even more description to your French sentences by describing how something happened.

Fortunately, they can be quite simple to master since you already know French adjectives. Similar to how you tack on the suffix –ly to turn an English adjective into an adverb, in French you use the suffix –ment.

Here are some examples from a great, in-depth guide to forming and using French adverbs:

confortable (comfortable) → confortablement (comfortably)

malheureuse (unfortunate) → malheureusement (unfortunately)

Parts of the Body and Medical Vocabulary

For the last piece of the vocabulary essentials puzzle, it’s time to learn the parts of the body thanks to another YouLearnFrench video, which includes all of the basics plus a great pronunciation guide.

Practice a bit and you’re well on your way to the end of the course!

Start Communicating

You’ve successfully completed a beginner’s French course and now it’s time to check the fruits of your labor.

Start speaking and writing French whenever you can. Use resources like Linguee, an online French dictionary, to help you construct diverse sentences and add new vocabulary to your repertoire. Use BonPatron, an excellent, free French spelling and grammar checker, to catchy any errors.

It’s also time to start thinking about bettering your pronunciation with websites like Forvo, an online audio dictionary.

Finally, start communicating with real French speakers on the popular language exchange platform italki. You’ll spend part of the time practicing French with a native speaker and part of the time sharing your own native language that they’re trying to learn.

Best of all, italki also has a tutoring option when you’re ready for some more focused study (and you will be, after these three months!).

 

Congratulations—if you’ve successfully stuck with this course then chances are, you’re a francophone now.

Take a moment to bask in your success, and when the time comes—dare I say it—start your intermediate level course!


Camille Turner is an experienced freelance writer and ESL teacher.

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