I get it.
Not everyone likes subtitles.
Take my mom. She finds them distracting from what she’s watching. She generally avoids foreign films unless an English audio track is available.
But if she were a French learner like you, I’d have to say: turn on those subtitles, mom.
Maybe you’re a beginner watching French videos with English subtitles to familiarize yourself with the French accent. Maybe you’re an intermediate learner pairing French subtitles and French audio to make sure you understand. Either way, using subtitles is a truly helpful technique for your French journey.
The challenge, of course, is finding subtitled French resources that are effective and engaging. No one wants to waste hours browsing dead-ends on YouTube.
Here, we’ll highlight seven fresh resources to learn French with subtitles, each of which is worth the time. We’ll explain what makes each one unique and how to know if it’s helpful to your level.
Just Press Play! 7 Fresh Sites to Learn French with Subtitles
Animated Stories with French Subtitles
Audio stories or contes (tales) can be a great way to test your listening comprehension. Although the short stories here were originally intended for children, they make engaging content for all students of French.
This also means that the vocabulary is simpler and more common. You probably aren’t going to need to know obscure political or legal terms to enjoy these.
BookBox French on YouTube
BookBox features brief animated stories with subtitles available in many languages. They have a couple dozen French videos, each of which is about four to six minutes long.
They all have built-in French subtitles. They’re particularly helpful for listening and pronunciation because the individual words are highlighted as they’re spoken, much like a karaoke machine.
You can also turn English subtitles on or off in the video settings (click the gear icon).
The stories are told at moderate speed (not overly slow, but not at all like a French news report). The animations help you grasp what’s going on, even if you aren’t sure what each word means.
One story to get started with is this one about two birds who help a zebra that’s infested with fleas:
Le Petit Nicholas is a charming children’s show based on the books by René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé about a young boy growing up in 1960s France.
Each episode is about 12 minutes long. Although the audio is more fast-paced because it’s mainly dialogue (as opposed to narration like with BookBox), the French subtitles are helpful in filling in the gaps.
Nonetheless, this YouTube playlist may be most useful to upper beginner and intermediate leaners. There aren’t English subtitles provided.
In any case, this is a good place to go for practicing very common quotidienne (daily) vocabulary.
For instance, the first one in the playlist shows Nicholas arguing with classmates and his reaction after dropping an ice cream on the ground.
Real French Entertainment with Subtitles
I love killing two birds with one stone. I’m not a bird-hater, but why not get two things done at the same time?
Luckily, that’s definitely possible with entertainment and French learning. Not only can your French practice be entertaining, but your entertainment can be your French practice.
There are subtitles, and then there are FluentU subtitles.
FluentU is an innovative French learning tool that provides authentic videos—like movie trailers, music videos, inspiring talks and more—that’ve been supercharged with interactive subtitles. Click any word in the French subtitles, and the video will automatically pause to show you a definition, memorable picture and native pronunciation.
You can also see other videos that have the word, so you learn how to use it in any context. Plus, there are English captions you can toggle on or off depending on your level.
Once you’re done watching, FluentU has flashcards and fun quizzes tailor-made for every video, so you remember the new words you’ve learned.
The videos are organized by genre and level, and FluentU also suggests new videos based on what you’ve already learned. It’s an incredible way to learn French the way native speakers actually use it—and it doesn’t even feel like studying.
Parole de Chat (roughly, Word of Cats) is one of my favorite French learning treasures.
If you thought you loved cat videos in English, just wait until you see what happens when cats (and many other animals) start speaking French in the middle of their latest antics.
This is a prime resource for beginners, as every video is accompanied by English subtitles and lasts two to five minutes on average.
As addictive as this YouTube channel may be, you need to start somewhere! One of their most popular and most humorous videos is La Peur (Fear), which is a narrated compilation of cats being scared by a grand variety of quotidian items, my personal favorite of which is les petits pois de l’enfer (the peas from Hell).
Music Videos with Lyrics
One of the most versatile, amusing and helpful French learning tools is music. From traditional ballad singers such as Édith Piaf to modern Belgian stars like Stromae, the francophone world has contributed much to music.
As catchy as a song may be, it’s often difficult to catch the actual words, especially if you’re a beginner. When words are sung, the voice rises and falls more frequently and is more emotive, making comprehension a different challenge than with plain, spoken French.
Also, all syllables in French are pronounced when sung—even the ones that would be silent in regular, spoken French. This is another reason why listening to French music is different than listening to a French dialogue.
This is where subtitles come in. The 400+ videos on this playlist have on-screen lyrics:
Following along with the words will help you connect the written word with the spoken word. It’s a great way to practice both listening comprehension and the French accent.
Killing more birds with one stone… I have a heart, I promise.
Guided French Dialogues
French audio dialogues are surely some of the most immediately practical French learning tools. These resources will give you confidence with doing daily tasks in French (ordering at a restaurant, asking for help).
However, they don’t contribute much if you feel like you’re lost in the words.
And this, of course, is where subtitles (or in this case, a transcript) come in. Once again, they help fill any loopholes in your understanding and reinforce your learning through combined visual and auditory content.
Might as well end with a bang! As overwhelming as this video may be, it’s a treasure trove of French dialogue practice.
Don’t be a hero. There’s no need to listen to all four hours at once! In fact, the individual dialogues are no more than a few minutes each. Very manageable to add to your French routine!
Not only does this resource offer ample material (did I say four hours?) to learners, but most of the content covers exactly the kinds of practical situations that make dialogues an essential tool for students of French.
Whether you’re looking to make a hotel reservation or (for over-achievers) discuss poetry, this video has you covered.
Let’s not forget the subtitles, either. Each dialogue is accompanied by a clear, on-screen transcript.
One more thing to keep in mind for this one: the level of difficulty generally increases as the video goes on, so if you want to be a show-off (or you really are a more advanced learner), feel free to skip ahead to what’s most helpful to you.
FrenchPod101’s YouTube channel offers similar dialogues, along with comprehension questions that ensure you’re paying attention.
The way it works is that each video covers one conversation.
You’re asked a question and listen to a dialogue. Then, you’re given the question and dialogue again, this time with subtitles (French and English). Finally, the correct answer is given.
Each dialogue is accompanied by an image that offers the choices for answering the question.
For example, in this video about looking at apartments, we’re given four floor plans and are asked to determine which corresponds to the apartment the speakers decide to visit:
If you love these video dialogues, you’ll definitely want to check out the full FrenchPod101 learning program. They have more than 1,000 video and audio podcasts that teach you the language and culture in a relaxed way.
Whether you’re new to the world of French subtitles or a subtitle regular, these sources will provide you with fresh material that’s effective and engaging.
You might even get to kill two (or more) birds with one stone.
Rachel Larsen is a lifelong francophile and freelance writer who dreams of living in France one day. She’s currently a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. To learn more, visit her LinkedIn page.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.