Here are the best ways to learn French. And no, full immersion in France isn’t even on the list!
As a French coach, I know that not everyone has the time, resources or desire to move to another country. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives to learn French on your own, from the comfort of your home.
In this article, we’ll talk about:
- Your language learning style.
- The activities suited to your style.
- General advice applicable to all kinds of learners.
Let’s dive in!
What kind of language learner are you?
To make the most of your French learning, you first need to figure out which learning style works best for you.
There are 4 main learning styles.
Visual: If you’re a visual learner, you work best with pictures, flashcards, books, videos and anything you can see. This helps you visualize the words and memorize them better.
Auditory: If you’re an auditory learner, you prefer listening (to conversations, audiobooks, audio lessons or podcasts) and speaking (you repeat what you hear and engage in a discussion).
Reading and writing: If you’re a reading and writing type of learner, you value strong interactions with texts. This means that you like to read any material and take notes, underline important words or write down questions you may have.
Kinesthetic and tactile: If you’re a kinesthetic and tactile learner, you like to move (your hands or your body) while learning through experiences. This can mean watching a movie in French, listening to native people converse, talking in French, writing in French or doing everyday activities like using your phone in French.
So what kind of learner are you?
Do you favor only one style or a combination of several styles?
Or maybe you like them all?
By figuring out your style, you can dedicate your learning time to the strategy that suits you best, which will help you save time and effort.
However, remember you shouldn’t focus all your energy only on one learning style.
When it comes to language learning, variety is a good thing. It will help you improve your French more quickly and you won’t get bored doing the same thing over and over again.
So I suggest you start with your favorite learning style, then try to incorporate the strategies from the other styles.
Now let’s see what are the best ways to learn French.
Take a French course
Best for: All 4 types of learners.
When you’re starting out, it’s essential to have a good structure to know what to learn and how to learn it.
While the Internet is full of free resources you can use to teach yourself French, it comes with a major downside: there is a lot of information available to dig through, which can often feel overwhelming to a beginner.
It sometimes leaves you wondering if you’re learning the right kind of stuff, or if you’re wasting your time on something that may not be a priority.
So if you want to learn French as quickly as possible, I suggest investing in a French course because everything will be laid out for you in one place, making your learning more efficient.
There are 3 main types you can choose from:
- A physical class near your home
- An online course
- A book course (preferably with audio)
To me, the best compromise is an online course or a book course with audio as they will give you the freedom to work whenever you want to.
Nowadays, there are courses for every learning style and budget, so you can choose the one that’s best for you.
Keep a vocabulary notebook
Best for: Visual – Reading and writing – Kinesthetic and tactile learners.
You’re going to learn a lot of words and sentences in French. But you won’t be able to remember them all on the first try.
So it’s imperative that you write them down in your own vocabulary notebook.
Whether you hear or read a word or sentence you don’t know, make sure to note it down, along with the translation.
The most convenient way to do this is to divide your pages in 2 columns. Write the French in the 1st column and the translation is the 2nd column.
At the end of each day, quiz yourself on some vocabulary by hiding the translation part with a piece of paper and trying to remember (or guess) what the French means.
You can also turn it around: try to figure out the French part just by reading the translation.
With this simple exercise, you’ll be able to memorize your vocabulary much better and faster.
In your notebook, I also suggest you write down sentences relevant to your personal life. It will come in handy when you have to talk about yourself.
Here are some examples:
- Je viens de [your home country or city] (I’m from …)
- J’adore … (I like …)
- J’aime … (I love …)
- Je déteste … (I dislike …)
- J’apprends le français parce que [your reasons for learning French] (I’m learning French because …)
You can also keep a list of popular questions, such as:
- Comment dire …? (How do you say …?) – formal/informal
- Est-ce que tu peux m’expliquer …? (Can you explain … to me?) – informal
- Qu’est-ce que tu aimes dans la vie ? (What do you like in life?) – informal
- Quel âge avez-vous ? (How old are you?) – formal
- Comment vous appelez-vous ? (What’s your name?) – formal
- D’où viens-tu ? (Where are you from?) – informal
Try to keep your notebook as close as possible, ideally on your desk or in your room.
As the saying goes “Out of sight, out of mind”, but you don’t want that!
Repetition is key when it comes to acquiring vocabulary. So make sure the notebook is visible, so you’re more likely to review the words and sentences regularly.
If you prefer, you can also create flashcards by using Anki. This app/software uses spaced repetition to help you commit the information on your flashcards into your long-term memory.
Read in French
Best for: Visual – Reading and writing learners.
Reading is a crucial part of language acquisition, so it’s one of the best ways to learn French.
You’ll build your vocabulary, learn new grammatical constructions and begin understanding how the French language works.
The variety of reading materials available is huge. You can pick anything you want such as books, eBooks, news articles, comics, online and blog articles, etc.
When it comes to books, keep a few things in mind:
- Read short books or books you’ve already read in your native language, because you’ll be more familiar with them.
- Try reading non-fiction books on a topic you like. The writing is usually less metaphorical than in fiction books, making your reading experience easier.
- Don’t start by reading the French classic novels (like Victor Hugo). These are quite complex books with an outdated language. If you really want to read them, keep them for when you’re more fluent.
When you’re reading in French, you should try to grasp the meaning as much as you can. You may not be able to get it all right away, but it’s a good goal to keep in mind.
When you’re beginning, you’ll probably read the text a few times over.
First, focus on understanding the meaning of sentences in their context, rather than trying to absorb every single word.
Then, identify the words you don’t know and look them up in a dictionary.
To make this process easier and avoid having to physically look in a dictionary, I recommend you use the online dictionary WordReference.
Write down any interesting or useful words in your notebook, so you can review them later.
You don’t have to note all the words you don’t know! If you come across a word that’s not essential to your life or that you might never use again, you can ignore it.
If you need to check the pronunciation of a word, you usually can do that in WordReference too, or by typing it into Google Translate.
Watch French videos
Best for: Visual – Auditory – Kinesthetic and tactile learners.
Watching anything in French is another great way to improve your vocabulary, pronunciation and syntax.
Depending on what you’re watching, you can also get an in-depth look at the French culture and the way French people think!
You can watch whatever you want in French: movies, TV shows, newscasts, documentaries, YouTube, even sports and music videos.
At the beginning, it will be hard to understand much, but that’s ok. The goal is to train your ear, like a musician.
Start by looking up the words you hear often and write them down in your notebook. They are usually the most useful ones.
If you’re watching something with French subtitles, hit the pause button after any sentence and repeat it, trying to match the speaker’s pronunciation and flow as best as you can.
You can even rewind, and repeat the sentence at the same time as the character. It’s like acting a scene out while you’re watching it.
This mimic method is an excellent way to practice French more actively on your own.
The best thing you can watch in French is a TV show with several episodes and/or seasons.
You’ll become more familiar with the show, its characters, its recurring topics and you’ll be exposed to the same kind of vocabulary.
For example, if you’re watching a show about a team of lawyers, you’ll hear plenty of words related to the law field. Same goes for any shows about medicine, science-fiction, etc.
If you have access to subtitles in both your native language and French, here’s what I suggest:
- Watch the episode one time with your native language subtitles.
- Watch that same episode with the French subtitles.
- Watch that episode again without any subtitles.
Yes, you’ll be watching the episode a lot of times, and you might end up knowing it by heart, but that’s an excellent way to get better at French. So give it a try!
Listen to French
Best for: Auditory – Kinesthetic and tactile learners.
To train your ear, you can also listen to anything you want in French.
Listening can be more or less difficult compared to just reading and watching.
If you’re listening to French while reading a text or watching a video at the same time, it reinforces your practice. You can read or watch along while listening to the pronunciation.
For beginners, start by listening to something you can follow along with a text, like a song for example.
Gradually move on to podcasts, radio shows and audiobooks. These can be more difficult, if they don’t have a transcript.
Listening to French when you have no text and no video is another challenge entirely.
You’ll have to focus even more if you want to catch unknown words and sentences. Sometimes you’ll even have to do some research to check how they are written.
But all this will help you solidify the vocabulary in your memory!
To test your listening skills, you can even try a dictation.
La dictée is a very popular exercise among young French children to teach them to listen and write correctly in French.
You can do it too, even if you have no one to read the text for you.
Choose a French song, listen to it, pause whenever you need to and write as much as you can hear/understand.
Then go to LyricsTranslate, look for the song and check the French lyrics. You’ll often have the translation available in many other languages too.
If starting with a blank page seems daunting, you can also try a “lighter” dictation.
Head over to LyricsTraining. You choose your song and you’ll get a text with blanks to fill in.
There are 4 levels of difficulty (the more difficult it is, the more blanks there are).
The song plays as a YouTube video and you type in what you hear along the way. If you don’t know the word, click on the right arrow to reveal it. You can also sing along while you’re at it.
If you want to take a dictation on a more formal text, you can try out TV5Monde. They offer many dictations on a variety of subjects. You can choose your level from A1 to C2 and the dictations will be progressively more difficult.
Try at least one dictation per week to speed up your progress.
Keep up with the news
Best for: All 4 types of learners.
We’re surrounded by the news.
Some stories and events are so major that you’ll probably have heard about them in your native language.
This means that when you come across them in French, you’ll already be familiar with them.
It will also give you a broad understanding of French society as well as what’s going on in France.
The news is available in many formats, which means you can choose how you prefer to consume it.
Whether you’re listening, reading or watching, make sure to write down any useful words or sentences in your notebook.
The vocabulary from the news is very interesting. You’ll often come across words and phrases which you can use in real life. For example, selon les médias (according to the media) or la une (front-page news).
You can also practice your writing skills with the news!
Once you’ve absorbed a news piece, write a short paragraph in French to summarize the main idea(s). It’s an excellent way to check your understanding and to re-use the essential vocabulary.
Write in French
Best for: Reading and writing – Kinesthetic and tactile learners.
Writing in French is perhaps the most difficult skill to practice on your own.
When you read and listen, you are mostly on the passive end of things. You don’t have to think much, except to absorb the content and figure out what it’s about.
When you speak, you’re more active. You can ask for help from your partner when you don’t know a word or need an explanation.
But when it comes to writing from scratch, it’s another story. There’s no one around but yourself!
You really have to think, put your thoughts into words and sentences, and write them down in an intelligible way. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do or to get feedback.
There are 2 main ways to practice your writing skills.
First, you can write about a specific topic.
For example, if you’re studying vocabulary related to travel, write a text about your favorite vacation or where you’d like to go.
If you’re studying a grammar point like the conditional, write about what you would do if you could have any superpowers or if you were rich.
You get to choose any topic you like!
Second, you can write in a journal.
For example, write about your day, what you did, what was great or not so great, how you’re feeling, etc.
When you’re writing, there’s no rush, no one waiting for you to speak. So you can take your time and look up words you don’t know in the dictionary.
If you’re having difficulties with a sentence, try to turn it around, find another way to say it.
Whatever you do, just don’t use Google Translation to translate your text! That would defeat the purpose of the exercise.
Once you’ve written your text, you’ll want to know if you’ve made mistakes and how solid your writing is.
You can ask a French friend to review it or share your work on a platform like Reddit. There are many French subreddits where you can post your text and ask for help. It’s free and it’s a good way to get feedback.
Practice writing French at least once a week.
You’ll write things that are relevant to you and that you’ll easily be able to re-use when speaking to someone. This will make your conversations much easier because you’ll already have done the work beforehand.
Talk with native French speakers
Best for: Auditory – Kinesthetic and tactile learners.
You can spend all your time studying French by reading, listening and writing, but if you don’t speak it, you’ll never progress the way you want to.
If you’re learning French on your own, you can start by repeating what you hear and talking to yourself to build some confidence.
But you should, pretty quickly, think about speaking French with someone else, even if it’s to have a basic conversation.
The best way is to find native French speakers you can talk to. Thanks to the Internet, it’s pretty easy!
Here are some of my favorite options.
You can try italki if you want one-on-one conversations with native French tutors (Professional Teachers and Community Tutors).
The lessons with a Community Tutor cost less, because they are mostly focused on helping you practice your conversation skills, whereas a Professional Teacher will teach you French in a more formal manner, with more explanations.
If you’re just looking to improve your conversation, go for a Community Tutor. You can find lessons for all budgets on italki, so I highly recommend it.
If you’re looking for free options, you can find a French partner on an app like HelloTalk or Tandem.
You can also check my favorite free website Conversation Exchange.
All you have to do is filter your search according to the type of exchange you’re looking for:
- Face to face conversation.
- Correspondence (pen pal, writing only).
- Through chat software (like Skype, Whatsapp, Zoom, Discord, etc.). With this option, you can talk via audio or video with someone, as well as write to them.
I found many people via Conversation Exchange when I was learning English, more than 15+ years ago, and I still recommend it to this day.
The only downside is that, since it’s free, it’s based on a language exchange. This means your partner will teach you French, and you’ll teach them your own language.
But if you’re lucky, you could find more than just a French partner, you might make a good friend for a long time.
Change your settings to French
Best for: Visual – Kinesthetic and tactile learners.
Technology is a major part of our lives. I bet you spend most of your time on your phone, tablet, computer or TV. So why not use that time to learn French?
To do that, change the settings of your devices to French! (Just make sure you know how to turn it back to your native language).
You’ll get exposed to plenty of new words and sentences when you navigate your now French devices.
This tech vocabulary is essential in day-to-day life and you’ll have the opportunity to use it when you’re practicing French.
Don’t stop at your devices though!
You can also set to French your social media, your video games, your applications, your Netflix account, YouTube, etc.
French is such a popular language that you’re always guaranteed to find it in any language setting.
With this simple trick, you make French a more prominent part of your life. You’ll be learning the language without even realizing it.
Have fun in French
Best for: All 4 types of learners.
When you’re learning French, it’s important to remember to have fun! So why not enjoy your hobbies in French?
You love cooking? Practice French through cooking videos and cookbooks. For example, find a recipe you like on the famous 750g YouTube channel and try to replicate it.
The possibilities are endless!
Just type the name of your hobby in French in Google and you’re sure to find something to your taste.
YouTube is also a gold mine of content! Videos are much easier to consume, so take advantage of this.
Learning French that way is great because you’re familiar with the topic. When you come across new vocabulary, you’ll be able to relate it to what you already know.
You’ll also improve much faster, because it’s a topic you like. And it will come in handy when you have a conversation and talk about what you love in life.
So go ahead, have fun learning French with your hobbies!
Don’t skip the French grammar
French grammar is not easy, even children in French schools have extensive lessons on the subject. It takes time to grasp and to master.
Some people try to learn French without really studying grammar, while others go all in and waste time on difficult concepts that aren’t really that useful to their everyday life.
Instead, find a just middle: incorporate grammar in small doses.
First, make sure to study grammar when you feel the most motivated.
Few people are in love with the French grammar, so stack all the odds in your favor. When you’re motivated, you’ll understand better, retain more and are less likely to give up.
Second, get a good French course or book. You’ll get the most important grammar points laid out and explained for you.
Study one grammar point at a time. Don’t try to study everything all at once or to rush the process, at the risk of getting frustrated quickly.
For verbs, I highly suggest you purchase “Bescherelle – La conjugaison pour tous“.
This book is a comprehensive guide to French verbs and tenses.
I appreciate the usefulness of this book now, but it wasn’t always the case. When I was younger and did something wrong, my mother would punish me by making me write one page with all the conjugations of the verb several times over.
It felt like Hell to my younger self, but it was definitely helpful. So if you’re someone who learns better by writing, you can definitely use this technique (copy the page one time to start with). Or you can just read it over.
For a free verb conjugator, you can try the website L’Obs, la conjugaison by entering the verb you’re looking for in French.
Whenever you’re having difficulties on a particular grammar point, don’t fixate on it. It’s often better to leave it alone to give your brain some time to process what you learn.
In practice, you’ll have to go over French grammar several times over before it really sinks it. So be mentally prepared!
Establish a routine
Learning French is an investment in your future.
It’s important to establish a routine, so you can learn French consistently and make progress faster.
Consider how much time per day you can set aside for French. It doesn’t have to be long, we all have a life.
I suggest starting with 30 min to 1 hour per day. If you can dedicate more time to learning, that’s great!
But don’t go overboard either. It’s not useful to study for 6 hours straight, because you need to give yourself time to process what you learn.
Ideally, you would study every day. However don’t beat yourself up, if you skip a day or two. We’re aiming for consistency, not perfection.
Study when you feel most productive. If you’re a morning person, study before going to work. If you’re a night owl, study before going to bed. Whatever moment in the day works best for you.
When you establish a routine and become consistent, you spend more time with the French language, allowing you to learn and improve more quickly.
The bottom line
There are plenty of ways to learn French, but the best ways depend on your personality. There isn’t a one size fits all solution.
You need to:
- Figure out your learning style
- Focus on the activities that match your learning style to reap the most benefits
- Incorporate the activities from the other learning styles for variety
All the tips in this article will help you progress faster, so give them a try.
Now that you know the best ways to learn French, check out how long it will actually take you to learn French.
So what are your favorite ways to learn French?
Share it in the comments section below!