Piecing together the sentence “Je voudrais un cafe au lait” from an English-French dictionary to order a coffee with milk in a cafe in rural France can be difficult enough to stop a tourist from making the order. Other than in Paris, where shop attendants and waiters can often rescue floundering guests with second language English, visitors who do not speak the French language are at a distinct disadvantage.
As English is one of the most spoken languages around the world, it is easy for native English speakers not to feel the need to learn French or another second language. However, as French is another of the world’s most commonly spoken languages, learning French to a conversational level can break language barriers in business, friendships, and even just the act of ordering a coffee during a trip to France. It also looks good on a CV and can create career opportunities.
One way to learn French is to buy a book on the French language. This is one of the cheapest options, and learners can go at their own pace. Books can also be kept for reference once the reader has finished his or her self-taught course. However, books do not help with pronunciation or give learners opportunities to practice conversations.
Most colleges and universities offer French language courses, often to degree level. This approach gives students an excellent start, as it covers all areas, including reference books, pronunciation and conversation practice and feedback. Learners can also get this through private lessons. The drawback to both of these approaches is that they can make learning French expensive. For someone who only wants to learn French to converse during trips or with international colleagues, courses and lessons are unnecessary.
Other options include software and DVDs or CDs. DVDs and CDs offer the same benefits as books because they can be kept for reference and used at the learner’s own pace, but they also have audio and visual aids to help with pronunciation. Software is interactive, allowing for help with conversing, as well as feedback on pronunciation and progress.
Babbel.com combines the best aspects of the different approaches outlined above. It is device-based, but does not require the user to download a program. With Babbel you can learn French at home on your computer or, thanks to mobile apps on smartphones or tablets, when you are out and about. Interactive multimedia allows two-sided learning without the need or cost of a teacher or classroom.
One of Babbel’s main principles is to promote enjoyment while learning. The online tools use fun exercises to teach reading, listening, and writing. Tutorials hone grammar skills and speech recognition gives learners the opportunity to practice pronunciation and find out how well they would be understood in real-life situations. The French language is taught via quick, self-paced courses on an advertisement-free interface, from beginner level upwards.