A language is more than a bunch of words and rules for how to put those words together; it is another world. Speaking French gives you access to the world of over 75 million native speakers in France, Belgium and Luxembourg, and 263 million people around the rest of the world who speak it as a second language – most of them in West Africa.
French is considered one of the easiest languages for a native English speaker to learn. The grammar and sentence structure are different from English, but simpler. Because both languages have Latin roots, they also share thousands of cognates – words that sound the same and have the same meanings.
Consider this sentence in French – made up almost entirely of French-English cognates: L’ancien restaurant est à proximité du musée d’art. The cognates for “restaurant”, “museum” and “art” are virtually unchanged. Stretch your brain a bit and you might notice that ancien looks like “ancient” and proximité looks a lot like “proximity”; the simpler alternatives to these words are “old” and “near”. Put it all together and you get: The old restaurant is near the art museum.
Not only is French relatively easy to pick up and start speaking, understanding it gives you a huge head-start to understanding other Romance languages like Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.
With Babbel, you can learn French without going to classes, hiring a tutor or investing in expensive software. For an affordable monthly subscription, you have access to hundreds of hours of interactive courses that get you speaking right from the first lesson. Babbel’s integrated speech recognition can even help you improve your pronunciation.
We add new courses on a regular basis so the opportunities to learn and improve are always growing. And if you own an iPhone, Android, or Windows 8 phone the key to speaking French is already in your pocket.
Having a little French in your conversational repertoire will open up the world to you on multiple levels:
For Business – being bilingual isn’t just good for your resumé, it can change your career. As a major language for global commerce, knowing some French can be extremely advantageous for anyone doing business in western Europe or the western half of Africa. Countries in West Africa represent rapidly emerging markets that will be harder to access if you can’t understand French. In Europe, French remains an important language for many businesses.
Traveling – France is one of the most pleasant countries in Europe to vacation – if you can speak French. Seek out the kinds of genuine places that are out of bounds to non-French speakers. If you get away from Paris hotels and Riviera resorts, you’ll discover that most of the country consists of farms, vineyards and small villages. The common denominator, whether you are in Provence, Champagne or Brittany, is excellent food, world-class wine and inexhaustible country charm.
French is also spoken in Belgium and Luxembourg, and it’s the most spoken second language in Europe, making it useful in countries like Poland, the Czech Republic or Greece. It is the lingua franca of half the African continent: from Morocco to Senegal to Mauritius to the Seychelles.
Living Abroad – When you speak French well enough to travel without a phrasebook in hand, the idea of staying longer in another country can become tempting. Cities like Paris, Brussels and Lyon offer opportunities for students looking for a semester abroad; professionals may find the next big thing in growing economies like Algeria, Tunisia and Côte d’Ivoire; and retirees who appreciate the good things in life continue to be drawn to the south of France.
Brain Training – Even if you decide to only learn French as a hobby, knowing multiple languages will keep your brain healthy and nimble, even in old age. This is because knowing another language creates another network of connections among your neurons. The higher your neural interconnectivity, the better your memory and problem-solving skills.
French, Belgian and African Cultures, Unfiltered – The French-speaking world is responsible for gorgeous (and delicious) arts and culture. Whether you want to explore the wine region of Bordeaux, learn to dance Sabar in Dakar, tour Belgium’s famous breweries or learn how to really cook confit de canard, speaking the language will let you participate more directly. Knowing French will also give you unfiltered access to the films of the French New Wave, the literature of Flaubert, Balzac and Proust; and the music of Édith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg. And if you are among the 10 million Franco-Americans who can’t speak French, learning the language will turn your window onto your heritage into a doorway.
Ways to Learn French
338 million people around the world speak French, either as a first or second language. In the U.S. it is the second most studied foreign language after Spanish. Not surprisingly, there are many ways to study the language:
In The Classroom
Classroom instruction with a teacher and other students is the most traditional approach to learning a language. Many Americans have already learned some French this way in high school, although often not with the best results. Many people who are motivated to become fluent find that classes offer a good balance between language instruction and chance to listen and speak.
Learning one-on-one with a tutor allows for a completely tailored learning experience and more opportunities to practice speaking. Compared to a classroom where the teacher has to split attention among dozens of pupils, private tutoring usually yields quicker results. However, private tutoring doesn’t come cheap and you’ll need to be prepared to pay a high hourly rate for an experienced tutor.
Audio Courses and CD-roms
For people with money to burn on learning a language, but not enough time to commit to traditional methods, multimedia courses are a good alternative – whether you practice listening and speaking with CDs in the car, or use interactive courses on your home PC in your free time. The main drawback to these methods is high up-front cost and material that can quickly become outdated.
Online French Courses
Online learning has made immense progress in the past several years and has become a viable alternative to more traditional forms of instruction. It’s becoming the norm for people with very little time or money to spare who still want to make progress with their learning. Compared to the above method, subscription-based online programs are always updating, improving and adding courses that don’t require buying a new module.
To Pay Or Not To Pay?
What do the methods mentioned above have in common? They all cost money. For thrifty folks who have a little more patience and motivation than the average learner, there ways to learn French for free:
Tandem learning is a technique where two people who want to learn each other’s languages take turns as teacher and as student. For example: if you meet for two hours, you can speak in French for one hour and then switch to English for the next hour so that you both get some practice. But be aware, just because someone is a native speaker does not mean they are a good teacher. This can still be a good option once you already know some French and just want to practice, but you must be prepared to teach your counterpart English. Tandems are free for both parties, but a significant time commitment.
OK, so it’s only free if you don’t count the airfare or room and board, but nothing helps you become fluent like living in a French-speaking country. But immersion is no magic bullet. If you haven’t arrived with at least some knowledge of French vocabulary and grammar, passive listening will not be easy and will not make you fluent without further study. Before taking the big plunge, you can simulate immersion by streaming French radio and TV online, watching French films and doing multimedia lessons online.
If you are a real self-starter then you don’t need more than a French grammar book, dictionary and some vocab books to get started with French. Books could get you reading French after lots of studying, but won’t help with listening comprehension or speaking.
Free Online Courses and Mobile Apps
There are hundreds of ways to learn French for free on the web. From French grammar wikis to online courses, there’s no shortage of information out there, but it’s often presented in a cluttered and inconsistent way that’s harder to read than a grammar book.
Some websites offer free interactive learning material, like Duolingo and Memrise, but programs like these focus on writing and reading at the expense of listening and speaking. They also rely heavily on user-generated content, which means the quality is inconsistent and the accuracy of the information goes unverified. It’s possible to learn French online for free, but be prepared to deal with language lessons that are dull, inflexible, too basic, poorly designed, or else littered with ads.
Learning French with Babbel
Learning with Babbel costs you less per month than your morning coffee, is ad-free and has been made by a team of language experts, educators and designers – so you are guaranteed a top-quality learning experience for the best value.
Here at Babbel we believe that the key to effectively learning French, or any language, is having fun. Commitment and discipline will always be important factors, but real engagement is what helps you to retain information and maximize your learning potential. Here’s what you can expect from Babbel’s online French program:
Covers all four aspects of language acquisition – listening, reading, writing and speaking – with fully interactive multimedia lessons. The speech recognition feature even helps you improve your pronunciation.
iOS and Android apps are fully integrated with the web application. Your progress is saved in the cloud and synced across all devices – so you can learn anytime, anywhere.
Set your own pace and learn what’s relevant to you with courses organized by topic and theme.
Regular course updates and new lessons so you always have access to the freshest, most up-to-date material.
The Babbel Community lets you connect with other users so you can practice your French with native speakers or other learners.
All the material you cover is stored in your Review Manager, where you can continue to practice and improve on what you’ve learned, even if you decide not continue with a paid subscription.
Don’t like the service? We offer a 20 day money-back guarantee – no questions asked.
Try a free French lesson with Babbel and see for yourself just how enjoyable learning can be.