If you have always wanted to learn French, you’re nowhere near alone; millions of people study the language every day around the world. And it’s no wonder! French is a language that captures a rich culture and history. The French language can take you around the world, from Europe to Africa to North America and even to the islands of the Caribbean.
But you might have a lot of questions about why you should learn French or what it takes to get started — or why it’s even worthwhile at all. The good news is you can rest assured that learning the French language is an effort worth undertaking. With the right technology to guide you in your journey, you’ll see your efforts pay off in so many ways.
Why Learn French?
Learning any new tongue is a challenge that can open up your mind to new perspectives and help you connect with all types of people across boundaries of land and language. When it comes to learning French, these reasons are especially true.
To start, if you know the French language, you open yourself up to a whole world of French speakers that spans continental borders. There are slightly more than 300 million people on Earth who speak French to some degree, making it the sixth most spoken language worldwide. It’s the official language of 29 countries, the most of any language behind English (and it’s also the second most studied language worldwide behind English!).
You can find French speakers spread around the planet, not only in France but also in many other countries around the world, including throughout Africa, mostly a result of the French colonial and imperial legacy of the 1800s and early 1900s. Today, about 50 percent of the planet’s native French speakers live in Africa in countries like Algeria, Tunisia, Djibouti, Niger, Mauritius, and Côte d’Ivoire, and with the continent’s massive population growth alone, it’s projected that there will be more than 700 million global French speakers by 2050.
After German and Russian, French is the most widely spoken language in Europe; huge proportions of speakers can be found in Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, among plenty of other countries where French speakers have laid roots, including Poland, Greece, and the Czech Republic.
Across the Atlantic Ocean over in North America, Canada has about 10 million native French speakers, many of whom are found in the province of Québec, where French is the only official language (it shares co-official status with English in most other provinces). French is the fourth most spoken language in the United States, with major populations of native speakers of dialects of French in places like Louisiana. And if you head further south, you’ll find roughly 10 million speakers of Haitian Creole, a variety of the French language, in Haiti. There’s no shortage of French speakers wherever you may choose to travel!
You might want to learn French for its links to other world languages. French, a Romance language, is closely related to all of the other languages in the same family, like Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, to name a few. They all derive from Vulgar Latin, the vernacular variety spoken by the common people of the Roman Empire. That means these languages share a whole lot of cognates, or words that are spelled and sound the same and that have the same meaning across more than one language.
Whether it helps you master other Romance languages faster and more easily or it gives you a new understanding of the English you already speak, there’s no doubt that if you learn French, you’ll have a learning advantage right from the start!
Benefits Of Learning French
Picking up a new skill can help you express your creativity, stimulate your mind, and discover new sides of yourself along the way. Learning a new language like French is no exception! Here are just a few of the many ways you can make a positive impact on your life if you learn French.
- Learn French For Travel — When the spirit of adventure strikes, don’t let language barriers hold you back. When you have French in your back pocket, you have a passport to a whole new world. Learning French not only means you’ll be able to navigate new cities by reading road signs, menus, and train tickets; it also lets you connect with the new people you meet there. It’s often said that the best way to explore a new place is through the eyes of a local, and learning French lets you branch out of tourist hotspots and into the real world as the native speakers see it. Whether it’s the rocky beaches of Brittany or the romantic streets of Paris, you’ll be more equipped to venture off the beaten path and explore all the excellent food, world-class wine and inexhaustible country charm France has to offer when you have French in your linguistic repertoire.
- Live The French Language Abroad — Whether you’re looking to enroll at a foreign university and have a more alternative college experience, find a job at a hostel that lets you hit the beach by day and work at night, or retire in a place with a slower pace of life, living abroad is hands down the best hands-on approach to getting the most immersive language experience possible. By placing yourself in an environment where you’re obligated to speak French, you’ll fast-track your journey to fluency. Your life can take on new twists and turns when you move to an unfamiliar place, and there’s so much of the French-speaking world to explore. When you learn French, you open up a gateway to a robust, colorful, and novel life adventure!
- Build Your Business French Skills — Today the world is more connected economically than ever before. The sweeping tides of globalization mean that companies and organizations today are operating across international borders and boundaries. If you’re a professional looking for ways to stay competitive and current in the global market, learning French is a no-brainer for success. Western Europe and the African continent are both emerging markets full of opportunity for businesses. Learning the French language is a fantastic way to connect with colleagues in other countries, score new clients, build strong relationships with French-speaking partners and investors, and to show off the multicultural, international, and inclusive nature of your brand.
- Use Language To Train Your Brain — Building any new skill is a surefire way to expand your intellectual horizons. Learning French is an especially sound way to keep your brain flexible and nimble, especially as you grow older. Picking up a new language involves making connections between words and what they represent, taking apart and putting together grammatical structures, spontaneously speaking and thinking on your feet, sticking with a challenge when it’s frustrating and confusing, and a whole lot of active listening. There are few better ways to exercise your mental muscles than by learning French.
- Immerse Yourself In French Culture, Unfiltered — Learning French opens you up not only to a better understanding of the language itself but also of the arts and culture of the world that speaks it. To read the literature of decorated French-speaking authors like Victor Hugo, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Charles Baudelaire is to engage with the language in some of its most beautiful and poetic expressions. Through the lens of French you get a more active immersion in more contemporary French-language media like podcasts, radio shows, audiobooks, and TV shows. The stories and recipes of world-renowned culinary creations, the dialogue of famous French films, and the most sweeping currents in French-language journalism all become accessible to you when you learn the French language. And if you’re from a family with French-speaking elders and ancestors but you don’t know the language yourself, learning French is an excellent way to connect with your heritage.
Learn French Basics: French Lesson For Beginners
Learning French Pronunciation, The French Alphabet And French Accents
French pronunciation is notoriously confusing for non-native French speakers, especially when they are confronted with a French word that looks nothing like it’s pronounced from how it’s spelled (think hors d'oeuvres, for one). The French language is full of funky orthography and very specific pronunciations — silent letters, clusters of vowels and sounds that don’t exist in English.
Don’t worry if you can’t master a typical French accent or French pronunciation right away; it takes time and practice! The best way to remember these rules is just to practice over and over, especially by reading texts out loud. Watching French TV and movies or listening to French podcasts, radio and film can certainly help you master French pronunciation and sound like a native French speaker.
Learning French vocabulary isn’t as hard as you might think. It takes time and practice, but you’ll find there are a lot of French words and phrases that are connected with expressions you already know.
As mentioned above, French is a descendant of the Vulgar Latin spoken by the common people of the Roman Empire. Though English isn’t in the same language family as French (English is a Germanic language), more than a quarter of English words come from Latin, and roughly the same amount of English words come from the French language (so, indirectly from Latin). And there are thousands of Greek words that have made their way into both English and French, too. That means you’re going to find a lot of Latin- and Greek-derived words in French vocabulary you already recognize. When you see the French words artiste, académique, or génération, for example, you’ll probably have no trouble guessing their English equivalents.
Basics Of French Grammar
French Verbs And French Verb Conjugations
Verbs are key elements of any French sentence. Whenever you want to express that someone or something does some action or is something else, you need a French verb.
You can recognize when a word you come across is a French verb by noticing the word’s ending. French verbs end in one of three endings: -er (like the verb danser, “to dance”), -ir (like avertir, “to warn”) or -re (like perdre, “to lose”). This makes it fairly easy to figure out when you’re dealing with a French verb as opposed to another type of French word, like a French noun or French adjective. However, these are only the endings for the verbs in what’s called their infinitive form — “to do,” “to be,” “to eat” or “to speak,” for example.
To be used in actual French sentences, these verbs need to be conjugated, which is a technical way of saying that each French verb requires a special ending depending on the subject of the verb (who or what is doing the action of the verb). There are many French verbs that are considered “regular” because they all follow the same consistent pattern of conjugation.
For example, for a regular verb ending in -er, like parler (“to speak”), if the pronoun je (“I”) is the subject, or the one doing the speaking, you drop the -er ending from the verb and add the ending -e to the remaining verb "stem," giving je parle, or “I speak.” For the pronoun tu (“you”), parler becomes tu parles, or “you speak.” Each subject has its own special conjugation, or verb ending, associated with it, and this applies for all verbs, whether they end in -er, -ir, or -re — though the conjugations are slightly different for each ending.
There are, however, many French verbs — and important ones at that — whose conjugations are irregular and must be learned and memorized separately. These verbs include ones like aller (“to go”), être (“to be”) and avoir (“to have”).
Knowing how to conjugate French verbs is essential to being able to express yourself in French, and you’ll likely spend a large part of your French learning journey focusing on the grammar of French verbs. Once you master them, you’ll be well on your way to speaking French with fluency.
French Nouns And French Gender
Each French noun has a gender, meaning it’s classified as either masculine (masculin) or feminine (féminin). This doesn’t mean that every person, place, object or idea is inherently male or female; it’s just a system of grammatical categorization that exists in French and many other world languages that affects how speakers use these languages.
Often, French gender marking maps to words in ways you’d expect; la mère (“the mother”) is a feminine noun, so it requires the singular definite article la (“the”), whereas le père (“the father”) is a masculine noun that requires the definite article le. But sometimes these gender assignments can be pretty arbitrary; why is la chaise (“the chair”) feminine while le canapé (“the sofa”) is masculine? A major part of learning French nouns involves memorizing their gender classifications, so it’s important to practice this concept.
There are patterns of certain word endings that can clue you in to which gender they might be assigned; for example, nouns that end in -ence or -ssion (like la violence or la passion) or ones that end in a double-consonant followed by -e, like la femme (“the woman”) or la tristesse (“the sadness”), are often feminine. And if you see a word ending in -eau (like le bateau, or “the boat”) or in -eur (like in le moteur, or “the motor"), chances are high that French word is masculine.
But be wary of words that defy this pattern, like the masculine words le squelette (“the skeleton”) or le silence (“the silence”) or the feminine words la peau (“the skin”) or la chaleur (“the heat”). The genders of these words, too, must be memorized. French gender can be a tricky concept to master for this reason and others!
When discussing French nouns, we must also talk about French adjectives. Adjectives in French, or words that describe the properties and characteristics of nouns, usually follow nouns in the sentence and must “agree” with the nouns they modify. This means that their endings must reflect the gender (masculine or feminine) and the number (singular or plural) of the noun to which they refer. An adjective like chaud (“hot”) can modify a singular, masculine noun like le plat (“the dish”) to give us le plat chaud (“the hot dish”). But if the noun is feminine, like la boisson (“the drink”), we get the expression la boisson chaude (“the hot drink”). If the nouns are plural, the adjective endings change to reflect that, usually by adding an -s and we get expressions like les plats chauds (“the hot dishes”) and les boissons chaudes (“the hot drinks”).
There are many types of French adjectives whose endings have slightly different variations from this example, but the idea is the same — French adjectives must reflect the gender and number of the nouns they’re describing.
French Etiquette And The French Formal And Informal Address
Like in many world languages like Spanish, German and Italian, the French language distinguishes between two different ways to address someone you’re speaking to — the informal and the formal “you.” This aspect of linguistic French etiquette might be a little confusing to a native English speaker, but it’s something that will become like second nature to you as you learn French because it appears so often.
In French, the pronoun tu (“you”) is the informal, singular second person pronoun — reserved for when you’re talking to one (and only one) person you know familiarly or with whom you’re friendly, amicable, intimate or on more equal or higher social footing, like when you’re addressing friends, lovers, classmates, pets, colleagues or children.
The pronoun vous (which also means “you”) is reserved for more than one person — you can think of it like “you all.” But vous also plays into French etiquette in that it’s also the formal singular form of address, meaning that you use it when you’re talking to a singular someone who’s in a position of respect or authority relative to you, or someone you don’t know very well and to whom you want to be polite. This could include your boss, your professor, your in-laws or the elders in your family if you’re fairly young. Most people who aren’t sure whether to use tu or vous in a conversation resort to vous at first so as not to seem impolite.
So in the rules of linguistic French etiquette, tu is used only to address a singular person in an informal way, and vous is used in every other context — with more than one person and with one person in a more formal context. Both tu and vous require their own special verb conjugations, so it’s important to learn how, when and why you’d want to distinguish them in French.
Basic French Phrases And French Greetings
To speak like a native French speaker, there are certain must-know French phrases and expressions that will help you navigate your way through a conversation.
The best place to start, of course, is with “hello”! There are many common greetings in French to choose from, the most popular of which include bonjour (literally “good day”), or if it’s about 6 or 7 p.m. or later, bonsoir (“good evening”). With people you know quite familiarly and personally, a salut! (“hi!”) works well, too.
You’ll get familiar with basic French phrases like Comment allez-vous? (literally “How are you going?”) or Comment vas-tu? in more casual contexts. Comment ça va? (“How’s it going?”) or simply Ça va? are also very popular. You might offer a Bien, et toi? (“Well, and you?”) or a Tout va bien! (“Everything’s going well!”) in response, but if you’re not in high spirits, you can respond with a Comme ci, comme ça (“Like this, like that.”) or a Pas mal, meaning “not bad.”
If you’re meeting someone for the first time, you’ll want to talk about who you are and perhaps where you’re from. To say your name, you can say Je m’appelle X, or “I call myself X.” You can also say Je suis X, or “I am X.” To find out other people’s names, you can ask Comment tu t’appelles? (literally “How do you call yourself?”) or Comment vous appelez-vous? in more formal situations. The way to say where you come from in French is Je suis de X (literally “I am of X”) or Je viens de X (“I come from X”), and to ask where someone is from, you can say D’où viens-tu? or more formally D’où venez-vous?
To say goodbye in French, an Au revoir! is the classic go-to, and a Salut! will do the trick, too, in more informal situations. À bientôt (“See you soon!”) is also a great option, and so are Bonne journée! (“Have a good day!”) and Bonne soirée! (“have a good evening!”), the “goodbye” equivalents of bonjour and bonsoir.
There are plenty of other useful conversational French words, phrases and expressions you’ll get to know as you learn French, from s’il vous plaît and s’il te plaît (“please”), merci (“thank you”) and de rien (“you’re welcome”) to Où est X? (“Where is X?”) and Parlez-vous anglais?, or “Do you speak English?” When you learn these French phrases and hundreds more like them, you’ll be better able to communicate with native French speakers with ease.
Ways To Learn French
There is no right answer when it comes to how to learn French — or any new language. With so many options for your language journey, it’s no surprise that choosing a learning style or method can be overwhelming!
Of the millions of people who speak and study French as a non-native language, you’ll find folks who have used all sorts of resources to learn the language, some free, some fairly cheap, and some more of a financial investment. There’s no right combination, and it’s up to you to decide which methods work best for you to learn French.
What's The Quickest And Easiest Way To Learn French?
You’ll find that the fastest and easiest way to learn French is the way that offers you the least amount of friction — so if you can’t stand shuffling through textbook pages or you get bored flipping French flashcards, you might want to stick to a method that’s more exciting or engaging. Knowing yourself is key to success. Here are just a few of the ways to learn French quickly:
- in a classroom setting or with one-on-one instruction from a French teacher or tutor
- with paid or free online French courses, classes, software or apps
- with French media resources like podcasts, playlists, books, movies and TV shows
Learning French In The Classroom
French is among the most studied languages in school systems and universities around the world. French classroom learning is the most popular option for learners in grade school or university settings. It allows more intensive, regular study with feedback from teachers who know the French language and can correct mistakes as they happen and teach content in an interactive way. Depending on how large a class is and how engaged the teacher is, learning in a classroom might be a less personalized experience, but having other students to talk to and practice with is a valuable resource for a learner of any language.
Though full-time students make up a large proportion of French classroom learners, plenty of adults enroll in French classes, too. Many cities and communities offer free or fairly cheap language classes, and you’ll be very likely to find them in popular languages like French. Though a full-time job might limit your schedule, a commitment to a once- or twice-weekly French class after work or on the weekends can really improve your French language skills in a measurable way.
Learning French With A French Tutor
Private French tutoring offers a more tailored learning experience than traditional classroom learning with many of the advantages. Having a skilled French tutor at hand who can help you perfect your pronunciation and work with you closely on the aspects of French that cause you trouble is a great way to improve your skills fast — without a teacher needing to split time and attention among multiple students. And French tutoring doesn’t have to be inconvenient at all; many sessions can and do take place over video call instead of in person.
But the often steep costs of such individualized instruction can be a barrier to many learners. Well trained master French tutors often charge high hourly rates for their lessons, so finding a top-quality, budget-friendly option can be challenging.
Software and Online French Courses
There are many top-notch, expert-designed online French courses and programs that run from reasonably priced to very expensive. They allow you to learn French on your own time and are often more interactive and engaging than many free courses and resources. Plus, many of the best products out there are constantly updated with new, fresh material, so you can get the most relevant French learning experience available.
Can You Learn French For Free?
All of the above options have one thing in common: they cost money. For those learners who want to be more conscious of their budgets or are okay to spend more time finding and working with more cost-effective content, there are still plenty of options to learn French for free or for cheap!
Free Online French Courses And Apps For Learning French
There’s no shortage of free French courses, apps and content you can find on the web and on your phone. From French grammar wikis to online forums and French classes, you’re sure to find hundreds of options that might do the trick. Some of them are better than others in the ways they’re organized and how thoroughly they explain new concepts, so take them with a grain of salt.
Be aware that the tradeoff of a free product is that it usually sacrifices quality. Much of the content that’s in apps like Duolingo and Memrise or that’s scattered around the web comes from user-generated translations that are rarely verified and are often inconsistent or riddled with errors. These lessons often focus on writing and reading without much of a way to improve listening and speaking skills. And be wary that free interactive French lessons like these can often be basic, poorly designed, messy, rigid, and just downright boring — not to mention littered with ads.
That’s not to say these French resources can’t be helpful! But it’s important to know how and where to fill in the gaps in your language learning journey when certain content isn’t enough.
Learning French With Native French Speakers
Tandem learning is a technique where two people who speak different native languages meet up to help each other learn, swapping roles as teacher and student. For example, if you spend one hour teaching a friend who’s a French person or native French speaker something about English, he or she would then spend the next hour teaching French to you. This is an effective method when both people are able to commit significant time and thought to the partnership, but keep in mind that not everyone is a good teacher. Explaining why your native language works the way it does is often easier said than done; you might understand English grammar subconsciously and use it flawlessly all the time but not be able to explain to a French person or French speaker the rules that govern how you’re supposed to use that grammar.
Immersion French Learning
French immersion programs or some form of immersive French language travel are definitely the most extreme and intensive, and they’re not for everyone. (They’re also not technically free if you count airfare to a new place and all the costs of living associated with wherever you go.) But without a doubt, immersing yourself in a new culture and a place that doesn’t speak your language and surrounding yourself with French people or other French speakers will force you to make rapid progress in your target language as you struggle to communicate and understand those around you.
Of course, you’ll want to start with at least a little foundation in a new language before picking up your life and plunging yourself into a completely foreign locale. Using resources like Babbel, language textbooks and French classes, and practice with French people and French native speakers can all help you prepare before you make a big transition through French immersion.
Useful French Media To Learn French For Free Or Cheap
When you don’t have access to French classes and teachers or even native French speakers, there are still plenty of French media resources to help you get on your way to fluency in French. Most of them can be accessed for free online or from a library or found for very cheap — or even through a subscription for a streaming service like Netflix or Spotify you’re likely already paying for!
Books To Learn French
If you like to read, you’ll find a whole range of literature written in French that can help you master the French language. There are thousands of French books that make great learning resources for beginner French learners, from culturally renowned classics like Le Petit Prince and the Tintin comic series to longer, more substantive reads like the novels L’élégance du hérisson and Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran.
Using books to learn French is a great way to sharpen your reading skills and to understand how the French language is used in a whole wide range of contexts, from historical fiction to fairy tales to personal essays to collections of short stories to nonfiction and everything in between. Reading books in French helps you move at your own pace, and you can stop to consult a French dictionary if you need extra help along the way. Keeping a language journal of unfamiliar French words and expressions helps you build your vocabulary. Plus, you can get some extra speaking and French pronunciation practice by reading the book aloud.
Learning French With Audio Lessons, French Songs And French Podcasts
There are many online French audio lessons you can find that can teach you the basics of French vocabulary and grammar without needing to look at a page or a screen. French audio lessons are great for multitasking; you can listen to them in the car or in the background of another activity, like commuting to work, cooking dinner or taking a walk in your neighborhood.
Similarly, French podcasts and French audiobooks are a great way to learn passively while you do something else that requires your visual attention. Luckily, there are lots of audio resources to pick from, and many of them are free. French podcasts like Parlez Away! are great for beginners, and advanced podcasts like Sur La Route take a more in-depth look at French culture and the French language.
And listening to French songs can be a great learning method, too. With songs, a chorus or group of lyrics is often repeated more than once, giving you plenty of opportunities to hear lyrics over and over. You can find many playlists of French songs on Spotify that are organized by proficiency level, too, from beginner playlists to more advanced ones.
It’s important to keep in mind that to really master a language, you’ve got to do more than just listening to it; you’ll probably want to supplement audio with ways to practice writing, reading, and speaking French, too.
Learning With French TV Shows And French Movies
Watching French movies and French TV shows is an excellent way to connect with the French language in a fun, engaging format. You can find a lot of good French content of all different genres and for all learning proficiency levels on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Animated miniseries like Les Grandes Grandes Vacances mix historical fiction with easy-to-follow dialogue for beginners and intermediate learners, and if you want more advanced French, the show Marseille can help you practice the language while engrossing you at the same time in a compelling political drama. The movie Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie, known to many English speakers as just Amélie, is a classic French film for beginners who want a look at contemporary French life, and La belle verte is great for intermediate French learners who have an affinity for science fiction. There are so many great French TV shows and French films to choose from!
When you’re watching, you can choose to display subtitles in French for some extra reading practice. Try to avoid watching media dubbed in your native language, as you won’t end up hearing any French! If the dialogue is too fast, you can pause what you’re watching to give yourself a chance to process what you’re hearing and look up and write down unfamiliar words. And when you use movies and TV series to learn French, don’t be afraid to break them up into chunks to give your brain some rest.
Learning French With Babbel
The goal of learning any language is to have real-life conversations with native speakers. So a language learning app should be designed to get you to that goal in the best way possible. It’s important to dedicate the time and effort to practicing with discipline, but outside of your own personal commitment, you’ve got to have technology that knows how to help you most effectively along the way.
Luckily, Babbel is designed by a team of language experts, educators, and designers who know all about what it takes to get the most out of learning a new language — so you are guaranteed a top-quality French learning journey that’s capable, engaging, and yes, even fun.
Here are the key ways Babbel French lessons are crafted to get you having real-life conversations in French with confidence, and all for less cost per month than your morning coffee.
The Full Spectrum Of Language Learning
Learning a foreign language is an endeavor of many dimensions. It takes a lot of skills and patience to learn how to start speaking on the spot, to write a text to a friend, or to translate dialogue you hear from a TV show in your target language.
We know how to make these elements work together to your advantage. Babbel’s lessons are interactive and cover all the aspects of learning French — reading, writing, listening, and speaking — with multimedia French content to train your ears and eyes. Our speech recognition feature even helps you hone your French pronunciation, too.
French Learning On Your Terms
One of the best parts of learning with Babbel is being able to fit lessons in seamlessly when you want them and where you want them. Our bite-size lessons take roughly between 10 and 20 minutes to complete and can be squeezed into your already busy schedule, whether you’re on your commute or waiting for a pot of water to boil as you cook dinner.
With Babbel, you can pick and choose the topics and themes that are most relevant to you. Taking a trip soon? Brush up on the French you’ll need for travel and navigating new places. Need to sharpen your French for an upcoming business meeting? Our French language courses have you covered.
The iOS and Android apps are fully integrated with the web application. And your progress is saved in the cloud and synced across all devices — so you can learn French anytime, anywhere.
Learn French — And Make Sure It Sticks
What good is committing to learning a foreign language if you’ll forget it before you even have a chance to use it? That’s why your personalized Babbel Review feature is optimized to help you retain the information you’re learning.
It takes advantage of the concept of microlearning, or bringing back information in short bursts to help you hold on to it better. You can practice writing, listening to, and speaking the French phrases, terms and expressions you’ve learned in your earlier lessons to lock them into your brain.
For French Learning, Try Babbel
We’re committed to making sure you get the most out of learning French. We offer a free first lesson in every language so you can get a feel for if Babbel works for you. And if you don’t like it, we have a 20-day money-back guarantee — no questions asked.
Try a free French lesson with Babbel and see for yourself how quickly you’ll be on your way to speaking French with confidence — like you’ve always wanted to!