Solo female travel advice = happiness.

I usually travel alone. There are hundreds of reasons to do so, many of which I mention in these posts. But what it comes down to is: Either learn to get along in strange places without your friends, or stay home!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How to learn, practice, and improve your French, no matter your level. FREE videos, links, exercises, ideas!

This post is updated often! Last update: 10/2018

As someone who learned French in high school and actually still speaks and understands it, I wanted to compile a list of resources for friends who want to learn or practice their French. I've divided this list by level, but definitely jump around to find what works for you. I've included my own opinions on each resource, which you are free to ignore.



Beginner:
You need to start at the beginning.
  •  I'm really picky about YouTube videos that explain grammar. Most of them just have an image of someone's talking face try to explain complex grammar rules. I think that animated videos are much more engaging and clear. My own animated video lessons to introduce basic grammatical elements in French - watch these until you have them memorized.

  • Memorize the conjugations of basic verbs, days of the week, basic phrases. You can do this any way you want (flash cards, etc). I suggest listening to these songs to make the basics harder to forget: iTunesSpotify, Amazon

  • Duolingo app (for smartphones, also has desktop interface) definitely fragmented. Very similar to Rosetta Stone, except it’s free. I recommend this because a) the price is right and b) it’s very portable and feasible for using when you’re waiting in line or on the bus. I don’t recommend this until you have seen at least the first 3 lingolearner videos, just like I don’t recommend RS until you’ve had at least a few weeks of basic instruction.

  • Coffee break French: these are created by Radio Lingua. There are free podcasts but lots of pushes to buy their programs, so be aware of that. I recommend getting the podcasts straight through iTunes because the site is very clickbait heavy.

  • Label your house with French words. Being sure to include the gender of each noun (la fenêtre), put sticky notes reinforced with tape on the objects they label. Avoid putting English words on your labels. If you absolutely need more guidance, draw the object next to the French word. Here's a pretty old site that has lots of vocab words you'll need. 


Beginner/Intermediate: 
You had some French classes and/or have been to French speaking countries and remember a few words/phrases/grammar points, but you don’t remember how to conjugate verbs or articulate your thoughts.
  • Review these grammar video lessons. One viewing should be enough, if you find that you require more than one viewing to really “get” it, have a look at the “beginner” list until you feel more comfortable.
  • More lessons: This BBC site is no longer updated but has tons of well-produced lessons and videos for free.
  • This is a good stage in which to see which areas are going well and which areas need more work. I’m pretty Type A so I recommend literally making a list of these things to help guide your future focus. Try going through the grammar elements of this site to categorize your needs.
  • Coffee break French: these are created by Radio Lingua. There are free podcasts but lots of pushes to buy their programs, so be aware of that. I recommend getting the podcasts straight through iTunes because the site is very clickbait heavy.

  • FrenchPod101: Like Coffee Break, this is manufactured by a company that has a strong agenda when offering their free content: they want you to buy the premium subscription. Personally I get annoyed with stuff like that, BUT if you're the type who is willing to spend a bit more time maneuvering around the ads as long as things are free, you're good to go!


Intermediate:
You can converse in basic French, but sometimes get way out of your depth when people answer your questions.  You can read some sentences in major publications in French. You have trouble with complex grammatical constructions, including subjunctive and compound past/future tenses.

  • Look over French news sites:  TV5 is pretty neutral and has lots of interesting stories. When you're ready to watch news broadcasts instead of reading stories at your own pace, check the link in the advanced section. 
  • Read some bande-dessinées (comics) in French. I love this site for links to lots of free comics.
  • Coffee break French: these are created by Radio Lingua. There are free podcasts but lots of pushes to buy their programs, so be aware of that. I recommend getting the podcasts straight through iTunes because the site is very clickbait heavy.

  • Inner French: Slowly spoken French with no translations or lessons. This podcast is available here and on spotify. Bonus: there are transcripts available! My only gripe is that the site requires you to sign up if you try to access the transcripts. 

  • Watch the news with a transcript to help you follow along. This is available through a somewhat hard to find part of TV5, but here's a direct link. Just scroll down to choose your level and pick a video that interests you.




Intermediate/Advanced:
You can hold entire conversations in French, but you have plenty of new vocabulary to learn and need reinforcement of aural and oral skills. You still come across plenty of expressions that you don’t understand, but you can read entire sentences in major publications in French.

  • Brush up on your idioms. Just like the previous phrase doesn’t require an actual brush, these expressions use words that are loosely or not at all connected to their meanings. There’s a decent list of French idioms here.
  • Coffee break French: these are created by Radio Lingua. There are free podcasts but lots of pushes to buy their programs, so be aware of that. I recommend getting the podcasts straight through iTunes because the site is very clickbait heavy.
  • Inner French: Slowly spoken French with no translations or lessons. This podcast is available here and on spotify. Bonus: there are transcripts available! My only gripe is that the site requires you to sign up if you try to access the transcripts. 
  • Watch some funny YouTube videos. These are NOT lessons, just silly videos that are really popular. Can be PG-13 but mostly harmless. Check 'em out: Norman fait des videos, Cyprien.




Advanced:
You can speak/read/understand French completely over 90% of the time. You want more practice and to keep your French at a high level.
  • Watch a soap opera: You can access all episodes of Plus belle la vie, a long-running show based in Marseille in which characters use basic but very authentic French. This show began in 2004, the first episodes may seem dated (flip phones, etc).  There are still new episodes being filmed today! Update (5/17): I can't find these episodes online anymore, even searching shady streaming sites. Please let me know if you find them! Update 1/2018: Found 'em again!
  • Watch the news in French, 24/7.  Just click on “La chaine en direct” to have constant video/audio.
  • Watch “The News Puppets” . This show can be extremely raunchy and not politically correct (Think a late night stand-up comedian act). Their advertising has recently quadrupled, so be patient. Les Guignols are similar to The Colbert Report and Bill Maher in the United States in that they do transmit news, but mock it all the while. Politicians are particularly targeted. Double entendres, references to regional French politics, mocking accents, and quick repartees abound – not for the faint of French-learning heart!


  • Watch "Marseille" on Netflix. This 8-part series is my current go-to for brushing up on French. The New York Times has compared it to "House of Cards," if that means anything to you. It features the famous/infamous paragon of French actors, Gérard Depardieu. 
    • The good: you can put on French subtitles with the French audio, which is extremely helpful. You can also put on English subtitles but hopefully you can wean yourself off of that quickly. 
    • The bad: this show is very, VERY adult in every way. French people do not shy away from sex and nudity in prime-time programming like we do in the US. Beyond that, though, it has lots of violence and stressful drama; very little comedic relief or joy is to be had while watching. 

  • Another violent, graphic show that gives you free nightmares along with your French practice: Engrenages. It's available on Hulu under the English translation of the title - "Spiral." It's from the mid 2000s so may seem a bit dated. I look away during the horrific parts and am a bit "accro" - hooked.

  • YAY! We have a Netflix show in French with French subtitles that is not depressing and graphically violent. I've only watched the first episode but I laughed - yes, LAUGHED at a French tv show! - right away! The French title is dix pour cent and the English title (that you'll use to search Netflix then choose your language options later) is "Call my agent."


  • Arte.tv is kind of like French Netflix. Many shows have the option for French subtitles (click on the video that interests you, then click the subtitles button and pick Version française - ST sourds/malentendants (the version for deaf people)).  There are shows, movies, documentaries, and even live TV ("direct") options. I don't have a favorite yet, let me know if you do! Note: this site may/may not require a VPN for you.



    All levels:

    Listen to some French music!


    • Rap: This one by Maître Gims was popular summer 2016. Some spicy lyrics.
    • I like this song and this one by Renan Luce.
    • A pretty spicy one featuring verlan by Zaho. 
    • Sans Rancune is a Pandora darling from Sindy; she sings pretty slowly and it's catchy.
    • Indila is a popular Parisian singer, "Dernière Danse" has hundreds of millions of YouTube views and a creepy-cool vibe. 
    • Belgian star Stromae sings a famous song you probably already heard, and "Formidable" is an awesome but depressing follow-up with the rare find of slow (easy to follow) French rap.
    • Coeur de Pirate is a folksy Canadian singer with lots of hits in France. She's most famous for "Adieu" (upbeat) and "Comme des Enfants" (slower), but my favorite is "Golden Baby" (English title, French lyrics). 
    • Best song ever: "Saint Claude" by Christine and the Queens.  She sings in rather non-sensical French and even stranger English. This song has a common feature for her, verses in French with an English chorus. But... everything is catchy.
    • On était beau by Louane has slow(ish) lyrics that are easy to follow, and a nice beat. A great review for the imparfait tense!