Contrary to popular belief, French is by no means an obvious or easy language for native English speakers to learn. Being one of the five most widely spoken Romance languages, French has its roots in ancient Rome, while the core of English is derived from a Germanic dialect – the remainder of English coming from a number of disparate strains of languages and cultures. While there is overlap, the occasional familiar terms intermingling across the languages, more often than not French and English end up looking and sounding as different as a croissant and a breakfast burrito.
But online resources, above most every other teaching tool, have made it so that Francophiles and French language students at all levels have a number of excellent web resources at their disposal. Whether it’s to master the basics of grammar, pronunciation and conversation, or to explore the overwhelming abundance of literature on culture, travel and, of course, cuisine, the web-based resources provided below are essential. We’ve grouped all of our resources based on area of interest and then identified the takeaways students should expect from each portal. Bonne chasse!
The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) offers a variety of free instructional materials from primary to standard grade French, audio instruction and exercises.
French for Dummies has a number of tools to help with conversational French, including how to make simple sentences and small talk, some common expressions and instruction on how to shop and order food. French Phrases offers audio files, flashcards, crossword puzzles, word search games and a vocabulary app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
ielanguages.com has flashcards and free basic lessons in vocabulary and phrases, as well as listening and written exercises. A more advanced tutorial is also available for purchase. LanguageGuide.org teaches vocabulary and grammar and offers basic reading exercises. This excellent resource includes spoken instruction so students can hear words and phrases properly pronounced.
Although not very easy to navigate, Project Happy Child offers a comprehensive listing of French words and phrases, including conjugations of the most common verbs. For those students who can look past its awkwardness, this is a great resource for French basics.
Reverso helps students translate, check grammar and spelling, conjugate verbs and even has a dictionary. The comprehensive and sleek index at Tex’s French Grammar directs students quickly and easily to topics such as negation, prepositions and mood and voice.
Perhaps the best way to learn a language is to hear it spoken, and with the variety of podcasts and other resources available, it’s easy to tune into tutorials lead by native French speakers.
Akin French 101, The French PodClass walks students through the basics of the language in a logical, straightforward manner. Introductory lessons on simple phrases and conversational French can also be found at Bonjour.com.
For more in-depth instruction, Learn French by Podcast offers a native French speaker who, over 141 gradually more difficult lessons, works with students to master this beautiful language. Native French speakers can also be heard at News in Slow French where grammar and French expressions are introduced via news broadcasts.
Some prefer to get a little instruction each day, and with resources like One Minute French and DailyFrenchPod, they can tune in for quick lessons that build over time into the patter of daily usage. One of the best ways to turn your French practice into something of a daily habit. Slackers who just want to be able to order in a restaurant, arrange for a hotel room and find a bathroom would benefit from Survival Phrases.
Younger students can get French instruction from their fellow students at French For Kids By Kids. And for those who are kids at heart, consider learning French while listening to an exciting adventure at Langue Française.
200 Tests quizzes students on their French vocab, starting out with a series of easy quizzes and moving on to some of the most advanced vocabulary taught to new students.
At Bonjour de France, students check their comprehension with interactive reading exercises, difficulty levels from beginner to advanced. A fun way to improve comprehension and usage by playing these student-focused French Crosswords and Tongue Twisters.
In Destination Death students work to solve an international mystery with the help of their wits and their French language skills. The test features three tiers of difficulty, boosting the replay value. Students can test their knowledge at French Online Grammar Quiz.
Lonely Planet has an interactive map of the entire country, as well as detailed street guides for all of France’s major cities.
What to Pack?
A number of websites offer sage advice on what to take on a trip to France. General tips that apply to a stay of any duration can be found at Virtual Tourist.
If you are lucky enough to be spending a semester or two abroad, review Arcadia University’s Study Abroad in France What to Pack. Other sites include Her Packing List and College Fashion (for those of us who know it’s better to look good than to feel good!).
Where to Go?
Some seasoned, professional travelers have the good fortune of being paid to explore France and then report back to the the rest of us on their experiences. Any fresh-faced tourist would be wise to visit these expert traveler’s sites when planning their own trip. They may also want to consider purchasing a current guidebook, an excellent accompaniment to any French journey. One of the most respected travel guide publishers, Fodor’s, has created a variety of itineraries for 7-15 day trips that include travel across Europe or entirely within France.
Likewise, Rick Steves (the soft spoken guy from PBS) has posted Rick’s Favorite Itinerary for a three-week trip, as well as updates on what’s new for 2013. And for those who like to plan regional itineraries, look at the 14 provided by Karen Brown that include tours of Chateaux Country, the French Alps and Provence.
How to Get Around?
Good general advice for navigating France can be found on sites such as Frommer’s and Expatica.com. But transportation alone won’t help you understand the locals, so consider working your way through a Recommended Reading and Viewing list to learn a bit about French culture. You may also want to invest in a dictionary or translator; several such apps are available for Android and iPhone and can be found listed in the links provided.
Finally, for those on a budget and à pied, check out tips for backpacking from the savvy backpacker and the friendly folks who post on Lonely Planet. Backpacerbecki.com is another excellent budget guide, with a particular emphasis on advice for solo women backpackers.
Regardless of how you get there, as a tourist, you may be a target for pickpockets and cons. Learn how to limit your exposure with the tips found in Outsmarting Pickpockets and Thieves and the U.S. State Department’s general travel guide, A Safe Trip Abroad.
From Provençe’s Bouillabaisse and Salade Niçoise to Bourgogne’s Boeuf and Coq au Vin, French cuisine is as diverse as it is esteemed. But to become a gastronomic master in the realms of French wines, cheeses, breads, entrées and sweets, you will need to consult a guide.
David Lebovitz can help you distinguish between the abundance of patisseries, pains and fromages with his A-Z of French Food. To find the best restaurants, consult highly reputable guides like Fodor’s and Condé Nast. You also won’t want to forget to brush up on your French table manners; you can find help on Bonjour Paris. Finally, if you’re truly serious about dining in France, check out Go Food Apps’ popular food translator, Escargo.
Wines in France have classically been designated by region, and it’s up to you to learn to differentiate between the grape varieties used in, say, Bordeaux versus Champagne. In addition, regions like Burgundy and Bordeaux have developed complex classification rules to identify the quality of their wines. A number of online guides are available to teach you how to evaluate that next glass of wine, including Terroir France and the Guide to French Wines. Apps like AG Wine for iPhone and French Wine Appellations for Android will also be a great help.
If you know you want to spend a semester or two studying in France but don’t know where to start, check out these resources:
This collection of resources is only designed to whet your appetite for the niceties of the French language, the French people and the quirks of traveling around France in style. In one way or another all of the resources provided above serve as launching pads to a great many invaluable resources for French enthusiasts at any stage of their passion pour le français.