Spoken by around 370 million people across all five continents, there’s never been a better time to learn French. And in an era of dwindling language uptake at schools—dropping by up to half at GCSE level—you wouldn’t be alone in considering learning French later in life. Despite the popular perception, we actually find it easier to absorb new languages as we get older.
Aside from English, French has become the most popular language to pick up later in life, and learning online has become one of the most popular ways to become au fait. The benefits of learning a language online are clear, with students able to pick up the language at their own pace, and at their own convenience. There are also more ways than ever to learn French. Some methods are more structured than others, and which one is right for you depends on what you ultimately want to get out of an online French course. With that in mind, here are our picks for three of the best ways to learn French online.
Regardless of why someone wants to learn French — whether for business, a holiday or simply to improve their general knowledge—they’ll likely want to do it at their own convenience. After all, not everyone has the time to enrol in a formal language course at night school, and many people looking to learn another language may not have a nearby facility which allows them to do that.
Working with an online tutor enables you to learn French at home, and can help you to set a lesson plan that is tailored to what you hope to get out of the course. This personalised approach to French lessons lets you build a rapport with your tutor, meaning that you can take advantage of their knowledge to set goals that work for you. This relationship also gives tutors the role of cheerleader, taking some responsibility for what is being taught, and sharing in any successes, which can also help to motivate students.
As with traditional language classes, an online French tutor can also provide instant feedback. This can help you identify where you’re going wrong, and adapt and refocus their lesson plans to improve a student’s understanding of any problem areas. Online tutors also have real-world teaching experience, and can help students work towards formal exams and qualifications.
Arguably the most popular way for people to learn French at home is through language apps. The runaway success of apps like Duolingo, Memrise and Babel is a testament to the public’s desire to broaden their horizons and learn languages online. The former had over 300 million registered users, as of mid-2018, though statistics around the number of people who use it on a monthly basis is debated.
Regardless of how many people actually use language apps, it’s easy to see their appeal. These apps actively gamify the learning process—many of their developers came from games like Candy Crush — meaning that while they have their uses, they are also designed to be addictive. According to experts, this often comes at the detriment of their effectiveness as language learning tools and, despite helping users with their grammar, their example sentences aren’t exactly the most practical.
No matter how often you’ll find yourself saying phrases like “There’s a ridiculous dancer who’s named Frederique” in day-to-day French conversation, you also won’t get any constructive feedback when you incorrectly drag and drop your sentences together on languages apps. Their focus is more on trial and error than a detailed explanation of the ins and outs of how any given language works, and is aimed more at the written word than day-to-day conversational French or any other language.
The internet has provided us with an overabundance of multimedia content. Regular podcast listeners spend over six and a half hours of their week catching up with their favourite shows, and Netflix subscribers rack up a weekly eight and a half hours — hardly binging, when you consider that’s over seven days, but still a considerable amount of time.
But why not get you a streaming provider that can do both? With Netflix optimising their content for global audiences, you can easily change the audio or subtitle settings to help you learn through your favourite shows or movies. Developers have begun rolling out plug-ins to make it easier to select different languages to watch in, and picking your favourite film or show—or watching a French movie you love with only the French subtitles on display—can encourage you to be an active viewer, allowing you to improve your skills.
Of course, as with language apps, the practicality of learning French from Netflix may be questionable, depending on what shows you choose to use. Also, whereas there are plenty of podcasts which are designed to help listeners learn a language, there’s little structure to be found from the Netflix method. Furthermore, while it might help you become a better listener in other languages, it may leave your spoken skills somewhat wanting.