The language learning industry is a booming market. Every month or so a new site or app pops up claiming to be the fastest or easiest way to learn a foreign language.
Unfortunately though, not all courses live up to the hype. The old adage "You get what you pay for", doesn't always hold true for foreign language programs.
If you're searching for a quality French course, there's a good chance you've experienced this first hand.
In this post we look at 5 of the best programs for learning French. Our hope is that we can spare you the trouble of throwing money at a product that doesn't live up to its marketing claims, and help you find a course that will help you reach your learning goals!
But before we get into our list, it's probably a good idea to talk about what exactly makes a good french course....
What exactly makes a French course good?
It helps you improve your conversational abilities
Surprisingly enough, conversational ability is often overlooked in language learning programs.
It's easy to find an app or course that teaches basic grammar or word by word vocabulary. A good French learning resource will of course teach you vocabulary and grammar, but it will do so in a practical way that helps prepare you for actual french conversations.
The vocabulary that's taught should be useful and applicable to real life situations. A solid language program will also use a method beyond simple route memorization or repetition. You want to learn French in a way that engages you and forces your mind to actively use the language.
It doesn't gloss over French grammar
For native English speakers, French is not the grammatical behemoth that you're likely to run into while learning languages like Japanese, Arabic, and other languages far removed from your native tongue.
That being said, there are some key differences in French that may take some getting used to.
The first is grammatical gender. All french nouns can be broken into one of two groups: masculine or feminine.
Based on its gender, a French noun will usually have a particular ending (note: the gender is grammatical and doesn't necessarily have to do with the gender of the thing you're talking about).
There's also the issue of verb conjugation. French verbs will change form based on who or what is performing the action. To the native English speaker this will seem weird at first.
In English we can say things like "I swim, you swim, we swim, they swim, and she/he swims". In French the verb "to swim", will change based on whether I, you, we, they, or he/she is swimming.
An intro French verb conjugation
Tackling the difficulties
While these aspects of the language might scare off new language learners, they're not all as scary as they might seem. They are certainly nothing a decent explanation and a bit of consistent practice can't overcome.
A good French program will do just that, adequately explain the more difficult grammatical concepts and give you ample opportunity to practice them.
It helps you learn French in a way that is holistic
We talk about this a lot on our website, but it bares repeating. There are four aspects of a learning a foreign language: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Why are these four parts so important? Because they reinforce one another. It's a lot easier to remember a French word that you read, hear, say, and write. These four aspects also help you use the language in a real world context.
The best courses are the ones that give you the opportunity to learn all four aspects of French, so that you engage with the language in a way that's holistic.
The unfortunate alternative is that students of French get stuck focusing on one or perhaps two aspects of the language and neglect the other two.
Our picks for the top 5 French learning programs
1) Rocket French
20+ minutes a day
Rocket French is our top pick because it does an excellent job of teaching you French in a way that is both practical and grammatically in-depth.
Lessons in the program are divided up into two categories: the audio lessons, and the language and culture lessons.
The audio lessons feature recorded audio in the form of dialogues. The dialogues have English explanations and usually teach the language in "chunks" or phrases versus individual words (this is great for conversational French).
The language and culture lessons are centered around grammar. Each of these lessons take French phrases and break them down into grammatical chunks.
This helps lift the lid off the language so that you can see how the grammar works behind the scenes of the conversational phrases.
Overall Rocket French is a comprehensive course that does a good job of incorporating speaking and listening, as well as reading and writing. Exercises and games throughout the course will require you to speak, listen, write, and read in French.
The course is certainly no substitute for practicing with real French native speakers, but it might just be the next best thing!
From $4+ per month
15+ minutes a day
Frenchpod101 features audio lessons in a podcast format. Lessons are great for grammar and vocabulary. Each lesson is designed around a French conversation between native speakers, and the teachers do a great job of keeping things engaging.
Lessons are built around plausible scenarios, such as looking for something in the supermarket, ordering food, or simply catching up with an old friend.
While it's not as structured as Rocket French it's still a substantial French learning tool (it's also much cheaper too). The site features transcripts, an in-site flashcard system, and many other useful features.
5+ minutes a day
Duolingo is usually one of the first courses we recommend for learning a foreign language. It's free, effective, and fun to use.
The app is built around a game-like format and largely teaches grammar via example sentences and definitions. Users are required to listen, speak, read, and write while using the app.
Duolingo is easily one of the most popular language learning apps out there. It's success and popularity pretty much speak for itself. As said before the app is free to use, so if you haven't already go and check it out!
30 minutes a day
Pimsleur is probably the second most popular language course behind Rosetta Stone. Pimsleur is entirely audio based and is specifically designed to develop your conversational skills.
They use a unique and effective question/recall/respond technique to get you on your feet in your new foreign language. This unique method helps you start to think in French, much like you would if you were talking to real people (no other French audio course achieves this in quite the same way).
With Pimsleur You'll learn a limited but functional vocabulary and have a good sense of pronunciation. However the course doesn't focus much, if at all on reading or writing.
From $6.95+ per month
15+ minutes a day
Babbel features lessons in a quiz based format. Lessons are separated by course categories which include things like difficulty level and specific aspects of grammar.
The grammar lessons work well for tackling some of the trickier aspects of French grammar. There's no shortage of necessary material in that department.
If you use Babbel you will learn to read and write French. You will also use your listening skills, but not as much as some other programs.
Babbel works well as a supplement for your daily French learning, and it's good for learning the foundations of the language. It's not quite thorough enough to be considered a full on learning program though.
Now you know our top picks for French learning resources! I hope you found this list helpful.
Every program on this list includes some sort of free trial. If you're on the fence about which one is right for you, I recommend taking the course you're interested in out on a test run.
Which program is right for you depends largely on your individual needs, learning styles, and preferences. There is no one size fits all when it comes to language learning!