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Best Tips for Learning French

  Sainte Cecile-les-Vignes (c) Kristin Espinasse

Does the idea of learning French make you shiver? You are not alone! In today's edition, we ask readers to give us their very best tips on learning French!


Whether you have improved your French with audio CDs, a tutor, or by participating in an intensive program--we would love to benefit from your experience. Thank you for using the comments box to share helpful ideas for language learning.

To improve your French did you use flash cards? Do you watch French films? Do you carry around a pocket-size French-English dictionary? Subscribe to the French version of Reader's Digest? Do you attend a local French meet-up? Welcome exchange students to your home? Do you fall asleep to French music in hopes your subconscious will record it all by memory? Do you secretly follow Francophones at the mall, like I used to do? 

Click here to read or to submit a BEST TIP FOR LEARNING FRENCH! 

Thanks for forwarding this post to a language-learner who might be inspired by the many excellent ideas submitted by readers.

Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris (c) Kristin Espinasse
Thanks for keeping my book, Words in a French Life, in mind as a language tool. Here's a review:

With its innovative and entertaining way of teaching the finer points of French, Espinasse's memoir will be popular with travelers and expats alike. --Publishers Weekly 

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Take a DVD of a movie you already know very well in English and turn on the French subtitles. When you're comfortable with reading the translation, turn on the French dubbing of the words.


I took a course with Cours de civilisation francaise de la Sorbonne in Paris. VERY helpful. You could ONLY speak French in class, and my professor called on everyone, so no one could pull the "I'm shy" card.

I also take my favourite movies and switch the language to French. Knowing the English lines almost word for word helps me recognise some of the unfamiliar French terms. I have Netflix, so I make sure that at least two of my movies per month are French, and I turn off the subtitles. It's very tempting to leave them on, but I learn more when I'm forced to figure it out.

Finally, I buy French (Le Petite Prince for example) books for children and work my way up through the levels.

Hope that this helps! :)

Bill in St. Paul

In the past I've taken classes at the Alliance Française in Minneapolis where you only speak French. The classes can be fairly intense depending on where you are in learning French versus the expectations of the class. The one area that I really felt helped me was listening to a CD (or tape) of a conversation over and over again and trying to write down what was said. We then discussed (in French) the recording so you had to have gotten some understanding of the conversation to be able to discuss it. At some point (a point at which I have yet to arrive), you don't need to listen over and over again but can actually understand much of the conversation.

Pierre Lehu

I spoke French before English, but was born and have always lived in the US, and especially since my parents passed away, rarely get the opportunity to speak French. Since I am going to France for 3 weeks in April, I'm in need of brushing up on my French and so I've been downloading podcasts of French radio shows. My favorite is RTL's Les Grosses Tetes hosted by Phillipe Bouvard, as it is very funny, though the slang may be hard for someone learning French to pick up, but there are other shows on French history and news which would be easier for a beginner.

Studio Stuff

This is too obvious to say, but I'm good at saying the obvious.

Be somewhere you are forced to speak French! Say... France! Or French-Canada...

Working without a net improves my French quickly.

Marie La Salle

Stand in front of the mirror. Cup your hand behind your ear and pull it forward. Imitate Maurice CHevalier or some other French person speaking English... see how your mouth is formed... then watch yourself say something in French and make sure your mouth is formed the same way. Good for "soeur" for example where the mouth is much more taut in French than in English.


I seek out any and all French speakers in my town...that is not easy! But I did join "la Groupe Franco-Americaine" ( all women, we meet once a month, very casual) and even hosted a tea last fall. Then, I made good friends with one member who is from Toulouse, married to American, and we now have another group of 5 who meet once a month, and correspond only in French in all emails...
Also, I listen to RFI news, downloaded onto my IPod, while at the gym. People think I'm nuts as I mouth the words!
More.... but those are just a few for now!

Bill in St. Paul

Reading Simone's response, reminded me that I also would read French books or readers, write down words I had to look up in my little French vocabulary notebook, and in the beginning make sure I understood each tense of a verb. After a while the tenses become fairly obvious. (Now if I would just do this on a regular basis, I might actually retain some French.)


Listening helps a lot... I love music and so my french husband, so I listen to a lot of french music, I start singing it (even if sometimes I don´t know what I am saying and then I look for the lyrics in the internet or ask my husband)... after a while, and since you like a song, it all starts to make sense and you learn new words and ways to say things.

My first language is spanish and doing that still helps me a lot to keep improving my english.

Stacey's idea works for me too (DVD's or simply watching french TV).

I had to stop my private lessons for a while but that also works for me because you learn at your own pace.

I dream of the day I can really speak it as well as Kristi! :)

Andrea @ Austin, TX - High 24C Low 9C -beautiful sunny day, smells like spring is around the corner!


Along the same lines as Stacey's comment, choose a book that you know well and read the same book in French (provided it is available in French). That way, you are familiar with the story and can really improve your vocabulary. I love reading the Harry Potter books in French!

Also, if you live in the states, a trip to Montreal could give you a great opportunity to practice conversation. For me, Motreal is a 10 hour drive which is much less expensive than a flight across the Atlantic :)

Carmen Clarke

I agree with Bill in St. Paul: Take classes at Alliance Francaise - where they ONLY speak French even in very beginners class.

Teresa has a section on it: apprendre le francais. They have 3 new videos each week with short exercises. I have found this very helpful and informative.


I log-in regularly to the website

and am then able to speak French with native French speakers from all over the francophone world, who are themselves learning English and so understand the position exactly. I have made some very good friends this way and have moved my French knowledge along apace.
I now have a regular French correspondant and we exchange filmclips(courtesy of Youtube) We correct each others transcription of the language and explain any idiom, argot and vocabulary.

Tom in Odessa

I learned my French by sitting with a French guard who spoke no English and I spoke no French. This was in France in the 1950s. We began by pointing and saying the word. He taught me and I taught him. After about two years, I was eighteen at the time, I became known as "the mayor of Paris", as everyone loved my broken French. I have never forgotten this type of French learning and on a recent visit to France, after a few days, I broken into my old French and everyone that I encountered was anxious for me to speak with them. We had a great time! It was the best way for me to learn conversational French and I learned grammar by being corrected by the friends that spoke with me.


I've done all kinds of things--taking classes at the Alliance Francaise (tres cher), buying French movies on Amazon marketplace (you can get great films for well under $10), reading books in French (my husband and daughter give me a pile of Maigret books as Christmas gifts every year), and listening to French music, especially Aznavour, who enunciates very clearly(and you can find the lyrics easily on the Internet if you miss something)--I truly think I've learned more from him than from any other single source. Quel plaisir!

Michael Armstrong

Literally everything imaginable. There are some great suggestions in the comments above; I especially liked the one of turning off the subtitles on movies. I think the most important is trying to improve ALL four language skills, reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The written ones are the easiest; books, magazines, journals are easily available, even for example. Side by side texts can be very helpful until one is more comfortable with things like the passe simple. RFI and other sites are great for podcasts or live listening, as is While expensive, the Champs-Elysee program provides some excellent CDs with support materials. The two best pronunciation materials I have seen are the two Kristin lists on this site, but live practice will require a group of at least two. It is actually pretty amazing how many francophones there are in a community once you start looking and French speakers love to speak the language. Bonne continuation a toutes et a tous!

FaTima Samson

OK, this is a little weird, but it works and in really learning a language, you have to use it. In addition to labeling everything in my house (when I was in high school) in French (how Mom loved THAT!), today I talk to my dog exclusively in French! He knows only French. I speak only French in the house. It's the only language he hears, and I am forced to speak it every day, from > to > Of course, it's a problem when he stays with my daughter and her family who, though born and raised in the USA, have a difficult time with standard English. I tried to give them a Cheat Sheet of phonetically spelled phrases they might need but my daughter rejected it. "He'll understand English," she said. And like the typical ugly American, she proceeded to speak to him in very LOUD English, because these people believe that if you speak in a loud voice to someone who does not speak your language, then they will understand. He didn't. But I digress from the main point of this post.
I also subscribe to "Paris Match," a weekly magazine with short articles to read and increase my vocabulary. I have a couple of friends with whom I can converse in French (though not often enough) and I rent or watch French movies that have subtitles and just don't look at the subtitles. When I lived in upstate NY, we could get Quebecquois TV and that was great. Watching the Olympics was great because it's the official language of the Olympics as well as one of the official languages of Canada. Subscribe to language groups on FaceBook and make friends with whom you can converse either in writing or skpe. Twitter too. There is LOTS out there. Then if you are brave, do an immersion week or two. It will tire you out, but you will learn because it's sink or swim!

Ruth Hallett

The best way to learn French is the same path as it takes to get to Carnegie Hall: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I read French books and watch TV5, the French channel. I also take classes at the Alliance Francaise (literature, "France Today" dealing with politics, women's issues, fashion, gastronomy, money matters, and the like). I try to get to France as often as I can and when I'm there, I strike up conversations with the shopkeepers, service people, and I ask my friends to speak French.


Join and look for French-speaking groups in your city. You're best going to the biggest group you can find to be sure of having people at or above your level to talk with. A friend who is learning Mandarin swears by her Chinese language meetup group. is worldwide and joining is free.


My wife and I got the Pimsleur language series CD's from the local library and listen to a session each day. Speaking to our cats in French helps as does carrying around a French dictionary. Best of all is going to France and just trying to use the language.

FaTima Samson

Kristin, for your father, the weather report from San Antonio, TX:
Current temp at 8:30 a.m. 52 F
High should be between 75-80 F
The wildflowers will be out momentarily!!!
And spring break is next week! Les enfants sont très excités.

Charles Baker

Rob a bank and buy Rosetta Stone French. The downside is that you will probably go to jail; the upside is that once you are released you will speak French fluently. Provided, of course, you have access to a computer! Seriously, Rosetta Stone lives up to its promises and is worth every penny.


Go to France! Spend time there doing ordinary things such as shopping, marketing, and the post office, in addition to fun and touristy things. Encounters with the bus driver, the hair dresser, the repairman, the ticket seller can teach you how to speak like a native speaker. Using the language in context helps me so much. When I experience a word, it stays with me forever. It helps greatly to have French-speaking contacts or friends. Using the language enables you to better use the language! Corresponding with a French speaker is also beneficial. All of the suggestions in the Comments Box are good and helpful. Even talking to oneself can increase fluency! Bonne chance!


One more suggestion regarding DVDs: play a French movie, and don't turn on the English subtitles, but the French ones. That will help you to actually hear what's being said in French.

Pamela pamela

I also watch DVDs or when in France the reverse lessons..watching in French dubbed with English sutitles..the translations are not always truly accurate but it helps with the spellling and placement in the sentence..
Our children grew up in France and attended French schoold so they are fuent in every sense..I also did homework with them and have retained a good portion of thier summer workbooks to review basic grammer...
However I think the best method it to speak speak speak and write as often as possible to French speaking friends..sharpening both points of the proficiency...
Reading subjects you enjoy is also great..there are so many wonderful French publications o gardening,lifestyle,art.nature ect..
I LOVE French TV for its diversity..and when I am in France which is 6 months a year I have the TV or radio on as a language backdrop at all times..
We speak only French outside the house and English inside unless we have French friends a family...our pets too only respond to there you go...what ever works...
Making it fun, important

Bernie Duhaime

In my opinion the best way to learn French is immersion. That's why we live in France for at least six months every year. Eventually you are forced to learn more and more vocabulary and your ear becomes tuned in to the everyday phrases.

Joan Tierney

In the summer of 2008 I took my 15 year old granddaughter to Tours, France for two weeks. We both participated in the Institut de Touraine's immersion course, and lived in a student apartment. Great teaching and a beautiful city. Lots of French - no English at all in class! We both learned a lot. Joan Tierney, Hemlock, NY


My friend, une traductrice, bought me "Words in a French Life" for Christmas a few years ago :-) Also we correspond only in french by email (though this is no help at all with pronunciation!) I have tried Alliance Francaise but like Jeri found it tres cher, and the twice a week commitment was difficult for me to schedule. Un collègue est Quebecquios and he helps out as well!

Barbara Hall

In addition to doing many of what others have suggested above, now that my 14 year old son is taking French as his language in high school, we are trying to speak almost entirely in French. Even if he's only learned the present and future proche tenses in school, I've taught him some passé composé and he's caught on. This constant speaking in French has really helped my spontaneity in conversation.

Max,  Windsor, CT

For vocabulary and written French, I recommend the "parallel text" or "dual language" books, with French on the left and the English 'en face'. It produces some efficiency because you're not thumbing through a dictionary as often and idioms are more easily understood. For listening to rapid conversational French, "Champs Elysee" is good, tapes (that a friend gave me after use) with a written text (in French) and the more difficult words or expressions highlighted and translated in a footnote. For my level of hearing comprehension this is a difficult pace, but worth it. Also good and different is the online, free version of "France Soir", the newspaper. You'll need a dictionary, but the vocab is very hip and current.

Jim Steffens

Visit France by all means! Force yourself to speak only French. Buy sausage, bread, cheese and wine from local shops and have an evening picnic on the metal pedestrian bridge over the Seine between the Louvre and the mint, and request to use a tire-bouchon from the couple next to you. I also read a number of French novels. The Nobel Prize winner J.M.G. Le Clézio is particularly easy to read, and his novel, Désert, about North Africa (where his wife is from) is excellent. The works of historical fiction by Jean-Christophe Rufin are also very approachable and highlight the clash of cultures and some little known events in history. I put off reading Fred Vargas (my favorite mystery writer), fearing too much slang. But except for the Québecois argot in "Sous les Vents de Neptune," they are pretty easy going. The French phonetic tapes from Audio Forum are superb, and I should spend far more time with them than I do.


It's all been said. But my vote is for FRENCH IMMERSION! I stayed for 2 weeks in Avignon and stayed with a beautiful French family and I could NOT speak French. Period. Oh my Lordy, I was so exhausted at the end of every day . . . my brain was fried. But did I learn! It's expensive but well worth it. Immersion, practice, immersion, practice. Also, when I'm staying at our Paris apartment, there are tons of news and talk/discussion programs. For some reason, the French people love to discuss and discuss and then dicuss it some more. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but for whatever reason, it just helps to hear French when I'm around the apartment. It helps with understanding but even more with pronunciation and rhythm and cadence of how the language is spoken.


Drink wine; it lowers inhibitions!

Jeana Hurst

I am in a group of 5 women who take lessons from Anne of Check out her website: She has podcasts with worksheets. Our group watch French movies and give movie reviews. I also drive around with French language CDs and cassettes. The library was a great source for language CDs and cassettes.


I have to agree with Jan and several others and say that being there is the best way to learn. I am lucky enough to live in France but have found an unexpected downside to being English and that is that as soon as acquaintances or colleagues realise I am English, they want to speak only English, as to them it is a perfect opportunity to improve their language skills!Well what about mine? I ask. Well, this morning I opened a bank account and had a meeting with an organisation I deal with and it was all in French because I just grabbed the Bull by the horns, plucked up the courage and went for it.
My advice therefore is:- Get the first word in and refuse to speak anything other than French! Practice (and a certain amount of stubbornness) makes perfect!

Karin (an alien parisienne)

"Does the idea of learning French make you shiver?"

Yes!! And I live in Paris, too! *hangs head in shame* However, the reason I signed up for the newsletters here are to begin and dive in. :) I'm hoping I can become more motivated to learn and find my French wings to fly.

These are *wonderful* ideas so far and I appreciate them a lot! I will be back to see what others have posted.

As for my suggestion? I really have made improvements by reading and following recipes in French. When I buy packages of food here in Paris, I read the cooking instructions and then try some of the suggested recipes on the packaging. I also have access to the free Métro papers handed out each day, and the evening ones have recipes.

If you are outside of France, a search on "recettes francaises" can yield many cooking sites in French.

I have learned the names of fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, and lots of other ingredients from trying this out. Then there are the cooking verbs, too. Maybe not so useful for day-to-day conversation, but I get a sense of French at least from learning what they mean.

I find cooking and language learning is a great combination!

Jack Street

I've tried 'em all, mostly, including a year in France. Best single thing I ever did was through MYPLT (My Personal Language Tutor) which hooks you up with a native French-speaking personal "tutor" (in France or elsewhere)and you go one on one via Skype. A good thing about Skype is that you not only both see and hear your tutor, she can also text you simultaneously where needed. And then there is the cost. I paid only $20/hr for this, a fraction of what personal lessons cost me in France.

Betty Bailey

I took courses at a local college for three years and got a very good foundation in grammar as well as a wide range of vocabulary language. The writing of several papers and oral conversation exercises between students was fun and helpful.

However, I still lack confidence in speaking it which has kept me from attending the French Alliance parties locally, and am still struggling with the slang used in French films!

Maybe I should take Pamela's advice; go to the parties and see if the wine helps!

Edie Schmidt


I'm in a French conversation group that meets once a week at the local senior center. It's very informal and we are a mixed group with beginners and more advanced speakers. Most of us have been to France. Some of us more than once. We share our experiences and love of the language. Most of us are somewhat middling speakers. Sometimes we have a definite topic and other times we wing it! Mainly, it's fun and we enjoy each other's company,

Edie, Savannah, Georgia

John Carr

My tip would be to study something in French which interests you. Subscribe to say, a French specialist magazine or cook or garden your way through a French reference book.(If you can follow the blog of a hot looking wine mistress in Provence so much the better.) However working with material which would bore you in your own language is a complete turn off.
Also there are thousands of French comic books (bandes dessinees)which target all audiences and are definitely not all for childen. You can always follow the story from the drawings and they are often good for picking up idioms and slang.

terry littman

When we bought our little house in France, ten years ago, I thought my kitchen french would morph into a fluent language. Alas, like anything else, it takes real work. I got a tutor, a native of Paris, and one hour a week, she hammers me. While she mostly works with high school students who are motivated by grades, my motivation is to be able to talk to the plumber, roofer, and my neighbors. The added benefit, I can read french magazines, and translate knitting patterns!

Nancy L.

Some great tips from your readers! I read magazines and listen to language tapes, read books (Harry Potter was mentioned and those are great!)and watch French films (most recently 'Entre les Murs') But the only way to REALLY learn, I have found, is to SPEAK it! In recent years we have hosted French students and their chaperones in our home and this has been an excellent opportunity to practice my language skills and make some wonderful friends. I (like many people) can be timid about speaking French because I am horrified of making mistakes, so I always make it clear at the outset that our French guests should not hesitate to correct me and that I will only learn from this. Finally, my husband & I have a pact to visit France at LEAST once every other year. Sorry we missed our connection to see you on our last trip Kristi! But we will be back this year. Visiting friends and family in France is the altogether BEST way to keep one's language skills sharp and to enjoy life in the bargain!

Kristine, Dallas

After taking two years of French in middle school, two years in High School, 4 years in college one would think I speak it fluently. Alas, this is not the case. I can get by d'accord when in France but find it sad that I really can't communicate.

So, all of these are wonderful suggestions, and but I think the movies in French (especially ones where I know all the lines) will be helpful along with logging on to soon.



I live in Toronto, English-speaking Canada, a lot closer to Montreal than Danielle, and have never felt that listening to the French there was an asset. Far from it, even the French in France have trouble with their frères across the pond. I just returned from a week in Paris and Brussels. My friends there speak French, and I used the excuse of celebrating my birthday in Paris to brush up on my French. Lesson: Get French friends, talk to them when you can, and then realize that almost everyone in France now is speaking English. LOL


My best tip for learning French-If Quebecois counts.........I had a job in Montreal Quebec for 5 months-my French got better by leaps and bounds --and fast!


I have to agree that immersion is the only sure method to REALLY learn French. You have to be immersed in the language and culture for it to become a part of you. But even then you have to speak it as well as study it. Let me give you an example. In 1980 I spent a year in language study in a beautiful place called Albertville (sight of the Olympics a few years back). Savoie has to be the most beautiful of all départements. Sorry Kristin. Of course, you have to like mountains. But I digress. I had two classmates; both recent grads with the same degree from a prestigious U.S. seminary (thus equivalent IQ). Both were all in class for 6-7 hours a day. Both had spouses and children. One studied furiously, going right from class to a study room to conjugate verbs, memorize genders, etc. The other took a more laid back approach and would spend the rest of the day hanging out with his little girls in the playground of the apartement where they lived. He didn't do well on the written tests throughout the year though he did make progress in the spring semester. I well remember the school's directrice (Mlle. Chevalier) often chiding him to be more serieux with his studies. But by the end of the year guess who was speaking quasi-fluently and who was still stammering and stuttering and all too frequently referring to his pocket dictionnaire to make sure he got everything perfect before it came out. You guessed it...the one who studied instead of speaking was still not speaking. You have to use it even if you get it wrong the first 100 times! If you wait until you get it right YOU WILL NEVER GET IT RIGHT!

Janice Leiser

I'm taking a French class and supplement classwork listening to French CD's and DVDs, and the website French etc which has dictation, grammar, games and even French slang.


One-on-One with a French tutor (a Parisienne) was my best learning experience, once per week for an hour. I had to prepare a written piece and bring a news article from Le Monde to read and discuss. She was strict about la prononciation et la grammaire!
The Michel Thomas Advanced and Booster CDs are great while driving.
I read Maigret novels, and Le Monde online.
I call my French friends (vers La Rochelle) to chat, and we correspond regularly (en français, bien sur).


Ditto previous commenters who watch French films. I would add, though, that while real films tend to only come with English subtitle, the opera DVDs usually come with 5 (Eng, Fr, Ger, Sp, It). So you can watch/listen to the sung French with French subtitle on the first time, then turn the title off in following viewings.

I also got a few cool French pop CDs... hid the lyrics somewhere and just tried to decipher what is being sung myself. Wrote it down (questionable spellings and all) the best I could before checking my transcription with the printed lyrics. :o)


I'll know more in a month or so. Going to Lyon at the end of April for a week-long French immersion course. Then spending another week in France. We'll see if it helps! (I studied French for 10 years in the 1970s, but am always almost tongue-tied in France.)


I try to log onto france-bleu internet radio every Monday - Friday ( ) My fav radio show is "la compil' des auditeurs" with Evelyne Adam, which starts at around noon PST. Listeners call into the show and chat with Evelyne, dedicate songs and provide a glimpse of everyday life in France. I find it helps condition my brain to hear and process the French language. It also helps to break the bad habit of mentally translating as I hear the words in French, which slows me down.


Listen to French radio on your iPhone - Fun Radio has a free app for that.

Sally in WA

If you are an auditory learner, and maybe even if you are not, the CD's called: French with Michel Thomas! are a great way to learn enough French to be polite and even carry on a conversation.

On my last day in Paris, one summer a few years ago, I was eating lunch at Printemps. A lady was seated next to me and I just knew she wanted to speak with me.

I tried not to panic! All the French I knew I had learned from my CD's with Michel Thomas. I was scared.

Finally she screwed up her courage and spoke to me. Surprise! I understood her. That was fun. We chatted about the two very thin women having lunch near us. They were eating a lot of food.

This lady told me that the skinny ladies only ate lunch! She was sure of it. LOL

I commented that I liked food too much for that! Then I asked her where she bought her clothes since she was, like me, NOT thin. Surely not at Printemps???

She laughed and agreed, no, not here at Printemps! She told me where to shop and by that time I was exhausted from trying to remember all the words I needed to make myself understood.

Even though I wanted dessert, I excused myself saying I had an appointment. Really I just couldn't concentrate anymore!

It was a wonderful encounter and I owe it all - well, almost all - to my CD's. Kristen's words came in handy too. ;-)

Arnold Hogarth

Just returned from Paris where a bright young man told me that I needed to develop "the ear." French, he said, is melodic with a different cadence, rhythm, and intonation than English. He said my ear wants (insists) on hearing many french words incorrectly. True, it's as the french word enters my ear, rattles around, and morphs into another sound, some incomprehensible word.
Many times, I've asked for directions, saying the name of the rue, and even after repeated attempts, I am not understood. Then, finally, the French person says, oh, you mean rue so-and-so and says the name, and I tell myself, that's exactly what I said, what's the matter with this person?
The young man said to that: you are just out of tune. your rhythm is off - you may say the word and phrase correctly, but your song is sour. So, he told me, listen to movies, radio, songs and sign along in your mind- and, you know what - it's fun, and it helps.

Ken Boyd

OK OK.........
I use Rosetta Stone software .
It's pricey but effective and VERY clever .


Napa Valley


I live in Paris, but even here it's hard to break the habit of speaking in English. A couple of suggestions: If you like to cook using French recipes, go to the website -- people can post ratings and suggestions to every recipe. If listening to music is your thing, pick up CDs by Francis Cabrel -- his French is very easy to understand. Put one of his CDs in your CD alarm clock (if you have one). When you wake up to his lovely music over and over again, the words just start to pop out.

Jean Lillibridge

Marry a frenchman and live in France. In 1961 I did, lived in various small towns by airforce bases in France and was forced to speak ONLY french just to buy food , etc. You will learn quickly.


I joined LiveMocha where I took courses for free, did all the written and audio exercises, used the flashcards on the site and interacted via chat with others who are fluent in French. I also used Annie Heminway's books "French Demystified" and "Complete French Grammar". When in France, I bought several bilingual books (English/French). Reading these has taught me much about the written form of French. Of course, it also helps that my boyfriend is French so I have a tutor at my disposal any time I want to practice.


If you have an Apple device (iMac, MacBook, iPhone, iPod, iTouch, iPad, etc.), you can download FREE podcasts once you install FREE apps. I have an iPhone and subscribe and regularly listen to the following podcasts in French from FRANCE INTER: Geopolitique, 2000 Ans D'Histoire, Carnet de campagne, Le Jardin, etc. There are many other French language apps available. I always take my headset/earphones along and listen in the car whilst commuting or waiting in a queue for just about anything!


"On the job training" is the best and by that I mean be forced to speak. Following 8 years of French in school in the US conjugating verbs and reading French, I attended the Alliance where you are forced to speak but I got and added dividend. The class was a 3 hour class twice a week, at night after work. When the class was over the teacher and I took the bus together up to the upper east side and we conversed in french the whole way. That was so liberating and the first time I felt like I could really communicate in french!

Wendy in Vancouver

Super ideas and a great question, Kristin.
I got a lot of information from these posts and look forward to looking into them.

What I do is I set my alarm clock to the local french radio station so every morning while I prepare for work, I am listening to the french dialogues and discussions on the radio. It has become very natural for me - oh, and by the way, I've won a few contests here and there (just this morning, in fact)!

I also watch TV5: from news reports, to game shows and my favourite - movies! but there are no subtitles so I am really forced to pay attention (I turn the t.v. on real loud!).

As for practice? That's what I find challenging here in an anglophone community! That's why I go to Paris . . .


surround yourself in the french language. listen to french music, write your lists in french, shopping, travel..... it makes you look words up and keep your french dictionary close at hand. Most importantly, be patient with yourself. It is a challenging language. have fun!


Being married to a Frenchman who doesn't speak English well has certainly helped! But that's obviously not an option for everyone :)

As many people have said, the sink or swim method is the best. Total immersion is tiring, but it really helps. I liked attacking the language from many fronts: listening to French songs, watching French movies, watching French TV even when I didn't understand.

The intensive courses at Alliance Francaise in New York before I moved to Paris where great and I loved their library of resources. I often took out their movies AND the transcripts that went with them. That way I was listening to French, but also able to read the words at the same time. Very helpful.

Thanks, Kristin, for a great forum!

Nancy loves France

Does anyone know of a French course in Nice for adults over 50? (Or even over 40.) Maybe something two weeks in length.


To Nancy loves France: There is an absolutely MARVELOUS school in Villefranche-sur-Mer, which is just a few km east of Nice. The school is l'Institut de Francais. It's quite expensive, but worth every centime. 8 1/2 hours a day for 4 weeks plus lunch with the professors plus breakfast plus some optional evening and weekend events. If you're not a beginner, you can go for two weeks, but I don't recommend it. My husband and I went the first time for the entire month and then 18 months later we returned for a refresher. I absolutely cannot recommend this school more highly -- it's FABULOUS. Classes are a maximum of 10 students, and they group you by expertise after a full day of both written and oral tests. My first class had students of 7 different nationalities, aged 26 to 72; and my second class had ages from 18 to 76. As a side benefit, I made lifelong friends.


I love all the tips. I have thought about switching subtitles on DVDs. I will have to try that soon. My other half always is watching shows that have subtitles because they are coming from somewhere from around the world. All the Travel Channel I watch I have watching subtitles down pat.

I have set my mp3 player to French commands before it crashed. Since I could go thru it without looking I knew what they were anyway. Also think about your TV and other things that have languages on them. (kep you books handy in cse you get stuck)

I have the Rocket French COurse that has interactive conversational french that you can also download to your mp3 players, flash cards, lessons, games, email lessons, website forums and more.

I like getting a new french word a day thru byki/transparent language in my email I get on my phone too. It gives you a sentence you can hear. They also have a free download.

I listen to french music pop artists and translate then go online and get the lyrics and compare to see how I did. I don't have the slang down being a beginner.

Thanks for all the great tips. I will have to get some of the books you recommended. I loved watching the Olympics and could actually understand more this year!

Central FL Gray and Stormy but finally made it into the 70s!

Raquel Medeiros

Kristin, I read French Word-A-Day ; ) So that I can improve my french and english. I also read megazines and listen songs.


I learned what french I know from four years of french in High School and four years of French (literature) etc in college. I had an early interest in french, France and some french relatives. I still read french, write french and can usually say what I want to. But since I do not have the opportunity to use it, I find it difficult to understand when it is spoken to me. I try to compensate for this by listening to my satellite radio stations (mostly from Canada), TV French movies; also I read LeMonde and Figaro on the internet.

Mary Cole

I have subscribed to and get daily newsletters. Even if I'm feeling too lazy to do French, I look at Elle a table because the recipes are fantastic!
I also go to a French meetup, use Alliance Francaise, have a list of French songs on youtube, read French magazines on the net, get info from France 24 and Le Monde on twitter etc.

Kitty Graham

These are all excellent suggestions and I try most of the methods. Complete immersion and day-to-day interaction is the very best way to learn any language but I'm able to go to France only every couple of years and I forget a lot between visits. The greatest pleasure in visiting there is being able to speak French, and people have always been patient, helpful and friendly (although at times they insist on practicing English!) The second best method for me is classes through the Alliance Francaise; as others have mentioned, the drawback is the cost, but it's well worth it. I would take classes there continuously if I had the time and the money!

Bill Swiggart

From my French-fluent son as to accent: Exaggerate your pronunciation to the point where you sound, to your own ears, like the stereotypical 'Frreenshman'. Pepe' LePieu will have nothing on you, but you'll sound more French. I'm looking forward to trying it in France sometime. The Frenchies will either gang tackle and beat me to death with their baguettes, or possibly applaud my sang froid.

Marianne Rankin

I have done all of the above, and at this point it's unlikely I will forget much or have trouble understanding. But to learn French really well, one must not only make it clear (if one has the chance) to native speakers that you genuinely want to be corrected (something people may feel is rude without being urged), but expand beyond the basics. Kristin's blog and books are one example of that. I pick up slang and idiomatic expressions and bits of culture I likely wouldn't know about otherwise. Travel/immersion is by far the best way to learn and practice French, although not always affordable or practicable. So we do the next best thing, whether it be listening to CDs of songs or radio shows, reading, singing, occasional studying, etc. I have a friend who is American, but for 35 years we have always only spoken and written French to each other, for practice. Every little bit helps. Carve out a bit of time for French each day or week, and over time, it will add up.


I learn by listening to my "learn french" cd's. I listen over and over; and the first time I went to Paris, January 2006, I was able to speak some, and understand some. I was very proud. I would love to take a french immersion class in France. That is my big dream. I also look at and attempt to read some french readers for understanding.

CSM in Vero FL

Great tips everyone thanks!!

I'm new here to French Word a Day. We are planning to go to France and rent a car and camp in August and September.

We are using the Michel Thomas method--so I was so glad to hear you felt comfortable conversing in the cafe, Sally! Michel puts the full responsibility of you learning French onto himself as the teacher. It's a fun way to learn and a joy after suffering through high school french class with a teacher who hated us.

I just bought your book, Kristin as well as the French Reader.


I've been a student of French for 20 years. I have taught it (7 years) at the high school level and still tutor in my home. I love it. If you can't spend long blocks of time in France, you have to do everything possible to recreate authentic situations for speaking French. I think French in Action is highly effective, and whereas it used to be very expensive, you can now get a good deal sometimes on Ebay. Pimsleur CDs are the best, in my opinion, and you should work yourself slowly through the entire series. (These are sometimes available at the public library.) There are lots of tape/CD programs on the market, but most of them are a waste of money, if you want to do more than buy a croissant. I think you have to take a systematic approach. I've taken to watching my favorite movies in French after viewing it in English. Be realistic. In order to learn and speak French well, it will take years of dedication. (Like learning a musical instrument.) But it's so much fun, and so rewarding. My favorite moment was when a French salelady mistook me for une francaise. I'm glad I had my daughter with me to be my witness. :)

jo Ellen

The Champs Elysee audio magazine was an early resource I used when I was beginning to study French. Listening to a piece over and over, with access to the transcript if I needed it was very helpful for my listening skills. It helps to remember you need to do a little of everything, listening, speaking, writing. Films, especially those without too much slang really helped to learn some idioms, and of late I have been using I also believe in meet ups. I have a French friend who is learning Spanish and we get together, he speaks in Spanish, I speak in French, and we read out loud to each other to correct pronunciation.
Lastly, detach from the outcome to silence the internal judge that tell you you will never get it. Enjoy the process!


I have just begun to learn French through a free online program offered by my local library. It's called Mango and it allows you to learn foreign languages at your own pace. So far, so good!


Just yesterday, on public tv, I came across an animated conversation in French between a young girl and a guy. They seemed to be teasing and having a great time -- I was intrigued and discovered that it was a language series in the form of light vignettes, something like a comedie romantique! I tried to find the broadcast dates and times in my area and finally discovered that the whole series is available online (if you live in the U.S. or Canada.)
The name of the series is French in Action. Their description says this... "This series uses active participation to increase fluency in French, while introducing French culture. Pierre Capretz’s proven language-immersion method is presented within a humorous teleplay with native speakers of all ages and backgrounds. The storyline of an American student and a young Frenchwoman's adventures in Paris and the French countryside is reinforced by Dr. Capretz’s on-camera instruction. The series is also appropriate for teacher professional development."

I just watched the Orientation and it looks fabulous. There is no translation - the method is immersion and "getting the gist" of the conversations. They take pieces from interviews on the Paris streets, French movies, tv shows, and television commercials, etc.

Check it out! I am looking forward to watching one episode a day... and then, probably start all over again from the beginning! -- on demand learning that is entertaining too - wow!
(copy and paste the entire link with no spaces)

Sunny, cold (42F), and breezy in Boise, Idaho today!


Mike Hardcastle

I have tried most of what's been written before and I think that it's all valuable. One of the tips that has helped me is to listen to the international news on 'Info' (available online). International news is the same whatever country you live in so there is a close translation readily available. The channel 'Culture' has interesting and fairly easy to follow historical and sociological programs.

Incidentally living in France will not automatically improve your French. I know English people who have lived here for many years and hardly speak a word, they shop in supermarkets, only mix with other English people and if they have French lessons they are usually from English teachers. I do wonder why some of them are here at all.

An amusing incident happened a few days ago. I was speaking to my neighbour in front of my house when a Parisian friend arrived.
After a few minutes my neighbour left and Valerie asked, ' Do you understand Gaby?' When I said yes she said she was surprised because she hardly understood him. He has a heavy Vendeen accent with a good sprinkling of patois and argot. His wife Regine however speaks very correct French, which is lucky for me.


While the best thing I ever did to learn French was to live and study in France for ~1 year, this is not feasible for everyone. Prior to my arrival in France, I took a class at my university where I went to "La Maison Francaise" to each lunch 4 of 5 days each week. During lunch, we could only speak French and it helped tremendously in getting me to start thinking in French.

I am not certain of this, but I would think that "La Alliance Francaise" in a city near you would be a good place to start looking for such a course. And when you're comfortable, I would still recommend a trip to a French speaking country.

Seattlite who stuggles mightily with french pronunciation

As we appraoch retirement, we want to improve our Italian. The task is the same. We are looking for someplace to take a "volunteer" vacation in Italy where we will excahnge our particular skills for being in an Italian speaking environment. For those who are not wealthy, or who are between the college and retirement years and work full time, it is not easy to immerse yourself in another culture and learn the language.

Mike Hardcastle

I almost forgot two magazines which are really excellent. The first is 'Rendez-vous' and the second is La Vie en France/la Vie Outre Manche'. They are published on alternate months so you will have a monthly read if you order both. The cost is very reasonable and you can try them out with their free monthly newsletter which contains a fair bit of bilangue. Just put 'La Vie Outre Manche' into Google.


My husband and I do home exchanges. We have been to several countries, but keep going back to France. This gets us away from tourists, living in a house in a normal neighborhood. We shop, ride public transportation, do all the normal daily things while living among normal people. A bonus is that we have made many French friends among the French people who have stayed in our house.
When we are at home one of the things we do is write our grocery lists in French!
I endorse absolutely everything I have read here; do what works for you.


I carry around a tiny notebook and write down French words i come across and like/don't know,
and i write down the their translation from the dictionary when i get home. Then, whenever i am wasting time somewhere waiting at the bank/post office/bus stop, etc, i pull out my notebook and review the words. After three weeks, i have about 20 pages filled in, so it's quite a read.

R. B. Roll

My husband and I subscribe to L'Express and Paris Match. We also watch the French news on our computer. In addition, we subscribe to Champs-Elysee, la France en cassette ou CD. It's a lot like 60 Minutes minus the visuals. For a while we had a private tutor, which really helped because we had to converse in French, and I had to write essays. Best of all, we've taken several trips to France and tried to speak the language. Now, I feel I need a yearly Paris fix.

Jo Silverman

Read a French newspaper, e.g. Le Monde, and if the title of the article is easy to translate, or better yet, the article has pictures, many times the text kind of comes together for you. Works for me.

Patricia Gracey

The best way to learn french is to live in France, watch French TV, get in conversation with French people (hopefully they will be patient with slowness), and have conversations with French children. The children speak slowly enough to catch on sooner. Once you have mastered basic communication with a 4-5 year old, you're ready to start communicating with an older child, then an adult. Good luck!

valerie lester

Translate a book.
Three years ago I was sick for 10 months (with a parasite; I'm better now, thank you). I needed a task to keep my mind occupied, so I set to work translating Le Grand Meaulnes. Although my French is pretty good (I spent a year at school in French Switzerland in my teens), it was very rusty. Working on the translation expanded my vocabulary, and as I worked I said the French words aloud, which exercised my pronunciation. I translated a page or two a day, and by the time I was cured, I had finished the book. Guess what? My translation was published by Vintage Press in England last November. Let's hear it for parasites!!

Karen in Towson, Md. USA

If you can't move to France and/or marry a Frenchman/woman then you have to take an intense course or two to get started. I did Berlitz and then a summer intense course. I was dreaming in French after that! But then it faded as I wasn't being forced to acxtually "speak". You need to listen and speak for it to really take hold.

Also, surround yourself with the language: French movies, Bien Dier CD's for the car, French Music (try to translate OR Google the lyrics), local French Meet-Up groups, "About French" daily email newsletters with quizzes et bien sur ..... "French Word a Day" (USE THE NEW WORDS OVER & OVER until the next edition)!!

Karen in Towson, Md. USA

Wow Kristin. The photos of the snow both yesterday and today are stunning! Still, the photos of the furry ones capture my heart. I loved the color .... golden - just like them!

Karen in Towson, Md. USA

In my post I wrote Bien dier. It should be Bien-Dire.

Christine in Salt Lake City

Love these ideas, thank you for all the great suggestions!

I love Pimsleur and French in Action. My best class ever though was when I was living in Brussels for 4 months and took a class at Call International (I VERY highly recommend it for anyone going to Belgium or Lille). We memorized dialogues (the teacher taught them using actions so we understood what they meant). It was amazing how those phrases became 2nd nature.

june shenton turner

We are fortunate in Australia to have a TV channel which has the news programmes from the countries that our immigrants have come from - marvellous for them and marvellous for learning and practising. The French national news is on SBS every morning at 9.20am (only a few hours later than Parisians have seen it!). I
video one from time to time and play it over, stopping at places I can't understand and not going on until I've mastered that piece. You can just keep that one video for days and go over and over - your ear gets atuned to it.

One of the best tips I've had for speaking French is to put the tip of your tongue behind your front lower teeth and keep it there! Then say'très bien' and you'll hear a much more genuine French sound - it positions your tongue correctly for the French 'r' and helps with other letters too.

It's great to read all these comments. Thank you Kristen.
Posted by: June Shenton Turner in Perth,Western Australia.

Cathy  NYC

You need to do what works, what is affordable..As mentioned above, use your Ipod (i use a tiny petitpod just for French) and download from I love Danse des mots, Si loin, si proche, Debat de jour..I load my Ipod and do housework (makes it easier to dust) or go or a walk. Easy to do & inexpensive, too. I repeat phrases, look up argot, learn expressions & get caught up with the news as told from another point of view! Super!


One idea that I have not yet seen on the list: Read French comic books, even the children's ones. Comic books are the one place where you will see contemporary, colloquial spoken French written out in black and white. Back in the day, I learned a lot from Astérix, Achille Talon, and the rest of the gang at the old "Pilote" (Mâtin! Quel journal!) comic book.

When I was a first year Spanish student I had the opportunity to team teach Spanish to 3rd graders. It worked great for me since I wanted to be accurate in what I was teaching. I also listened to tapes of what we did in class immediately after class on my way home. I enrolled in a college course for 1 yr 2 terms. Currently I'm studying French on my own with books, music, writing a pen pal in France and I've started a French conversation group with 2 native speakers and 3 beginners who meet once a month. Jackie (Damascus, Oregon, USA)

Ann Taylor

Thanks for all the wonderful ideas. Being lucky enough to live in Canada, an officially bilingual country, we are exposed to a fair amount of French. I studied French at university evening courses for 10 years and finally got a diploma a couple of years ago. I took a trip to France right after graduation hoping to practice, but everyone in France spoke English to me (perhaps my accent was not so good). In our part of Canada (the west coast) there is not a lot of French spoken but we are lucky enough to have great French radio and a very active Francophone Cultural Society which organizes interesting events - recently a circus with performers from Guinee.

Bob Haine

As a now retired French teacher, that is a question I have been asked many times. As for my personal experience, I took Latin, then French in high school, continued the French in college, but majored in English. After graduating from college I saved up my money for a grand tour of Europe. It was two and a half months of heaven, from England and Wales, to Paris (which I hated the first time I visited!), to Spain, Morocco, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and finally the Netherlands. This trip was my inspiration to return to school and to become a French teacher. Why?--because it opened my eyes to how important language is in reducing the gaps that exist between people and nations. It also impressed upon me the idea that there really is no substitute for actually visiting, being in a place, country, culture, to truly understand it.
A few years later, I took a 5-week tour of France, alone, by train, from one end (Bretagne, Normandy) to the other (St Jean-de-Luz, Lourdes, Narbonne, Nice). I was also able to study French at NYU (thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities).
I took my students to France several times, to show them why we learned what we learned in the classroom.
What I always told my students was not to be afraid of making a mistake, using the wrong form or tense of the verb, using "un" instead of "une", etc. What is important is communicating an idea, being understood and understanding.
Voila mes "deux centimes"! Bonne chance!

Rod Crislip

I started learning french at age 42. I am now 78.START Earlier!!Stay with families in France.Have your grandchildren go to a french immersion grade school.

Barbara Mortimer

Assimil's Francais sans peine and the New French With Ease CDs and/or cassettes give graduated conversations plus an exercise in each lesson. Marvellous to memorize and for getting your ear adjusted to the way good french is spoken.
Also BBC A Vous la France and France Extra tapes & CDs good for daily activities and interactions.
Michel Thomas a joy. Thanks for all the other tips fellow francophones oh yes on itunes and Kristin for sharing herself with us all.

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