Thirteen free and easy ways to learn French

Struggling to learn French? Not everyone can go back to college or afford private tutors. So with the help of our readers and an author who's written a book on the subject, here are some free and easy ways to help you conquer French.

Thirteen free and easy ways to learn French
Photo: Runs With Scissors/Flickr

1. Pillow talk

Photo: Henrik Berger Jorgensen/Flickr

Improving your understanding of irregular verbs is usually the furthest thing from your mind when lying in bed with your French lover. However, some expats have found that exchanging sweet nothings can be a great way to pick up a phrase here and there. “Seriously, nothing focuses your mind quite like sex, and later on, you’ll find you were really paying attention to every word,” says American burlesque dancer Brian Scott Bagley.

2. Listen and repeat

Your best, most easily-available French teachers are the French. So when they speak, mimic all their little phrases. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when trying to express yourself,” says English blogger Victoria Wall. “If you say ‘merci’ and a French person replies ‘Je vous en prie,’ then say that next time for ‘You’re welcome.’ No need to scratch your head and blurt out ‘Vous..etes..bienvenue’ – the French have already figured it out, so just repeat after them.”

3. Get smarter with your smartphone

These days there's an app for everything, including learning French. Several of them actually. The benefits are that many of the apps feel more like games, you can learn on the go or whenever you have a spare minute, and many of them are free or very cheap. Try checking out Duolingo to start, and see our list of top smartphone apps for learning French.

4. Turn subtitles on

Photo: Gomazio ASBL/Youtube

Watching French movies with French subtitles on can be a huge boost to your understanding of the language. If reading French is your forté, then hearing the words spoken alongside the text will vastly improve your ear. And if you hear and understand the sounds and phrases of French just fine, then having it written down will help you link the two together. And of course, you can watch your favourite English-language films with French subtitles too.

5. Listen to the news

You can keep yourself up to date on current events and learn French at the same time just by listening to some French radio in the morning. If you find that they speak too quickly for you to understand, try the News in Slow French, a weekly news roundup that you can listen to in slowly-spoken French. A surefire way to get your comprehension skills up to speed.

6. Go back to your childhood roots

Several French-speakers who taught themselves recommended this one. Watch cartoons on TV, read children’s books, and don’t be ashamed to enjoy it. “The French is at a beginner’s level, it’s very easy to pick up, and the TV shows especially are full of little word games that will really help. And it’s fun!” says Brian Scott Bagley.

7. Play

Photo: The Local

Learning a language cannot be all work and no play or you will soon lose interest. “Do crossword puzzles in French or play scrabble or learn the words to your favourite French songs,” says Lynn McBride.

8. Phrase of the day

“I put French phrases on my calendar so I can learn one each day,” says Lynn McBride. “I will try to learn and use that phrase during the day.” This tip requires a bit of discipline, organization and a decent-sized calendar. Although it may not sound like much, if you really learn the phrase each day you will soon find it easier to pick up and use other words and expressions.

9. Turn GPS to French

Photo: Cheon Fong Liew/Flickr

Driving in France might be daunting enough without having your GPS barking orders at you to “tournez à gauche” or continue “tout droit” at the “rond-point”. Nevertheless, asking your GPS guide to speak to you in French instead of English is a handy way of forcing yourself to hear and understand the language you are trying to learn, says author Lynn McBride. Just give a little bit of extra driving time to cover for getting lost.

10. Get sporty

Not on your own of course, and not just with expats. The French love their sport and there are thousands of local clubs up and down the country that cater for everything from running to rugby and probably darts too. Join up. “You just have to throw yourself in at the deep-end. I joined a local rugby club, which helped a lot. You socialize and mix with the locals,” reader Nick Ord says.

11. Cooking

Combining work and pleasure is always the best way to learn. If you enjoy cooking then force yourself to ditch your Jamie Oliver English cook book and opt for Raymond Blanc’s recipes instead – in French of course. Not only will you learn plenty of names for ingredients, but there’ll be plenty of useful verbs in there too and you might just become a Michelin star chef in the process.

12. Talk to yourself

This might sound a strange tip and it might raise a few eyebrows from other patrons in the café you're in, but Lynn McBride says “you’ll come up with lots of phrases and words that you don’t know and will then want to look up.” If you get bored of talking to yourself you can always do a little bit of role play with your alter ego – the moody French waiter, your French boss at work or even the French man or woman of your dreams… but maybe not in public.

13. YouTube tutorials 

There are so many of them you can get lost. But just do one a day for the rest of your days and you'll improve your French to a point where you can start doing your own YouTube tutorials.

A previous version of this article was published in 2013. But seeming as though we are all still struggling with French we decided to publish an updated version.


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How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in French

It's a very common experience to have to give out your phone number or email address in France, or take down the address of a website, and there is some specialist vocabulary that you will need.

How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in French

The correct names for punctuation marks used to be fairly low down on any French-learner’s list, but these days they are vital whenever you need to explain an email address, website or social media account.

Likewise if you want to talk about websites, or social media posts, there are some things that you need to know. 


Obviously punctuation points have their own names in France, and making sure you get the periods, dashes and underscores correct is vital to giving out account details. 

Full stop/period . point. Pronounced pwan, this is most commonly heard for French websites or email addresses which end in .fr (pronounced pwan eff eyre).

If you have a site that ends in .com you say ‘com’ as a word just as you would in English – pwan com – and if the website is a government site such as the tax office it will end with (pwan goov pwan eff eyre).

At symbol @ Arobase – so for example the email address [email protected] would be jean pwan dupont arobas hotmail pwan eff eyre 

Ampersand/and symbol & esperluette

Dash – tiret

Underscore _ tiret bas 

Forward slash / barre oblique

Upper case/capital lettersMajuscule (or lettre majuscule)

Lower caseminiscule

The following punctuation points are less common in email or web addresses, but worth knowing anyway;

Comma , virgule. In France a decimal point is indicated with a comma so two and a half would be 2,5 (deux virgule cinq)

Exclamation mark ! point d’exclamation – when you are writing in French you always leave a space between the final letter of the word and the exclamation mark – comme ça !

Question mark ? point d’interrogation – likewise, leave a space between the final character and a question mark 

Brackets/parentheses ( ) parenthèse

Quotation marks « » guillemets 


If you need to give your phone number out, the key thing to know is that French people pair the numbers in a phone number when speaking.

So say your number is 06 12 34 56 78, in French you would say zero six, douze, trente-quatre, cinqante-six, soixante-dix- huit (zero six, twelve, thirty four, fifty six, seventy eight, rather than one, two, three, four etc)

Mobile numbers in France all begin with 06 and ‘zero six‘ is a slangy way of talking about your phone number.

Donne-moi ton zero six pour qu’on puisse se capter parfois. – Give me your number so that we can hang out sometime.

Social media

If you want to give out your Twitter or Instagram handle, the chances are you might need to know some punctuation terms as described above.

Otherwise the good news is that a lot of English-language social media terms are used in France too.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have the same names in France and have entered the language in other ways too, for example you might describe your dinner as très instagrammable – ie it’s photogenic and would look good on Instagram.

On Twitter you can suivre (follow), aime (like) or retweet (take a wild guess). You’ll often hear the English words for these terms too, though pronounced with a French accent.

There is a French translation for hashtag – it’s dièse mot, but in reality hashtag is also very widely used.

Tech is one of those areas where new concepts come along so quickly that the English terms often get embedded into everyday use before the Academie française can think up a French alternative.

There’s also the phenomenon of English terms being mildly ‘Frenchified’ such as having a slightly different pronunciation or being adapted to sound more French, such as the below UberEats advert, which uses the words ‘swiper, matcher, dater’ – not really correct French but clearly instantly understandable to the young demographic that the advert is aimed at. 

Photo: The Local

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