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LEARNING FRENCH

The best smartphone apps for learning French

It's often said the best way to learn French is by speaking it, and that's all well and good - but where do you start if you don't have the words to express yourself?

The best smartphone apps for learning French
Photo by Yura Fresh on Unsplash

A winning way to learn French is while sitting (or more likely, standing) on the Metro, in your lunch break or whenever you have a spare five minutes.

Yes, there are hundreds of apps out there, but we’ve rounded up some of the best (in honour of French language week).

Let us know if you have used them and if they helped you.

Learn French by Bravolol Limited

Perfect for tourists or beginners, this app teaches you 800 of the most common and useful words and phrases. A French-speaking parrot helps you improve your spelling and authentic pronunciation – you can record your voice to see if you’re getting it right, and the words are sorted into topics so you can choose those most relevant to you.

User Janet Perez wrote: “Simple and helpful. It is easy to use it, it teaches you the basic greetings and words, the pronunciation and it doesn’t have annoying commercials.”

6000 Words – Learn French Language for Free

As the name suggests, this app is a vocabulary builder, teaching you the 6,000 most common words in French, so it’s suited to anyone aiming at comprehension (of menus and signs, for example) rather than conversation.

The words are organized in themes with illustrations, phonetic transcriptions and recordings of native pronunciation, and you can test your knowledge using one of the language games. Students can also set the difficulty of the the app according to their level: beginner, intermediate or advanced.

“Great vocabulary builder. Wide selection of vocabulary, also builds spelling skills. Graphics for words are helpful (and funny)” user Amanda McQ commented in the Google Play site.

Le Conjugueur

If you’re already familiar with the basic phrases but want to brush up on your grammar, this handy app is a must. You can look up 9,000 French verbs to find out how to conjugate them in any tense, helping you avoid errors even when you’re dealing with the tricky irregulars or one of the less common tenses.

User Chris Isbister wrote: “Excellent. A solid app for reviewing verb conjugations and definitions, as well as conjugation rules, all without requiring an internet connection.”

Duolingo

One of the most comprehensive and best-rated language-learning apps out there, Duolingo’s makers claim 34 hours on the app “are equivalent to a semester of university-level education”.

Grammar, vocab and phrases are organized into different topics which you work through in small, bite-sized lessons. It evolves as you go so that you’ll be tested on the topics you struggle with most. The only downside is that you can’t pick and choose specific topics to learn, but have to unlock them in the correct order.

“Amazing! Duolingo is really easy and fun and really does a great job of teaching the language you have chosen!! Its cool that you get ‘gems’ when you finish a topic and can spend it in the store to get icons or clothes for the Duolingo bird!” writes user Hannah Bottomley.

And the ones that aren’t free:

FluentU

This one’s a bit different (and only free for the first 15 days). It focuses on video-based learning, meaning that you get to check out real French clips from around the internet and get tested on them afterwards. 

“I really really like the fact that the videos are real authentic videos. It makes it much more interesting. Learning… almost becomes an afterthought to the fact that you are watching cool videos,” one user called Niel said. 

Learn French – Speak French

The app’s creators promise that learning French is “easier than you think”, and its 50 million users worldwide seem to agree, judging by its positive reviews.

It’s aimed at those who want to develop a comprehensive understanding of French, with vocabulary and grammar units, audio dialogues and language games – you can even send exercises to a native speaker for feedback.

“Awesome! I studied French as a subject but I found this app worth a dozen books,” user Waqar Rizvi said in a Play Store critique.

Only the first lesson is free, with subscriptions starting at around €12 for a month. 

Busuu

And lastly, this app, which costs around €10 a month, allows you to interact with real-life French people so you can learn French like real life.

Plenty of speaking practice on hand here, enough that the app promises you can “learn French in only ten minutes per day”.

“Don’t just learn languages, fall in love with them,” says the team, adding that it has 60 million members. 

The app was rated by Apple as one of the “Best Apps” in 2014.

For members

FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

Nine of our favourite French words and expressions of the day

From 'Monsieur Dupont' to a 'Flasher', via an unsavoury metaphor involving flies and a word for meat-lovers, here's a roundup of some of our favourite French words and expressions of the day.

Nine of our favourite French words and expressions of the day

Every weekday, The Local publishes a French word or phrase of the day, with the emphasis on slang, sayings, colloquialisms and (sometimes) swearing. Our aim is to introduce readers to the words and phrases that they won’t learn in French class, but they definitely will hear during the course of everyday life in France.

We’ve been publishing a daily word since 2018, so by now we have a fairly hefty back catalogue – you can find it HERE. Members of The Local can also sign up to our Word of the Day mailing list and get each day’s word or phrase delivered straight to your mailbox.

Here’s a selection of the words and phrases we published in January;

1. Monsieur Dupont

You might know someone named Dupont, after all, it’s a fairly common name in France. And, yet, Monsieur Dupont is not always real – in fact the name is frequently used in a metaphorical context to signify an everyman figure, or someone whose identity is not known.

Pronounced: miss-yur doo-ponn 

Learn more about France’s ‘John Doe’ here.

2. Flasher 

You might be curious why French newspapers are writing about the number of “serial flasheurs” on the country’s roads. But it’s not what you think as this word is a classic faux ami (false friend). Flasher in French does not mean – as it does in English – someone who has exposed themselves in public.

In fact it means either taking a photograph, shining a (metaphorical) spotlight on something or falling head-over-heels in love. The photographic meaning is the most common, particularly in reference to being photographed by a speed camera.

Pronounced: flah-shay 

Find out more here.

3. Larguer les amarres

This originally nautical expression now has a less literal meaning to “let go” of something or launch something new. It’s most commonly heard in the context of a new start like moving house or starting a new job, or the end of something – in particular the end of a love affair.

Pronounced: lar-gay lays ah-mahr 

Find out more here.

4. Être bouleversé

If dinosaurs could talk, they may have used this French phrase to describe being hit by the asteroid. The word can be used in both extremely happy and extremely sad situations, to describe being either delighted or devastated by a turn of events.

Perhaps its closest English synonym is ‘bowled over’.

Pronounced eh truh bool vehr say

We explain how to use it here.

5. Enculer les mouches

Enculer les mouches has an extremely crude literal translation but as a phrase is actually not all that offensive (although it’s definitely casual).

In English we might call someone who is very picky over grammar and spelling a ‘pedant’, in French it’s the distinctly more dramatic ‘sodomiser of flies’. Interestingly, French is not the only language to have a very rude phrase for pedants, others include ‘comma fucker’ and ‘little dot shitter’.

Pronounced: ahn koo lay lay moosh 

Learn more here.

6. Viandard

We know that traditional French cuisine is quite meat-heavy and the French love their meat. However viandard has two meanings – the first being simply a person who loves meat, the second being an unscrupulous person who exploits others for gain. The secondary meaning is though to come from the hunting world.

Pronounced: vee-ahn-darr

We explain fully here.

7. Vœux

Vœux is the plural form of the word vœu, and is useful at weddings and other solemn occasions because it means ‘vow’. But the reason we have included it in our January roundup is because at the start of the year it is common for politicians, CEOs and other leaders to make ‘vows’ to their electorate or employees. 

Pronounced: vuh

Learn more here.

8. Amortisseur

This word might be already familiar to you if you are unlucky enough to have car trouble in France – it means shock absorber. But it can also be used in a metaphorical sense to describe a device or plan that cushions the blow or softens the impact, and in 2023 has a very specific meaning relating to electricity bills.

Pronounced: ah-more-tee-zur 

Let us tell you more here.

9. 6h pile

As any dictionary will tell you, the main meaning of the French word pile is a battery. However it can be used to mean “exact” or “sharp” when used to describe a moment in time – so 6h pile means “6am sharp” or “6am on the dot”. It’s also used in several phrases and expressions relating to time.

Pronounced: peel 

Full details here.

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