10 Ways to improve your French (that are free)

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Whether you’re in France or on your way, learning the language is essential so here are ten tested and true methods that are guaranteed to help you improve (and won’t cost a cent.)


1. Listening to the radio and or podcasts.

RFI (Radio France Internationale) is one of many French radio stations that serve as great tools for learning. In addition to being free, they can be listened to almost anywhere. Such as on the bus or tram, which is coincidentally where I spend 50% of my life in France. They’re also a good way to wake up or wind down your brain in the morning or before bed. I am no neuro scientist, but I think that’s when your brain is extra squishy and therefore can absorb more information (*maybe.) They even have content curated specifically for people who are learning French, i.e. hosts that talk slow-ish. When I was preparing for my DELF B2 in the US, I used these testing resources by TV5MONDE (another tv-radio outlet in France) to ameliorate my listening comprehension. Plus, podcasts are guaranteed to make you feel extra cultured. 😉 So you’ll learn the language and have stuff to talk about, too!

2. Try a MOOC, or massive open online course.

Personally, I did this one via Coursera that helps students at the B1-B2 level to prep for their life in France (with lessons on setting up a bank, what university lectures are like, etc.) all in French. It was super informative and I loved the resources they used so much that I found myself taking screen shots of examples for future reading. The nice thing about Coursera is that the material is vetted so you won’t be wasting your time.  Au contraire, upon completion you can add the certificate to your LinkedIn (la classe.) Another bonus? It’s accessible to people who are not yet in the country.

Source: Upsplash.com

All in all, MOOC’s are credible free resources for people that don’t want to spend a fortune on private lessons. And you can do it from your bed.

3. Learning by doing.

Everyone learns differently, some people prefer hands-on experiences to listening or reading and I get that! Fortunately, once you’ve arrived in France there are MANY outlets for learning French. If you’re at the university, there’s tons of student associations waiting to welcome you (join that young communists club you’ve always wanted to!) If you don’t have access to a uni, try volunteering.

Looking for something with less commitment? I recommend going to a night of Franglish (disclaimer, it takes place in pubs.) This group organizes fun evenings of languages exchanges in most cities in France. Then there’s Erasmus parties (also disclaimer, this also takes place in pubs) which you can find in Facebook Events.

4. Working.

This method is more than free, it pays to learn! Whether you’re interacting with French clients, working on a CV, or getting to know your colleagues, working is one way many people improve their French. Even though at my job I work in English (writing content) I find the workplace a fun place to develop my French with co-workers. Besides, if your company is anything like mine, there will be lot’s of office parties for practicing.

5. Watching French films.

Since students have mad discounts in France, everyone should be going to their local cinema! Similarly to the radio technique, watching movies is a passive way of integrating French. Particularly, associating words with sounds (which is why I strongly recommend using subtitles in French, too.)

If you want to watch some cult classics, check out Les Intouchables (heartfelt comedy about a guy from the banlieu that becomes the caretaker of a rich aristocrat) or OSS117 (French spoof of James Bond with ultra-famous actor, Jean Dujardin.) A personal favorite film of mine is Le Tout Nouveau Testament. It’s actually a Belgian film but whatever. A voir !

6. Watching the news in French.

Or les marseillais. Whatever your thing is, TV can be another useful tool for learning the language. Since it’s current, tv gives you a general culture and context for understanding what people are referring to (this is half the battle of learning the language because while you may have a very strong grasp of the words, if you don’t understand the social references you’ll still feel lost.)

7. Social media.

Let’s be real, young all people are glued to their phones. Follow French accounts so that even when you’re aimlessly scrolling you’ll still be learning. Social media is the key to understanding your peers. It’s a wonderful feeling when the gears start clicking and you understand memes, slang, and jokes in French. You ain’t gonna get that in class. I personally like the Instagram accounts Frenchwords and La Vie Moderne (disclaimer, language.)

8. Download language apps!

The first one that comes to mind is DuoLingo. Personally, I don’t use it but my boyfriend is a huge fan. It’s the sensation of playing a game but you’re actually learning vocab. They’re accessible offline, too, which is helpful when in the metro. My only qualm is that the phrases they use to teach have very little context. I understand better through stories but that’s just me!

9. Teach.

I am by no means fluent (far from it) (ok, but I do have my C1.) Anyways, I learned a lot by tutoring others on the basics.

If you’re an exchange student, it’s most likely that you’ll be hanging out with other exchange students and helping one another is a great way to learn.

When you go home, you can maintain your French by tutoring kids!

10. Be outgoing, say “Oui”.

Part of learning the language is taking chances. When I was back in Oregon, I really wanted to exchange with a native speaker. I ended up finding an ad on craigslist (yikes, right?) from a man who had recently moved from France with his wife and kids (not so yikes after all) and also wanted to exchange. Responding to his ad turned out being the best thing I ever did in terms of my progress in French. I’m not necessarily advocating that everyone go on Craigslist and meet strangers. Just wanted to make the point that saying yes to new opportunities can be extremely rewarding.

Lastly, and most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself.

I think my progress really suffered when I began to self-criticize during the mid-point of my exchange. The I should know this by now feeling made me stagnate whereas when I first arrived in France, I accepted the fact that I would be bad.

It’s so easy to feel insecure in a new language: little things like a native switching to English when they hear your accent or a friend correcting you can trigger an emotional reaction.

When in fact, learning a language is not a competition. Quite the opposite, it’s a personal journey, with ups and downs, lulls, and periods of rapid growth. It’s in part what we make it (through actively trying to improve) but it’s also just a ride in which you will grow unintentionally. You’re learning all the time, whether you recognize it or not. Every little exposure counts. Just leaving your house in France, chatting with a friend, ordering a coffee, or watching a movie can help.

So accept where you’re at, even better, celebrate it.


– Siobhan Donovan ex-Campus France e-ambassador

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