French for beginners: Ten useful tools to get started
This post is specifically targeted at French for beginners. If you are just starting out in learning French then you’ve come to the right place! We will outline specific suggestions on which resources to acquire and how to go about the learning process. At the bottom of the page we’ve provided links to 20 specific pages where you can get started learning French today. Keep reading!
I am a full-time online French teacher
First of all, who am I? My name is David Issokson and I am a full-time online French teacher. I was born and raised in the United States.
But, I’ve reach a very high level in French where French people think I’m French when I speak. I’ve used my talent in the French language to help hundreds of people reach their goals.
How long does it take to learn French?
I get the question: “How long does it take to learn French?” all the time. My quick and honest answer: “One human lifetime”.
Many students come to me with the idea that they can somehow learn French in 30 days or six months. These ideas are put in their heads but the marketing arms of companies such as Rosetta Stone, Pimselur and Babbel which offer software apps for learning French.
The truth of the matter is that NOBODY can learn a foreign language that fast! The whole concept of “Fluent in 3 Months” is a total FALLACY.
Learning a language is a lifelong process. Remember, “Rome ne s’est pas faite en un jour !” (Rome was not built over night.).
Your objective in your initial two years of learning should be to lay down a very solid foundation in grammar and vocabulary. That way you can spend the rest of your life building on your solid foundation.
In language learning there is always one more word to learn, so the the “task” is never really completed and you really never “reach” your goal. There’s just small amounts of improvement every day.
Initial materials to get started
All of that said, this next section will outline the initial materials I personally recommend to my students to get started. Some of the resources listed below are free and others require a purchase.
French pronunciation – reading rules
The single biggest “hump” or challenge facing anybody just starting out in learning French is the understanding and mastery of the reading rules and pronunciation.
This page on our site covers the French reading rules in detail.
French is not a phonetic language. If you don’t learn the reading rules in the very beginning of your studies you’ll forever be fumbling around and mispronouncing words.
I have known Camille at Frenchtoday.com for many years and have always recommended her courses and lessons to my students. This page on her site does an excellent job of teaching the basics of French pronunciation.
She does a great job showing how to pronounce the difficult vowel sounds as well as the infamous French -r. Camille also offers an entire course on French pronunciation. This page on our site also covers the French reading rules in detail.
Remember, if you fail to wrap your head around French pronunciation and reading rules, you’ll never learn French. In my private lessons I’ve helped a lot of people to get off to a very good start. Here are some testimonials for my private lessons.
Book list for the pure beginner
Again, these are the top-3 books for a pure newbie. This page on our site has a more complete list of books for learning French.
Complete French All-In-One
I consider Practice Makes Perfect Complete French All-In-One to be the Bible for all beginner students. You can use this book both on your own and with a teacher.
It has excellent coverage of basic vocabulary, verbs and grammar. The book’s explanations are excellent and it offers lots of exercises.
The All-In-One book is good for both self-study and used with a teacher. This is a must buy!
Discovering French Bleu
I have been using the high school textbook Discovering French Bleu by Valette-Valette since Day-1 of my teaching at the end of 2013.
This book will walk you through the basics of French in a very orderly and structured way. I like the slowness of the approach as the book doesn’t put too much on your plate at once. I also love the book’s readings.
I would definitely suggest to go through this book with a teacher and NOT alone!
Exercises in French Phonetics
Exercises in French Phonetics by Dr. Francis W. Nachtmann is a tiny $8 gem for learning French pronunciation. The book breaks down French pronunciation in a very methodical way and provides lots of exercises. The book does not come with a CD and is also best used with a teacher.
Free YouTube resources for the pure beginner
YouTube is loaded with videos for learning French. There are countless “online teachers” who provide videos with quality ranging all of the map!
That said, I’d like to bring your attention to the two channels which I consistently recommend to my students.
Learn French With Alexa
Alexa Polidoro is basically the YouTube French teacher. She has been teaching French on her YouTube channel, Learn French With Alexa, for over ten years.
She covers everything you need to get started on her channel: Basic verb conjugations, vocabulary, numbers, telling time and much, much more.
Actually, I’ve been suggesting my private students to watch Alexa’s videos for homework for many years now.
Here’s Alexa teaching basic French greetings:
The second best and must useful resource for French for beginners (and even advanced students) on YouTube is Easy French.
Easy Languages is a company that sends people out in the streets interviewing real people. All the videos are subtitled in both English and French.
Whether you’re a pure beginner or already have some French under your belt, these videos are a true gold mine for both ear training and learning French vocabulary and verbs, as well as aspects about French culture. Highly recommended!
Here’s an example of an Easy French video on “French Greetings”.
Paid apps and courses
Lots of people think that they can learn French with an app such as Duolingo. The truth is that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to learn to speak a language fluently with any of these apps.
That said, they are very good for getting the ball rolling with the language learning process. This page on our site offers a comprehensive insight into the top-30 apps for learning French.
That said, we would like to make three recommendations for purchases you can make for apps to get started as a pure beginner:
À Moi Paris by Camille at FrenchToday
I have personally known Camille at Frenchtoday.com since 2016 and strongly recommend anything she offers. Camille’s flagship course for learning French is called À Moi Paris.
In her course, Camille teaches everything you’ll need to get started learning French including clear grammatical explanations, pronunciation tips and extensive vocabulary coverage. Highly recommended.
Another course/app which you could purchase if you’re just getting started is Pimselur French. Pimselur is an audio course focused on helping people to master French pronunciation.
The “Pimsleur Method” is a scientifically proven audio method to help students pick up language by ear. I have suggested Pimsleur French to several of my students who’ve struggled with pronunciation and they’re reported back that it helped.
Another well-known app for learning French which I’d recommend to pure beginners is Rosetta Stone French. Rosetta Stone is probably the most famous French learning app on the market today.
I think Rosetta Stone is very good for visual learners as it puts heavy emphasis on images and flash cards. Rosetta Stone also covers all the basic verb and vocabulary you’ll need to get started in your learning process.
Take French lessons with a teacher
If you’re just getting started, there’s only so much you can do on your own. This where an online tutor could help.
If you’ve learned other languages in the past and understand the “inner workings” of a language (verb conjugations, grammatical terms, etc.), then it might not be a good idea to get a teacher in the early stages.
That said, if you’re a pure beginner who’s never learned a language, you’d probably benefit from some guidance and direction.
If you live in an urban area (New York, Los Angeles, etc.) and are looking for a teacher, why not consider the Alliance Française.
They are a global network and an affiliate of the French government that promotes French language and culture worldwide.
Many of my students have done very well with their teachers and classes at their local Alliance Française. In addition, you can meet and interact with native speakers at their cultural events and activities.
iTalki & Preply
Another popular option for finding an online teacher is to use either iTalki or Preply. These are sites where both native speakers and non-native speaking teachers can come online and offer their teaching services.
You’ll see that both sites offer hundreds of teachers offering their teaching services at very affordable prices.
I would just warn that not all teachers offer the same quality of lessons. Some speak English way too much and that ruins the experience.
Others refuse to type out new vocabulary words. So, my suggestion is to scrutinize the reviews very carefully and try to get a “free” trial lesson whenever possible. Then, if you like the teacher that’s when to pay for some lessons.
Where to go from here
The following is a list of 20 pages on both our site where you can get off to a good start with your studies. Bonne chance ! (good luck!).
- French alphabet
- French numbers
- Guide to French accent marks
- Guide to regular verbs – present tense
- French greetings
- A/an, the (guide to articles)
- Subject pronouns (I, you, he, she, etc.)
- Nice to meet you
- French greetings
- Tu vs. vous (two ways of saying “you”)
- Days of the week
- Être (to be)
- Avoir (to have)
- Telling time
- Weather expressions
- Food vocabulary
- Family vocabulary
- Clothing vocabulary
- Ordering food (restaurant phrases)
- Asking directions