The Best Podcasts for Learning French
In preparation for our move to Paris in 2018, I had to take a French proficiency test to get my long-term visa. It included 30 minutes of listening comprehension and 20 minutes of conversation with a native French speaker. I passed with a B2 score, which is Intermediate Advanced. Being the perfectionist that I am, I complained to my husband that I wanted to score higher, and he reminded me that 5 years ago the only French I spoke was "pain perdu" and "champagne" (pronounced terribly wrong, I should add).
All that to say — learning French has been one of toughest, and most rewarding projects I've undertaken. I’d traveled to France numerous times over the years, but never really fell in love with the culture until I could participate and speak a bit of the language. A whole new world opened up to me.
I started by taking beginner classes at the Alliance Francaise and The French Class in San Francisco. Eventually, I hired a private tutor who really helped me get more comfortable with conversational French. But I also did a lot of studying on my own time — listening to podcasts and playing language learning games during my commute. I was genuinely obsessed with learning French, and had a strong motivation to get good (my impending marriage to a Frenchie!)
Below are some of the tools that helped me fast-track my French language skills. I share these with all of my friends who are learning this lovely (and pull-your-hair-out challenging) language. Every little bit helps!
Coffee Break French — this podcast is hosted by a Scottish guy (ironically) but he's a true linguist and speaks French fluently. The podcasts are roughly 20 minutes each, where he has a conversation with a French speaker, and pauses to explain the vocabulary in-depth.
News in Slow French — this one helps train your ear to real French conversations, and you’ll learn about interesting current events at the same time. The “slow French” is what makes it great for learners, they do speak much slower than a real French news show!
Learn French with Daily Podcasts — hosted by a very energetic French guy, these are very quick 4-5 minute lessons that cover a certain keyword or topic. It’s great once you already have the basics of French grammar down, and want to build your vocabulary.
Learn French by Podcast — I like this one because the conversations feel fairly realistic, they even teach some French slang, as real people use it. They’ll break down the entire conversation line by line, then you listen again to let it all sink in.
MindSnacks — my favorite app when I was just starting to learn French. It helped me drill the basics into my head, and it re-tests you on things you consistently struggle with.
I tried DuoLingo, but couldn’t get into it. I felt the lessons were’t as useful - textbook French just isn’t the same as real life French! There’s also Babbel, though I haven’t tried it personally.
Aside from reading tons of books about French life for extra inspiration, I also have a bunch of textbooks from my French classes that I’ll revisit if I find myself making the same grammatical mistakes over and over. But if you really want to nerd out…
La Bescherelle - this is the conjugation dictionary that every French high school student carries around with them. I’ve been trying to study one word per day, and practice it in it’s different tenses (of which there are SO many). In a couple years, I’ll make it thru the whole book, and will hopefully conjugate like a pro. It’s incredibly nerdy, but like I said, I’m determined!
The most important piece of the puzzle is this: Practice! Out loud! It’s super humbling to speak French while you’re still learning (and making plenty of mistakes) but it’s the only way you can train your brain (and your tongue) to start doing it better, faster, and more naturally. Like any muscle movement, the more you get used to French coming out of your mouth, the more effortless it will be. That’s a fact ;)
What language-learning tools have you found helpful? I’d love to hear in the comments below. Merci!