What’s the best method to learn French? Pros and cons of the various French language methods + tips to select the best way for learning French & avoid scams.
Many people who want to learn French turn to a class, a tutor, a self-teaching program or consider going to France for a French language immersion.
Today, I’ll go over the pros and cons of the various French learning methods, and also tell you how to avoid scams.
Let’s start with a popular French learning method: enrolling in a French group class.
1 – Pros & Cons of French Group Classes
Pros: French group classes are not very expensive.
If you are an advanced student looking for a French conversation class, group classes can be a great option.
If you are “good” with languages, and know how grammar works, you can also do well in a group class, even at an intermediate French level.
Cons: French group classes don’t offer enough individual attention
Unfortunately, in my experience, French group classes are a waste of time and money. Why? they won’t adapt to your needs, and often won’t check whether you are getting your needs fulfilled or not.
⚠️ Scam Alert!
From a teacher’s/school point of view, group classes are a “juicy” business. You can easily make over $100 per hour.
Always keep that in mind when joining a French class…
I’ll let Kelly tell you about his experience of a French group class. And unfortunately, he is not the only one.
“I just moved to Bordeaux from the US 6 weeks ago. I had a basic French language background, and I started an intensive French Language class at a large French school which I am sure you are familiar with.
It was awful.
I actually came home and studied with your French learning method, to get the understanding of the lessons for the next day. Your method is so clear, so precise and easy to understand, and it just makes SENSE.
I stopped going to the school, lost my money of course, but I thought if I had just spent the time studying with French Today, that I spent at that class, I would be so much farther ahead
– Kelly Moore”
How to select a good French group class
There are unfortunately bad group classes. But there are good ones as well: you may have to do a bit of digging first to make sure you’ll get what you are actually paying for.
Here are some tips on what to look out for in a French class:
Is the placement test reliable?
Who interprets your level? Somehow, the results of the test often end up placing you in the class the director needs to fill…
Need to find out your French level? Take my free French placement test!
20 Questions to REALLY test your modern French comprehension. All audio-based with full explanations. Completely free, no signup required.
Are you paying for holidays?
You usually pay a group class for X number of weeks. If your class day falls on a holiday, you won’t have class, but you’ll still have paid for it. This is particularly important if you join a group class in France, where there are so many holidays!
How many French students per class?
The more students, the less individual attention. Make sure you always know the maximum number of students allowed before joining a class. 4 is optimal. 6 is OK. 10 is way too many.
How good are the French teachers?
Some unscrupulous schools will hire anyone… Do check the credentials but also the French accent of your French teacher before signing up for a French class.
Is the French class level adapted to your French level?
If you end up in a group with various levels, it’s going to be quite impossible to have a coherent group class.
If you are between levels, I suggest you pick the easiest one: it’s beneficial to review something you already learned, but on the other hand, it’s dangerous to skip levels and create gaps in your French language instruction.
My own tips about French classes
If you cannot afford private French instruction, then look into joining a group class, but consider taking a couple of private lessons here and there to make sure you do understand everything the class has covered, and address your own weaknesses.
2 – Private FrenchTutors & French Online Classes
As you may know, I gave one-on-one French lessons to adults for about 25 years, so I know what I’m talking about.
Pros: curriculum totally adapted to your needs and learning abilities
In my opinion, it’s worth paying for private French instruction if you can afford it. A good French tutor will be an incredible ally in your French learning journey.
A French tutor needs to:
- be organized, punctual, reliable,
- have a genuine French accent,
- know French grammar,
- know how to explain French grammar to a foreigner – it’s not the same as knowing how to use grammar…
- master the language you speak (specially if you are a beginner or intermediate student)
- and be good at making people talk.
Cons: price, danger of bad tutors
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there that claim they can give French lessons, when they cannot.
You really have to check references and see for yourself before you commit to a large number of classes.
⚠️ Scam alert!
Be particularly careful about young French people offering “French conversation lessons”. Often, they have no teaching experience whatsoever: they might be able to engage you in conversations, and point out your mistakes, but they won’t be able to explain why it is a mistake…
Unless you already know the French grammar rules, understanding your mistakes is essential if you want to progress in French.
At least, if you decide to go with this kind of French tutor, make sure the price they charge is commensurate with their teaching abilities.
My own tips to pick the best French tutor
A good French tutor should be able to tailor a program specially adapted to your strengths and weaknesses, and help you make the most of your time with him/her.
- You’re good with grammar? Then you can study most of it by yourself, and concentrate on French practice and French pronunciation during the lessons.
- You are too shy to speak French? Your tutor has to reinforce natural everyday chats. Giving you a newspaper article to comment on is not going to help much in real life…
They don’t necessarily need to be certified teachers. Nor experienced. It really depends on what you’re looking for… If you are already proficient in French and want to pay someone just to speak with you, you may be happy with someone with no teaching experience but a lovely personality. But you shouldn’t pay top price for that.
If you cannot find a good tutor in your area, don’t overlook French Skype lessons. I know it sounds intimidating, but phone/Skype lessons are very convenient, and my students who might have been reluctant at the beginning now love them.
3 – Free Exchange Lesson
Pros: Free. Convenience.
A lot of companies now specialize in putting language students in contact so they can exchange language instruction for free.
It certainly is a great idea, and a great solution for advanced students who just want to practice their conversation skills.
However, I don’t believe it’s an ideal solution for beginners or intermediate students. A native speaker is not the same thing as an experienced teacher.
Cons: Not everybody makes a good teacher!
Knowing how to speak French is one thing. However, a good teacher should also know when to correct (and what mistakes can be overlooked as to not crush the student’s emerging confidence in speaking), how to explain mistakes clearly, and offer a structured curriculum.
It’s also essential that the teacher has a personality and is able to offer many subjects of conversations so the conversation does flow naturally.
These are not skills that everybody has. No matter how well they speak their own language.
So again, a great idea. But you need to be lucky, and this language exchange solution may not work for everybody.
4 – French Audiobooks and Softwares To Self-Study French
Who has not seen a box of Rosetta Stone for sale in a mall? While self-instruction methods can be a great complement to a formal instruction, I strongly believe none of them can teach you French by itself.
Pros: Relatively low cost. Convenience. Fun to use.
I believe self-study softwares and app make great complements of instruction: I myself have written a whole method to learn French with audio books (the advantage of my method is that although it is based around a realistic and level adapted novel, it does explain French grammar thoroughly, and introduces you to both traditional and street French pronunciation :-)
Yet, I believe that for most people, using only self-learning methods will not be enough to learn to speak French fluently: you need real interactions with a real human being to be able to have real conversations, and develop the confidence to speak.
Cons: No feedback. No real person to engage in conversation
The major problem of self-study methods is the lack of feedback.
How will you know you pronounce the words correctly? Some method claim their voice graph can do that… Talk of a scam! The voice graph picks up your voice modulation, not your pronunciation…
Worse, these methods often lack any solid grammatical structure, and you cannot master French without it. Other languages? Maybe, I don’t know. But, trust me: not French.
⚠️ Scam alert!
Do you know what an affiliate program is?
An affiliate is someone who recommends a product and then gets a commission on the sale they generate.
Two companies thrived thanks to a very aggressive affiliate strategy: Rosetta Stone and Rocket French.
Here is how it works: a blogger writes an article with a super appealing title like “Learn French in 2 weeks” or “Best French Method Ever Created”. In it, it explains that RS is just miraculous, that there is no better method out there and that it will have you master French in 2 weeks (not what that they believe it’s right, they are just telling you what you want to hear…)
In this article, there is a link to RS with a special code in it. If you click on that link and you eventually buy a RS product, the tracker will link the sale to the affiliate account. And they will get paid – sometimes up to $90 for each sale!
It’s that simple. And it’s a juicy scam.
My own tip to pick the best French learning method
So, as a student of French, you need to be smart when you chose a French learning method.
The best way is to look for actual “verified” customer reviews, like on Amazon. Just like I have with French Today’s audiobooks. And see how many positive reviews there is.
Also, always first listen to a sample, check the refund policy, and see if you can easily contact the company… All these are tell signs of a reliable company.
Now it’s time to address a growing trend to learn French: free French videos!
5 – French Videos On YouTube
Pros: Free. Fun.
Many YouTubers specialize in teaching French and some are really excellent.
Here again, I strongly encourage my students to use YouTube – I even have my own French Today YouTube Channel! It’s fun, it makes a great complement of instruction.
But it’s also easy to get stuck in YouTube, watching video after video and at the end, not learning much.
Cons: No structure. Easy to lose your time
My main concern is the lack of structure. You cannot learn French without a plan of action. With YouTube, it’s easy to watch a video about French numbers, then study the family vocabulary, then the subjunctive… But should you be studying the subjunctive now? There is no curriculum, no direction, and this lack of logic a real problem when studying French.
As a French audiobook writer, I can tell you that organizing a logic study plan is half of the method.
Once this is done, I just have to pour in my French language knowledge – which is not necessarily unique. However, it’s the organization of this knowledge that makes good teaching – it’s not the only thing, but it is definitely a key ingredient.
So, a big “yes” to surfing YouTube… with moderation!
Ha-ha… just for fun, here is one of my videos… see if you can resist the temptation of watching it now… or continue reading this article 🤣
6 – French Immersion Programs in France
Pros: You are surrounded by the language and its culture. Many opportunities to speak.
Immersion schools in French, host families, homestay at a French teacher’s place…. There are many great options to enjoy an immersion in France.
Ideally, a French immersion should be a real “studycation” and join serious French studies and practice with the pleasure of a vacation in France.
There are some great immersion programs out there: I’m very found of the immersion at a teacher’s house concept because you have the personal attention of an experienced French teacher, and are guaranteed to have lots of daily interactions in French.
Cons: Price. Big danger of “fake” immersion.
The big danger of so-called immersion programs is that you might not be in real immersion.
Typically, you’d join a French language school, be placed in group lessons, and then, you’ll be alone. Or with other foreigners.
If you are placed with a host family, you may be in luck and meet wonderful people who really invest in their students. Unfortunately, many families don’t have the skills to adapt to your speaking level, or you can be stuck with annoying toddlers and working parents…
So, there is no guarantee. I know many people who keep a fond memory of their immersion trip to France, but unfortunately, I know as many people who had a terrible time, felt like they where the milking cow of an unfriendly host family, couldn’t communicate, felt super lonely and “out of place”.
⚠️ Scam alert!
People can be well-intentioned but this is not enough when there’s a problem. If you decide to go for an immersion at a teacher’s place, always check references, ask for a signed agreement including the French legal business number, stating clearly the conditions of your stay and the refund policy. You should also get an invoice.
If you decide to go to a French school, check the age of their students. Being surrounded by teenagers might get a little dull for a grown-up. Check their reviews, their curriculums, ask if they have an audio lab, what kind of outside activities they offer… A deposit is fine, but see if you can pay most of the money once you’ve actually visited the place, met the teacher(s) and your host family (or visited the apartment etc…)
When you are going to pay is the key. If you have prepaid the whole thing, then you have almost no power to change anything.
7 – Pick The Best French Learning Method For YOU
To sum up, you need to be smart when picking a French learning method. And you need to be honest about your learning abilities.
If I was a student of French, this is what I would do:
- I would get some well done, level-adapted French audiobooks for self-instruction and start learning the basics with them.
- I would definitely take a few hours of private lessons, to make sure the foundations are good and have my French pronunciation checked by someone who actually speaks French.
- If I could afford it, I would then go to an immersion at the teacher’s house, to learn a lot fast, enjoy the culture, and get over my natural fear of speaking.
- I would then join a good group (cheaper) or continue with online French lessons (faster and adapted to your own goals and needs) to get the spoken practice I need to interact with confidence in French.
- I would use YouTube and other free sources to complement my instruction, but still rely on a proven and structured method to do the core of my studying.
I post new articles every week, so make sure you subscribe to the French Today newsletter – or follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Please react! Leave a comment, make a suggestion, share this article… Your engagement really encourages me to create more free French lessons!