Whether you are a French language beginner or have started your French learning journey a while ago, chances are that you’ve stumbled upon a couple of French learning videos on YouTube or other networks.
Bought by Google in 2006, YouTube videos are now featured among the first results when you do a Google search on the web. So developers of course took advantage of this priority placement and YouTube has been exploding with French learning videos.
Some are really excellent. Others… much less so.
Today, I’d like to share with you tips on how to learn French on YouTube: this article is not about listing my favorite YouTubers, but more about pointing out what makes a French video a good French studying tool – or not.
1 – The limits of the video format
I’d like to start by talking about the format itself. The video format.
Videos are enticing for obvious reasons : they are both visual and audio, and this allows for all kind of dynamic interactions with you, the viewer. Seeing your teacher is nice, and a person has many ways of keeping you engaged and interested.
Videos often feature French and English subtitles: with YouTube, you can select no CC/ French CC or English CC (on this note, make sure the CC have been published by the creator and not automatically by YouTube… or be ready for some nasty surprises!!)
However, the limit of the video format is that you need to be watching the screen. So before you enrol into a French video learning course, ask yourself when and how you’re likely to be studying French. You cannot watch a video and drive your car for example… Watching a video while walking your dog may be risky…
And since we are at it, what about the wifi connection? If you’re watching on YouTube, or enrol on any other French online program, you’ll need to have a great connection all the time.
So, if I strongly believe that to learn to communicate in French you need and audio support, is the video format the best format for you?
There are tons of other solutions out there! For example, with my French audiobooks and apps, you can learn French at home, on your desktop or on the go on any device. So, that’s something to keep in mind.
2 – Beware of the accent of the French YouTuber
With so many people having access to a camera phone, lots of people have a YouTube channel and the desire to teach French.
Yet, there’s not guarantee of quality – nor should there be: people watch videos for different reasons! Some students may benefit from a very structured, “classic” grammar explanation kind of video. Others need something fun to keep watching, like the videos I made using Minecraft to learn French. Others are interested in specific subjects, like visiting France…
Some people want something really scripted and informative, other people enjoy some spontaneous – like my understand French video series on YouTube.
One thing to watch out for though is the accent. Where is the teacher from? If you’re mostly speaking French in Québec, maybe look for a Québécois French YouTuber…
On the contrary, if you’re mostly interested in speaking French in France, you may not want to learn your French pronunciation from a Senegalese teacher.
3 – “Easy French” Doesn’t Mean It’s Easy
With so much competition, YouTubers would do anything to get your view.
I’ve received a message from one of my followers who was thanking me for actually developing videos he could understand.
He said he was very upset because he had been training with videos claiming to feature “easy French” but he couldn’t understand them at all… And it made him feel like a failure.
I watched the said videos. Mostly interviews of French people speaking in the streets, full speed. Nothing easy about that. The fact that it comes with French and English subtitles doesn’t make it “easy”.
A title is just that: a title. You need to be the judge of the content. Do you enjoy the video? Do you feel this is the right level of video for you? Are you actually learning a lot from it?
Which brings me to the next point.
4 – French on YouTube: A Real Study Tool or a Fun Time?
To learn French successfully, most people need a structured approach. A French learning method which will gradually – and logically – build up their knowledge and confidence in using the French language.
Yet, on YouTube, most people will just hop from one enticing video to the next, following what YouTube suggests next (important… YouTube will be suggesting… and it will not necessarily be what’s best for you!). So, in the process, most people become very passive.
So the question to ask yourself is: is the time you spend watching French learning videos as effective as the time you’d be spending studying with a French learning method?
Are you actually engaged in the learning process or are you passively watching a relatively fun video?
If you have all the time in the world, great! Then you can relax with fun French videos… Just like French movies, they surely are not going to harm your French.
However, if your French studying time is limited, is YouTube really your best option?
5 – The Danger of The Script
Many people watch videos in French in order to train to understand French. And it is indeed a great idea.
It’s not easy to find a French YouTuber who speaks in a way that can be understood by students of French. “Regular” French people tend to speak way too fast, and French teachers go to the other extreme: they over enunciate everything and this doesn’t prepare you for real life interactions.
One YouTuber who does a great job is Hugo at InnerFrench. I had the pleasure of personally talking to him and was not surprised to see he naturally speaks kind of slow for a French person: this makes him much easier to understand; yet he doesn’t over enunciate. He speaks naturally and uses modern French pronunciation.
His videos are really interesting: he and his team prepare them, so I’m not sure of his process – whether the video is entirely scripted and he reads with a teleprompter or if he talks about the subject he’s prepared and then gets the script out of the live video – but in any case he hesitates very little. The rhythm is even, sentences flow logically with a beginning and an end and long pauses at punctuation marks.
Which is not always what happens in real life.
I mean, unless you’re really eloquent, chances are that when you talk to someone in a relaxed, unscripted manner, your sentences are going to be sometimes hesitant, full of “filler” words such as “well, and so, urrrr etc…”. You may start a sentence and then stop, backtrack, and continue on another idea…
And this is exactly the kind of things that throw off students of French. It’s not just the French vocabulary or modern French pronunciation that makes spoken French hard to understand. It’s the fact that everything you trained with has been scripted and is especially made to make it easier for you.
This is why I don’t prepare my YouTube videos. They are live, unscripted. Like Hugo, I speak naturally slow for a French person. I’m careful to use “easier” sentence structures and common vocabulary, and explain – in French – words which I feel could be challenging. But that’s it. I don’t prepare the subject, I hesitate, use plenty of filler words (et donc, et bien, alors…). It may not be for everybody… some people are telling me this is exactly what they need.
In conclusion, I believe YouTube can be an excellent addition to your French learning method. Is video the right learning format for you? It’s a question worth asking.
If you do surf YouTube for French learning videos, don’t stop at the promise of a title. If you like the program / host / content… great! If not, there’re thousands of people teaching French out-there, in a million different ways: some may resonate with you better than others. Dig a little bit.
Find what you like, but also make sure to spend time studying what you need. To make significant progress in French, fun is not always the answer. So watch out for YouTube suggestion algorithm which will show you what you like… not necessarily what you need!
Whatever you do, do take the time to like the video, leave an encouraging comment, subscribe… Behind the fun video you just watched for free are often hours of preparation, filming, editing, checking the subtitles, making an appealing thumbnail, filling the description, publishing… And behind all this is a person, who is doing all this for you for free.
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