How To Learn French

For the best way to learn French, you’re going need a way to learn correct pronunciation, a frequency dictionary to form your base vocabulary, and a good grammar book. You’ll also benefit from a thematic vocabulary book for specialized vocabulary, and maybe a book or two, once you learn your first 1,000 words. Make sure you read our Method articles for top advice and tips, then check out some of these recommended resources (pictures are links).

Learn French with these resources

1. Pronunciation

Note: As a faster (and more effective) alternative to the following pronunciation resources, check out my pronunciation trainers. It will make the first steps of French much easier for you, because it takes advantage of how your brain works (and how to re-wire it) in a way that traditional tools just can’t.

First off, get a feel for how pronunciation works in English. The video tutorials here should help. Once you understand that, start working on French. Check out my French sounds video, and then try out these resources:

I used the Phonetique Progressive Du Francais series from CLE International and found it really excellent. Be warned, it’s French only (which can be nice). Just get the Intermediate version; it’s phonetics, and you might as well do it right and do it completely if you’re going to buy a book (and CD). It did wonders for my pronunciation. Highly recommended!

Pronounce It Perfectly French book cover
CLE Phonetique Progressive Du Francais Intermediate book cover

If you want something in English, the Pronounce It Perfectly series comes with audio CDs and all the pronunciation rules, and I’ve yet to see one that wasn’t excellent.

There are also some Anki flashcards for French to improve your pronunciation, such as the French alphabet, French IPA, French minimal pairs, and other useful goodies.

If you want to jump to free internet resources, you have a few options. Check out Wikipedia’s French Phonology page or the Foreign Service Institute’s French Phonology course. You can also find recordings for fine-tuning work here.

the Anki language learnersthis Anki language learning blog for other Anki tips and tricks for learning French.

2. Your base vocabulary

I’ve made a base vocabulary list of 400 words to start you off! As I talk about in that article, I find it easiest to translate those words using the short dictionaries at the end of a Lonely Planet phrasebook: they’re cheap, short, and they give you good, standard translations for your words (just ignore the ridiculous pronunciation guides). Later, when you’re ready for sentences, you can go back to your phrasebook and grab some. After that, try some of these resources:

Frequency Dictionary of French book cover

Frequency dictionary

The Routledge Frequency Dictionary series is excellent, with example uses and everything. Get this at the beginning to direct your vocabulary work!

Another great dictionary is this one. It has links to Google Images and conjugation links.

The best free internet-based list I’ve found is here.

Mastering French Vocabulary book cover

Thematic word list

The Mastering Vocabulary series is a wonderful set of books that contain core vocab for just about any field/topic you can think of. They’re great for adding to your vocab once you get your first 1,000 or 2,000 words from a frequency list.

You can also access French Anki decks to boost up your French vocabulary, like the French alphabet, French numbers, French Top 2000 Words Flashcards, and many more.

There are also a neat set of sentences online, which are ranked based upon how frequently the words within those sentences show up within the language, then create Anki decks to store them, with Text-to-Speech recordings of each sentence and translations. They’re a nice resource to mine for useful content. I’d suggest finishing the 625, then looking through them in order for new words or new grammatical constructions, and then learning those new chunks via New Word cards, New Word Form cards, and Word Order cards.

3. Grammar book

CLE French Grammaire Progressive Du Francais Intermediate textbook cover
CLE French Grammaire Progressive Du Francais Intermediate answer key book cover

I used Grammaire Progressive Du Francais (Intermediate Level) with answer book at Middlebury. They’re wonderful. Completely in French, with clear explanations and examples for the whole range of French grammar. They’re just great books.

Here are links to the beginner books:

CLE French Grammaire Progressive Du Francais Beginner textbook cover

CLE French Grammaire Progressive Du Francais Beginner answer key book cover

And here is a link to the Schaum’s grammar book I mention in Fluent Forever:

Mary Crocker’s Schaum’s Outline of French Grammar book cover

4. Book-type book

Book cover of a French version of Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano
Book cover of French version of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter

You can read anything that you enjoy. I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter series in translation, especially if you can find an audiobook version to listen to at the same time as reading.

In terms of French literature, La Cantatrice Chauve by Eugene Ionesco is hilarious.

5. Other resources

Movies

DVD front cover of the 24 TV series in French

The TV series 24 has been dubbed into French and makes for some addictive TV! Shut off subtitles and it makes for 24 hours (well, more like 18 hours) of solid French listening practice.

You can find a list of great French movies on Netflix here.

If you’d like to have French scripts handy for your TV watching, check out hypnoweb.net. They have scripts for just about everything.

French IPA

There’s a useful French IPA deck for Anki that helps you get used to all the unique IPA and the sounds of French, according to their letter combinations in French words.

A reader submitted a guide to French IPA which you can download here. And here is an IPA converter another reader shared with us.

Monolingual dictionaries

Le Robert Pratique French monolingual dictionary book cover
Le Petit Robert French monolingual dictionary book cover

My favorite online monolingual dictionary is actually Wiktionnaire (many other languages’ Wiktionaries are pretty incomplete).

In terms of a print source, the gold standard is Le Petit Robert or its little brother, Le Robert Pratique (which used to be called Le Robert Micro).

Linguee is a lovely dictionary resource, in that it shows you multiple example sentences for each word and tells you about each word’s relative frequency in the language. (This is currently available in English, Spanish, German, French, and Portuguese.)

Assimil

Assimil New French With Ease book cover

The Assimil series is a sort of special language-learning resource that I discuss in a blog post here. It doesn’t quite fit into any of the categories above, and I think it works best as a sort of supplemental source of French input. Here’s the beginner French version with CDs.

Dictionarist

Dictionarist provides translations, example sentences, conjugations, and synonyms for a number of languages including French.

6. Try the Fluent Forever App

By the way, did you know the book is now an app? You can check out the Fluent Forever app right here to accelerate your language learning and retain your knowledge of French forever.

Discover our immersive method rooted in neuroscience, designed to take you to fluency in < 30 minutes a day through four steps:

  1. Train your ears with pronunciation lessons
  2. Learn vocabulary through images instead of translations
  3. Learn grammar naturally through stories relevant to you
  4. Practice your speech to fluency with native tutors

Ready to start your journey to French fluency? Download our Fluent Forever app right now!