If you’re thinking about learning a language at home, the first thing you need to ask yourself is whether you feel capable of learning a foreign language independently. Is learning at home one of the quickest ways to learn French? Is it vital to have a “real-life” coach or tutor to help you? Do you need to demonstrate self-discipline in order to learn a language at home?
Back in 1999, Elliott Masie defined “e-learning” as the use of “network technology to design, deliver, select, administer, and extend learning.” Learning French at home can mean fully independent study through dedicated apps, but it might also involve taking classes with an online tutor.
The COVID-19 health crisis has led many of us to invest in special e-learning equipment (webcams, headsets, computers, software, etc.), and it would be a shame to stop using these tools that we’ve got so used to. Learning French online opens up the opportunity to meet native speakers from all over the world without leaving your own home.
In addition, if we set aside the initial challenges, learning online can save time as there’s no need to commute between home and work so it’s farewell to sitting in traffic jams or whiling away the hours on public transport. All you need is internet access and a digital device (a computer, tablet or smartphone) and you’re ready to go!
The first step is to use the digital tools available to assess your level. You can do a test online to check your current skills. This will be really useful for measuring your progress. Be honest with yourself when taking this initial assessment: stick to the time allowed and don’t use a dictionary, or you’ll get a misleading result.
Get into some good habits from the start! It’s best to do a bit of studying every day or at set times, and to take regular breaks. Be sure to notice the signs that suggest your concentration is waning (repeated yawning, smarting eyes, a stiff neck, etc.). It’s important to create a pleasant and well-organised working environment for yourself. Finally, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by other sources of entertainment, such as a games consoles or mobile phones.
There are lots of ways to learn French or improve your skills in the language for free. The website Le Français et Vous, which is regularly updated with resources developed by teachers from the Centre International d’Antibes, offers vocabulary, phonetics and grammar exercises that are suitable for beginners and advanced students.
Designed for both students and teachers, the site features information on the latest books, music and films from France.
If a friend asks you “how do I learn French online at home?”, you can tell them: “just find some good resources!” Songs, for example, can help you to work on pronunciation and oral comprehension. And since it’s easy to find the lyrics online, students can check whether they’ve understood the text properly. To help you find the perfect track, TV5 Monde’s Paroles de clip has a large selection of French music to suit all tastes.
TV5 Monde and RFI also offer videos and clips from radio broadcasts to help you with oral comprehension. Listen to the audio twice, answer the questions, and use the correct answers or transcripts to see if you got them right. In addition, Euronews often provides transcripts of its reports, which makes it a valuable tool for improving your pronunciation. Finally, French TV series such as Lupin, Call My Agent!, La Révolution, Family Business, Dealer and Marseille all promise a few thrills alongside the chance to work on your oral comprehension.
Don’t forget that there are also many free digital books. Which are the best books for learning French, though? Some websites, such as the TV5 Monde Digital Library, Project Gutenberg, La bibliothèque francophone numérique (The Francophone Digital Library) and Gallica allow you to access major works of French literature.
Ask someone you know (a friend or neighbour, perhaps) to get you to practise the grammar or vocabulary lessons you’ve learned. Working with a friend helps to build your confidence, as it’s often worrying about what other people think that can stop you from expressing yourself. Apps like Duolingo are fun and well suited to those at beginner and intermediate level.
Studying French independently doesn’t have to mean always being by yourself! It’s important to find other people who are learning the same language as you. You can do this by joining groups on social media or signing up to forums. This will help you to feel less alone as you can chat about your experience and your successes with people who share the same goal.
Linking up with others like this is vital, and can help save time as you can find out about resources (websites, blogs, apps and so on) that other learners have found useful. Pairing up with a native speaker can offer a win-win solution. You can take turns at speaking in your target languages and your partner will correct you. In this way, each participant benefits from their partner’s native language skills.