The world is a pretty scary and stressful place right now. One of the ways to get through a tough time is to escape a little.
Learning a language can be an excellent way to distract yourself, pass the time, and keep your mind busy. And there are so many rewards along the way, from the feeling of victory as you finally master that one thing you found so hard, to discovering interesting and fun resources to help you practice, to being able to understand and communicate with people from another culture.
There are a lot of French courses and resources out there. But nothing good in life is free, right?
Well, we’re glad to be able to give you some excellent news in this tough time: There are lots of ways to learn and practice French without spending any money at all.
Let’s discover some – actually, many – totally free French courses and resources that you can start using now, whether you’re a beginner or a fluent speaker who wants to keep practicing and enjoying French.
Looking for tips to make the best of your study times? Here are my 15 top tips for learning French.
Can you really learn French for free?
When you use free resources to learn French, you’ll have to be a little more proactive than you would if everything was just bundled together in a paid academic or online course. But as we’ve seen before, no language course alone will allow you to master a language.
If you really want to get a handle on more subtle aspects of French, like culture, pop culture, history, everyday speech, and more, you’ll have to think about finding other resources, anyway. As you’ll see by the end of this article, you can find most of these extras for free.
Even without a paid course, there are so many free French learning resources available that it’s absolutely possible to learn and master French, or to practice or perfect your French.
Let’s look at the many ways you can learn and practice French for free.
Free French courses and apps
There are countless French lessons, courses, apps, and other resources out there today. Many of them cost something, or will give you some free content and then expect you to pay for more. But there are some excellent French learning apps and courses that really are 100% free. Here are a few I like:
Probably the most famous free language learning app Duolingo makes language learning fun, with daily five-minute lessons.
It also notoriously calls you out for not keeping up with your course. The app’s owl mascot isn’t as evil as the exaggerated and hilarious meme about him would suggest but it is pretty cool that a free app can essentially replace a conscientious teacher or tutor when it comes to making sure you’re sticking to your French learning goals.
Still, Duolingo isn’t about following the rules. In fact, the app is also known for its frequently funny or strange practice sentences. These will definitely help you remember vocabulary and grammar.
Note from Benjamin: I’m personally not a fan of Duolingo because of its tendency to teach phrases that are more funny than useful but it has helped thousands of French learners stay motivated so it’s definitely worth a try.
Learn a Language
This site offers courses and learning resources completely for free. It may look more serious than Duolingo, but language lessons include some pretty fun games.
Busuu offers free lessons for beginner to upper intermediate language learners.
The site allows you to download lessons. In addition, you can also interact with native speakers of your language of choice.
Unlike the other apps and courses on this list, Open Culture is more like a directory.
You’ll find an alphabetical list of 48 languages (including French, of course), with links to free resources and learning programs for each. French resources include everything from links to apps like Duolingo, to Foreign Service courses that can help you learn (or review) French quickly, to French learning podcasts, lessons, and so much more.
Free French learning resources from French Together
French Together offers a paid course. But we’re also very proud to offer free resources to language learners.
The first one is the French Together blog, which features free French lessons that explain everything from grammar and vocabulary, to history, cultural issues, and aspects of daily life in France.
Many of our articles also share where you can find additional free French learning resources like…
…French songs you can listen to (and learn/practice with) for free
…free French and French learning podcasts
…numerous French fairy tales and short stories that you can read for free
…French movie recommendations, and ideas for how to watch them for free
…French cartoons you can (mostly) watch for free
…some free French dictionary apps
…videos by popular French YouTubers
…free YouTube videos for French learning (including videos by native French-speaking comedians for advanced speakers)
…French radio stations you can listen to online for free
….French and bilingual newspapers you can read online (many without a subscription)
…some French TV series recommendations, and a way to watch some of them for free (some episodes may also be posted on YouTube)
…French TV channels you can watch for free online (by installing a VPN)
…more French reading recommendations, including several that are free
Free Language exchange sites
Talking to a native speaker is one of the best ways to practice and improve your French.
Language exchange websites are an excellent way to do this. Conversations on these sites usually take place either via the site’s own platform, or on Skype.
A typical language exchange involves a certain number of minutes of conversation in French, and then a certain number of minutes in your native language (which your conversation partner is learning).
Some free language exchange sites have a paid option for additional things like courses or learning materials, but you should be able to talk to French native speakers at no cost.
Here’s a list of the most popular free language exchange websites:
Users often describe LingoGlobe as a sort of social network. The similarities are easy to see. You set up a profile, can choose who you interact with and how (options include online conversation exchange, pen pals, and chats), and the site has a chatroom that anyone can participate in.
Easy Language Exchange
This site lets you find language exchange partners, and also has a “Working Together” feature where users can post questions about things like translations and school assignments.
This sense of community makes Easy Language Exchange a comforting place, so it could be an excellent platform to use if you feel a bit shy about doing a language exchange.
The name is simple and straightforward, and so is the bells-and-whistles-free website.
Conversation Exchange easily lets you find not only online conversation exchange partners, but pen pals as well.
The search option lets you find language exchange partners who speak the native language you want to learn, and who want to practice your native language. Additionally, you can specify which software you want to use to communicate.
This is another frills-free language exchange site.
All you have to do to get started is find a conversation partner using the search function (based on the language you want to practice and the one you can help your partner with).
Then, it will be up to you both to decide how to chat (which software to use, etc.).
Here’s a list, and here’s another, of other safety tips to keep in mind for online language exchange interactions.
French pen pals
Language exchange sites can help you improve your speaking and listening skills, but what about writing?
Online pen pals usually exchange written messages via email or messages on a site’s platform, not through old-fashioned letters. But some sites do offer that option, as well. If you want to do a bona fide old school pen pal exchange, keep in mind that you’re giving your personal address to a stranger.
As I mentioned in the previous section, some language exchange websites offer a pen pal option. You can also find a French pen pal to communicate with for free on sites like Interpals.
As with language exchange sites – or any time you’re interacting with a stranger online, for that matter – remember never to give out any of your personal information (full name, address, personal email, photos, etc.). In case you skipped to this section, here’s a list, and here’s another, of additional safety tips to keep in mind.
Free French learning materials from local sources
Are you a student or teacher? Does your workplace offer classes or training programs? Do you live near a public library?
All of these are potential sources for free French learning materials and classes…even now, when many places are shut down.
For example, many public libraries offer online language learning platforms and resources that members can use for free.
Free resources for practicing or polishing your French
If you’re an advanced or fluent French speaker, finding free resources to maintain and hone your language skills is easy!
For one thing, you have access to French shows, movies, radio and podcast programs, music, books, news to read, and so much more, simply by going online.
If you’re looking for some listening practice, head to YouTube. You can find countless French shows there for free, including ones that are currently on French TV. My personal favorite is Secrets d’Histoire, a popular history show that explores the lives of famous historical figures from around the world. You can watch these episodes on the show’s official YouTube channel absolutely free.
If history isn’t your thing, you can look up other French shows you might know. And if you like documentaries, doing a search for a subject you like (in French), plus the word “documentaire” will probably get you some good results. For example, “chatons documentaire”
If you subscribe to a streaming service like Netflix, you can probably find original programs in French (Plan Coeur is one I’m currently watching). You can also watch French movies (I recently really enjoyed the quirky romantic comedy Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglement (English title: Blind Date)). You may also be able to switch the language of certain movies and TV shows into French.
The latter is also true for any old DVD’s you might have lying around (or can check out from your local library). Watching a movie you know, but in French, is an excellent way to practice!
If you’re the bookish type, finding free things to read in French is incredibly easy nowadays, which is one of my favorite things about living in the 21st century. I remember when I was first learning French, back in the dawn of the internet. Getting my hands on a French book or finding a French periodical in the American suburbs was a major event for me. Nowadays, you can find free public domain French books and other documents on sites like Gallica and Project Gutenberg. Your country’s version of Amazon probably also has free public domain books in French available to download onto your computer or mobile device, as well.
You can also, of course, easily access entire French websites, news feeds, Wikipedia articles, and more devoted to your interests. What a time to be alive!
For more ways to watch, listen to, and read things in French for free, check out the links in the “Free French learning resources from French Together” section of this very article.
Free French activities, virtual visits, and more
With confinement, quarantine, or shelter-in-place becoming the norm around the world, several new, free online activities and resources have sprung up or stepped into the spotlight.
In addition to providing you with some entertainment and a welcome break from often frightening or stressful news, these can also be ways to practice your French.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Virtual museum visits in French
Many museums and historical sites offer free online virtual visits. Set the language to French and practice your vocabulary and reading skills (not to mention learn a few new words along the way) while you explore. You can find a list of some museums and monuments offering virtual visits, or do an online search with the name of the place that interests you, followed by “visite virtuelle”.
Free online French books, music, conferences, podcasts, and more, from the BNF (Bibliothèque nationale de France)
You can find a list of these free resources here.
Free games and children’s activities in French
Many websites, as well as platforms like Pinterest, offer these. Even if activities aren’t particularly language-driven, their descriptions and instructions will be in French. And believe it or not, following step-by-step instructions on how to do something extremely specific is an amazing way to discover French vocabulary you may never have come across before!
Bonus for my fellow parents: While you practice your French, you’ll probably come across some resources like games, mazes, coloring books, and crafts that will keep your kids busy, too.
Here’s one page full of links. You can also do an online search for “activités pour enfants”.
Free French cinema-related content and resources from the Forum des Images
Cinephiles can enjoy interviews, masterclasses, conferences, and more via the Forum des Images’ website.
Free online French audio stories for kids and families (and everyone else)
Just because something is ostensibly intended for kids doesn’t mean adults can’t get in on the fun, too! This is especially true when it comes to language learning. France Culture’s website is currently featuring a selection of free French audio stories for youngsters and families – but whoever you are, why not give them a listen and train your ear (and have fun, too)?
Immerse yourself in the world of a famous French château
If you love history, gardens, and castles, the famous Château de Chambord’s website is featuring activities like imaginary French Renaissance landscaping, coloring, and mazes. The instructions and information can all be toggled to French at the top of the screen.
Free French plays, via La Comédie Française’s livestream on YouTube
The legendary French theater’s YouTube channel features a livestream and schedule that works sort of like a TV channel. At a given time, performances of all sorts from previous years are broadcast online. Although it has a reputation for traditional, classical performances, there’s actually a very surprising variety of plays. The other night, for example, my son and I watched a sort of Wes Anderson-esque take on “Les trois petits cochons” (“The Three Little Pigs.”). You can find a link to the YouTube channel, as well as the week’s program schedule, on the Comédie Française’s official site.
Even more free French activities and resources via two free newsletters
As you’d expect from their names , the Que Faire à Paris and Sortir à Paris newsletters showcase events, exhibits, concerts, and more currently going on in the City of Light. But since quarantine began in Paris, the newsletters have very cleverly adapted, temporarily changing their names to Que Faire à la masion and Solidaires à Paris. They currently offer descriptions of and links to online activities, events, and other things to keep homebound Parisians (and people around the world) busy.
You can subscribe to both newsletters for free. The only downside is that they might send you multiple newsletters a week – but you can opt for a particular schedule (once a week, for example) via a link in the emails.
Speaking a foreign language is a priceless skill. But that doesn’t mean that learning it should be hors de prix. Now you know how to access countless hours of French learning and practice for free!
We hope that this will not only help you improve your French, but also get away from your worries for a while. Bon courage, nos amis !
Do you have a free site or other French learning resource to recommend? If so, feel “free” to share it in the comments!