The eight best ways to learn French without taking classes (according to a teacher)

When learning French, classes and the individual attention of a teacher is the best route, but this can be very pricey. Alexandra Jones, a language teacher based in Paris, lays out some alternative routes to fluency.

The eight best ways to learn French without taking classes (according to a teacher)
Language classes in France can be expensive. Photo LillGraphie/Depositphotos

Whether you're learning French because of your job, partner or your love for France, there are many tips that will help you get fluent without taking classes. Here are eight of the best:

1. French films and TV series

As French cinema plays such an important cultural role in France, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to find something that takes your fancy or suits your own personal interests. Films are a great way of listening to how French speakers pronounce their words and articulate sentences, without the added pressure of actually having to converse with a native speaker. If you already have some familiarity with the language, then try watching with French subtitles. This way you can read what you hear and increase your chances of retaining new vocabulary.

READ ALSO 10 films that show French arthouse cinema is not just for movie geeks

French cinema is very varied and a great language-learning tool. Photo: AFP

2. YouTube

If the idea of committing to a full length film or series is too daunting or you simply don’t have time, YouTube videos are perfect. Short video clips talking about your interests are just as effective in developing comprehension and vocabulary skills. The search bar on YouTube is endless so there is certainly something for everyone. If you like cooking then find a French YouTuber who gives tutorials on a recipe you would like to try. Travel, music, make-up, yoga, fashion, gaming, history, politics, comedy – it’s all there. 

3. News Articles

To practice reading comprehension skills and to learn new vocabulary, try reading French journalism. Not only will this help to develop your language competency, but it will help you to gain a new perspective on what's going on in France. Start off with shorter articles via online newspapers like Le Monde, 20 minutes or Courrier International.

READ ALSO Ten free and easy ways to learn French

4. Language exchange

A good way to put your grammar, vocabulary and comprehension skills into practice (in an authentic way) is to practice with a native or fluent French speaker. Many French people are very keen to learn English too, so a language exchange could be an ideal way to benefit both partners. The good thing about doing an organised exchange is that you don’t need to worry about the other person becoming impatient when you make mistakes as they are in exactly the same position. Searching online and via social media is the easiest way to find a language exchange partner. 

5. Talk to yourself

It might sound strange but speaking aloud can really help your general fluency as when we talk to ourselves we are not worried about making mistakes and sounding stupid. 

READ ALSO How I learned cold-callers and lovelorn French farmers to learn the language

6. Write a journal

Try keeping a diary or journal and write it in French. You could do a daily, weekly or even monthly journal entry about anything that you may have floating around in your head. This can be focused around what you have been doing in life or how you have been feeling. There really are no limits as the intention is that only you will read it.

7. Keep a vocabulary book

It may sound obvious but a good way to expand your linguistic repertoire is to note down new vocabulary as soon as you read or hear it. Keep a small notebook in your bag and write down any new vocabulary. Return to your vocabulary book at the end of each week to make sure you have memorised the new words and phrases. 

READ ALSO Top 12 French phrases they don't teach you in school

8. Grammar book

French grammar is not easy – even French children have to learn how to conjugate from a young age at school. So obtaining a French grammar book is advised. A good book to start with is Bescherelle: la conjugation pour tous. It includes everything you need to know about French tenses and verbs with a clear and comprehensive guide to conjugations. If you don’t find grammar to be the most interesting part of learning French (and who does?) designate grammar practice to those times when you are feeling most energised and determined in your French development. Prioritise your time wisely.

Alexandra Jones is based in Paris where she works as a language teacher. 

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Italian expression of the day: ‘Qualcosa non torna’

Does this phrase add up to you?

Italian expression of the day: 'Qualcosa non torna'

Ever get the feeling that things aren’t quite right, that perhaps you’re missing something, that something fishy might be going on?

In Italian you can express that with the phrase qualcosa non torna (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-TORR-na’).

Qualcosa you’ll probably recognise as meaning ‘something’, and non of course here means ‘doesn’t’, so the slight wild card for anglophones is the verb torna.

That’s because tornare means ‘to return’ in most contexts – but it can also mean to balance, to add up.

Ho calcolato le spese, il conto torna.
I added up the costs, the bill checks out.

I conti dell’azienda tornano.
The company’s accounts add up.

The Math Seems To Check Out! GIF - The House Will Ferrell The Math Seems To Check Out GIFs

The word can also refer more nebulously to something sounding or feeling right – or not.

Secondo me c’è qualche parte del mio discorso che ancora non torna.
I think there are parts of my speech that still aren’t quite right.

And when something doesn’t torna – that’s when you know things are off. It’s the kind of expression you’re likely to hear in detective shows or true crime podcasts. 

Qualcosa non torna nel loro racconto.
Something about their story’s off.

C’è solo una cosa che non torna.
There’s just one thing that doesn’t add up.

It’s similar to how we can talk in English about someone’s account of an event not ‘squaring’ with the facts, and in fact you can also use that metaphor in Italian – qualcosa non quadra (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-QUAHD-ra’) – to mean the same thing as qualcosa non torna.

Trash Italiano Simona Ventura GIF - Trash Italiano Simona Ventura Qualcosa Non Quadra GIFs

You can adjust either phrase slightly to say ‘things don’t add up’, in the plural: this time you’ll want le cose instead of qualcosa, and to conjugate the tornare or the quadrare in their plural forms.

Ci sono molte cose che non tornano in quest’affare.
There are a lot of things about this affair that don’t add up.

Le loro storie non quadrano.
Their stories don’t square.

You can also add pronouns into the phrase to talk about something seeming off ‘to you’ or anyone else.

La sua storia ti torna?
Does his story add up to you?

C’è qualcosa in tutto questo che non mi torna.
There’s something about all this that doesn’t seem right to me.

alfonso qualcosa non mi torna GIF by Isola dei Famosi

The next time something strange is afoot, you’ll know just how to talk about it in Italian. Montalbano, move aside…

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.