The past few weeks I’ve been laid up by a knee injury (bad timing for the winter surf season, sigh), which has forced me to figure out things to do while immobile. Fortunately this period coincided nicely with my recent infatuation with the French language. While on travel in Paris in late November I realized how much I love the sound and expressiveness of French, and really wanted to be conversant in it. Being stuck in bed, I turned to that seemingly limitless resource, the internet, to see what was available. Here’s a review of some of my favorite FREE online resources, and my personal grade ranking.
Coffee Break French (http://www.coffeebreakfrench.com): A+
This series of free podcasts and videocasts wins my vote for the best online French language resource available. There are currently 40, roughly 15-minute, free audiocasts available both on the website and at the iTunes store (there are also a handful of video extras posted on Youtube: search “coffee break french”). There is even a fairly active Facebook page! The lessons are hosted by Mark Pentleton (le professeur) and Anna Jamieson (l’eleve or l’etudiante) and are very well done, well-paced and with tons of material, and they go into considerable depth on situational usage (shopping, conversing, etc). Some of the later lessons include long snippets of conservation from folks in Paris which are completely broken down and analyzed – very helpful. There is extra material available on the website for premium (i.e., for-pay) subscription, and in this case I think it is worth the investment given how well the free material is done. Coffee Break French comes from the Radio Lingua Network, managed by Mark and Catriona Pentleton out of Scotland, which also hosts Coffee Break Spanish and one-minute lessons in a dozen languages. The French audiocast is on haitus until January 2009, and I’m greatly looking forward to it resuming!
The French Pod Class (http://www.frenchpodclass.com) A
Run by Sebastien Babolat since 2005, there are 99, roughly 30 minute, audiocasts and many videocasts available from the website and iTunes. There are also many transcripts, exercises, books, games, etc. available on the website as well, at least up to lesson 68. The audiocasts are very fun, with lots of music, occasional movie reviews, etc. done entirely or almost entirely in French. As with the other sites, much more material is available through membership subscription, which unfortunately appears to be down (the last lesson is dated June 2008 and there appears to have been effectively no update to the site since). Indeed, the site being down is the only real knock against this apparently very popular podcast – I get the impression Sebastien got overwhelmed. In any case, the material that is there is wonderful, albeit occasionally too quickly spoken for a beginner, so probably requires a little preliminary basic French training first (e.g., with Coffee Break French).
Daily French Pod and French for Beginners (http://www.dailyfrenchpod.com) B
Daily French Pod and French for Beginners with Louis are both based out of the same website, providing a broad range of lessons (word of the day, survival French, real life situations, and some story series) that are available as podcasts on iTunes. There are quite a phenomenal number of free audiocasts available, about 300 Dailys (generally 3-10 minutes each) and 200 Beginners (up to 20 minutes). However, additional material (transcripts, etc) are hidden behind a subscription scheme on the website, which admittedly offers a 7-day free trial (which I did not try). Louis’s accent is clean and his pacing is neither too fast nor too slow, although from a beginner’s point of view it is not always clear what is being said even in the Beginners lessons. Nevertheless, the word of the day lesson on connard was probably the most hilarious I’ve heard so far.
The Verbcast (http://www.theverbcast.com): B
A short series (20 lessons) produced by Mark Pentleton of Coffee Break French back in 2004 and 2005, and supported by Partners in Excellence (which appears to now be defunct), this is a very unusual language podcast available on iTunes that combines French verb lessons with relaxation and visualization learning techniques. Each episode starts with Mark coaxing you into a state of relaxation, then you are prompted to imagine the word endings building up on a large screen in your mind. Very new-age feeling but unfortuately limited to verbs, and furthermore most of the companion material is not accessible since it was developed exclusively for a few school systems in Scotland. However, this was the only series that focused on verb tense endings, and I did retain almost everything I listened to in this series (although I had a fit of giggles at the start of the first lesson). If you interested in trying something a little different, definitely worth a listen.
JeFrench (https://www.jefrench.com): C (see note below)
This site hosts a handful of basic French lessons that are also available on Youtube (search “jefrench”). There are very few free lessons and they are pretty short. To access material directly from the site you have to register an email, for which I recommend using a junk gmail account (a trick I learned from my wife). Also, this site is a feeder to another for-pay site, frenchpod.com, which claims to have 100s of lessons that I did not try to access. The free lessons available at JeFrench are pretty basic but visual and nicely paced, and I found this to be a good jump-off platform for the other resources online. Nevertheless, it lacked depth and structure, and I quickly jumped on to the other resources.
There are many other free online French language resources available online at iTunes and Youtube, so if you are interested in French, I encourage you to start with these but also explore around. Everyone learns differently, so you really have to identify the best site for you.
UPDATE 10/2/2010: Adrien Matt from JeFrench reported that my “feeder” link was in error (this may have been an ad placed by YouTube). In addition, I have clarified that I did not review any of the for-pay course material on this site, which is more extensive and also supports Adrien’s livelihood! The grade above only reflects material available free of charge. My apologies if this information was misleading.