Wednesday 7 April 2021

Learning French on a Budget

This past year has shifted our lives beyond recognition, and certainly during the first lockdown there was large appetite for ‘self improvement’, many turning to language learning to fill their suddenly empty weekends and evenings. Learning a language takes a lot of dedication, and can be costly. I’m sure attending a formal course is a brilliant way to develop well rounded knowledge, but for many this is out of budget or time constraints. There’s a lot you can do on your own for little to no money however, and although it can be hard to practice your conversational skills alone, there’s a lot of brilliant resources out there. This is by no means a comprehensive list, merely the things I have stumbled upon and found useful. If you have any favourites please do comment below.


Possibly the most popular language learning app, Duolingo is a brilliant place to start. Their French course is broad and they’re constantly adding new content. They’ve recently added audio lessons which are perfect for picking up the essentials when preparing for a trip abroad, something that was lacking for a long time. There are also stories which help you see the language in use in short, amusing stories, checking your comprehension as you go. The main set of modules will help build up your vocabulary and understanding of grammar, with tips to help you understand why sentences are formed the way they are. According to the app I’ve now been using it for seven years, and although do not in any way count myself as fluent, I actually understand the conventions of the French language so much better than I ever did at school. Spending just fifteen minutes a day can really broaden your vocabulary. The app is completely free to use although there is a payment option to get rid of ads, and is also available through a web browser if you don’t have a smart phone.


There are some brilliant YouTube channels that can help with improving your listening and comprehension skills. A recent happy discovery is Comme Une Française. Géraldine posts weekly videos explaining quirks of the language, offering tips on understanding fast spoken French, and recommending other great resources. Her channel will not only improve your French but will give you a better sense of the culture of France. Her videos tend to be less than ten minutes long so easy to fit one in on a lunch break.

Vogue Paris also posts short videos that have English subtitles. I mostly watch their Une Fille, Un Style series but there’s a whole range of videos from make-up tutorials to cooking tutorials. Some videos are in English with French subtitles so you can practice either way.


Podcasts are a great way to include some French listening into your day while out for a walk or

on your commute. I love InnerFrench, the host, Hugo Cotton talks for around thirty minutes to an hour on interesting topics so you don’t get bored with repeating the same simple phrases over and over. He speaks slower than the speed you’d expect from a native speaker to aid comprehension and talks about topics as varied as film, psychology, politics and current affairs. There are transcripts available on his website that can help aid understanding and the learning of new vocabulary. You’d need some knowledge of French to really gain from listening to this but it is brilliant for intermediate learners.

Coffee Break French offers shorter episodes in which they ask people on the streets of France questions such as ‘what’s your daily routine’, or ‘what kind of holidays do you like?’. This allows the listener to hear more colloquial French as well as different accents and ways of saying things. They play the interviews and then break down what was said before playing at full speed again so you get a chance to see how much more you understand.


A great way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it as much as possible. Although opportunities to do this will always be somewhat limited if not living in a country that uses it as their main language, watching TV and films in French is a great way to include some more French in your day to day, will open you up to some brilliant shows, and again helps with learning how French is used in real life. Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent), available to watch on Netflix, is a hugely entertaining show about a talent agency in Paris. Each episode includes a cameo from a famous actor playing a parody of themselves, endlessly causing problems for their agents. It’s a wonderful show that will make you laugh and cry and I wish there was more to come.

Another Netflix show worth checking out is Le Bazar de la Charité. The series starts with a devastating fire in Paris in 1897 and follows the lives of three women whose worlds will never be the same again. This show should come with a warning - it’s incredibly intense and can be quite upsetting. The first episode which shows the fire was incredibly shot but also difficult to watch, so realistic was the experience. I admit I haven’t yet watched the whole series but from what I’ve seen it continues to be hard hitting. You might want something light lined up for afterward.

For those without subscription TV, Channel 4 is now streaming Torn, a drama set in Provence about an affair and its dire consequences. I’m only a few episodes in and although it doesn’t have the depth of some of the other programmes is nonetheless entertaining TV that will keep you wondering what will happen next.


In the early days of learning French I opted for children’s dual text books. The Let’s Read in French and English series offers a selection of books that go beyond very simple vocabulary and are a good way to build up your confidence. Le Petit Prince is also available in parallel text. When you’re feeling a little more confident it’s worth picking up a book solely in French that you’re already quite familiar with. For me, this is Harry Potter a l’École des Sorciers. I know the story well enough to not have to keep stopping to look up words to understand what’s happening and also downloaded the audiobook to help with pronunciation and aural comprehension. It’s been great fun seeing the translations of words invented for the novels and although it’s slow going is worth persevering.


Listening to music in French is a great way to introduce more French into your daily routine without feeling like you’re learning. A few years ago I happened upon the musical Notre Dame de Paris and was lucky enough to catch it live when it came to London shortly afterward. There’s a version of it available on YouTube for free.

In terms of more popular music, Lucien Doré is a good place to start (and he also makes an appearance in Call My Agent!), L’Impératrice is great for more dance pop vibes, and Granville are also worth checking out if you like 1960s vibes.

Conversation practice

As mentioned earlier, the hardest thing to practice solo is conversation, and indeed often the aspect of language learning that people find most embarrassing and difficult. In many cities there are meet up groups that offer the chance to meet other French learners, sometimes with a teacher there for a small fee, sometimes as a free group for everyone to practice. These can be incredibly daunting but can really help show where your gaps in knowledge are and ultimately build your confidence for conversation.


  1. Such a fab post! I love the duolingo app!

  2. Love this! Learning another language definitely is a fun way to pass the time.

    1. Thanks :-) Definitely! I love how it opens me up to new art and culture that I probably wouldn't have come across otherwise.

  3. Fab post! I used to use a lot of these methods when I did Spanish at A-level to help boost my language. Watching TV and listening to music were some of my favourite ways to learn. I also used to switch all my apps to Spanish to help pick up a few words.

    Tash - A Girl with a View

    1. Thank you. Switching all your apps to Spanish sounds like a brilliant idea, might have to give it a try.

  4. I had no idea there were children's books with side by side languages! I'm totally going to check those out. Great post!

    1. Brilliant! Hope you find them useful/entertaining :-)