By Marisa Ikert (former camper and counselor, and current high school French teacher)
Many of us have been spending an increased amount of time at home lately. The upside of that has been the additional time to spend on our hobbies, new skills, and personal projects. What better time than now to commit to practicing your French skills? Whether your level is débutant, moyen, or avancé, there is a wealth of free resources available online for you to hone your comprehension skills. Here are just a few of my favorites. In reality all of these options span multiple levels, so feel free to try them all and see what works best for you!
Read: Visit the websites The Fable Cottage and The French Experiment to read simple fairy tales in French with optional line-by-line English translations, along with slow audio recording by a native French speaker. (Audio is free on all stories on The French Experiment; certain stories on The Fable Cottage have audio and sometimes video for free, but others are available only to members.)
Watch: Watch one of Alice Ayel’s YouTube videos per day and you'll see your comprehension soar. She speaks very slowly and uses visual aids so anyone can understand her simple stories (you can also watch with or without French subtitles). Pure beginners should start with the “Saison #1” playlist and progress from there to more complex stories from later seasons. In the "Culture francophone: Qui est?" playlist, more appropriate for moyens/avancés, Alice presents biographies of famous people from the French-speaking world.
Listen: Listen to the Coffee Break French podcast for 20-minute targeted lessons around particular vocabulary themes (shopping, expressing likes and dislikes, introducing yourself, ordering at a restaurant…) as well as grammar lessons. Learn with your teacher Mark (he’s Scottish but his French accent is great) and fellow student Anna. Start with Season 1 for complete beginners; work through the seasons to reach a more advanced level. (The difference between this resource and an immersive, comprehensive-based one like Alice Ayel is that CBF gives you structured lessons about how to speak French, including discussions of grammar and vocab in English. I usually recommend as much French input as possible, but if you are just starting out or refreshing your French and like to be given the breakdown of how it works, this approach might work for you.)
Read: Subscribe to the daily News in French newsletter. This free daily newsletter includes a French song of the day as well as interesting news tidbits that are usually more quirky than what you might find on your local front page. The newsletter is also posted online on their website; reading it this way allows you to hover over highlighted key words and phrases to see translations (especially helpful for moyens).
Watch: Watch a movie or show you already know well, dubbed into French. I recommend Disney movies because they are so easy to follow and the voices are great in any language! Then, you can go to lyricstraining.com to practice the lyrics to your favorite Disney (or other) songs in French with a fun, interactive game.
Listen: The Duolingo French Podcast intersperses a bit of English context with fascinating interviews in simple French to tell cultural stories that are easy to follow for intermediate learners. Listen on your podcast app of choice or go to podcast.duolingo.com/french for full episodes with transcripts.
Read: If you live in or near a city with an Alliance Française, have you checked out their resources? Browsing these libraries is a great way to feel like you’ve transported yourself to France, but even if the physical building is closed now due to COVID, they likely have access to media resources online. Online French libraries like Culturethèque, included with many Alliance memberships, allow you to browse French children’s and young adult books, BDs (graphic novels), language learning resources, and more from the comfort of your home. Consider asking your family or school about getting a membership! (Another perk of Alliance membership is participating in free conversation events, which happen on Zoom these days!)
Watch: Go to the site frenchflicks.com to see which French movies are currently on Netflix. For even more help learning with subtitles, add the free “Language Learning with Netflix” Chrome extension. This neat extension allows you to see both French and English subtitles at the same time if you choose, slow down the speed, look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary, and more.Listen: The innerFrench podcast is perfect for you if you have a relatively advanced comprehension level, but can’t quite understand full-speed conversations or movies without subtitles yet. The host, Hugo Cotton, is a native speaker who discusses interesting cultural issues, French media, and language learning tips at a slightly slower pace, aimed at the intermediate-to-advanced adult/teen learner. He also makes YouTube videos.