How to Relearn French

Want to refresh your forgotten French from high school or university? Here are my tips on how to relearn French.

My early retirement goal is to learn a new language to fluency every two years. In 2020, I’m relearning French after almost 30 years of neglect!

In college, I had three semesters of French and loved it. However, the instruction was heavily grammar-focused, and I never learned to speak it.

A false beginner has some knowledge of the language but needs to start again from the beginning. As a French false beginner, I was surprised how much I remembered from my university courses. Many true beginner resources for French felt too basic.

My focus is currently European French. I may add Canadian French content as my learning journey progresses. I had plans to study French in Quebec City in 2020. Sadly, they are on hold right now due to travel restrictions.

I greatly prefer the full audio immersion provided by monolingual podcasts and YouTube videos that are completely in French. There are many otherwise excellent French learning resources I haven’t included simply because they contain too much English for my taste. I indicate below if content is monolingual or not.

Here are the resources I found most useful for refreshing my French.

Note that these are just the resources for learning French at home that worked for me personally. As always, experiment to see which ones work best for you.

I hope you love my recommendations for the best way to relearn French! Just so you know, this post includes a few compensated links. If you purchase anything through them, I earn a small fee at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products I love and use myself.

How to Relearn French Grammar

Grammar drills can be tedious, even for a nerd like me, but grammar study is the essential foundation for my language learning. These are my recommended resources.

Assimil French Pack

This excellent resource is well-suited for French false beginners. It teaches vocabulary and grammar in a very intuitive way.

However, the lack of detailed explanation may not make it ideal for absolute beginners needing more structure.

The accompanying audio files are essential.

I recommend working through at least one chapter a day. Beginning chapters are short and easy and then gradually become longer and more complex.

My process was to:

  • Read the dialogue, the first exercise, and language notes, referring to the English translation as necessary
  • Listen to and repeat the audio
  • Complete the final written exercise and check my answers

During each study session, I compiled a list of interesting new French vocabulary to be copied into my Anki flashcards for daily review.

The Assimil method presents grammar very informally, so it’s best to also use a supplementary grammar resource such as the one below.

 

Practice Makes Perfect: Complete French Grammar

Very solid grammar guide with lots of exercises. Perfect to brush up French grammar. Also contains practical, high-frequency vocabulary lists. Suitable for advanced beginner to intermediate.

I starting working through 5 pages a day after I got halfway through the Assimil course above. Great systematic way to fill in any gaps of your French knowledge.

 

French Podcasts

Podcasts let you brush up on French on the go. I listen at the gym and while walking, doing household chores, and driving. French podcasts also help me survive long hours on planes and buses!

Studies show that reading while listening boosts learning much more than listening only, especially for beginners and intermediates. Seek out French-language podcasts with transcripts for when you have time to sit down and read along with the audio.

Here are some recommended podcasts for French false beginners. Just tap each podcast’s title to go to its website.

Coffee Break French

Coffee Break French podcast

Levels: Beginner to advanced

Transcripts: Transcripts and additional materials available to paid subscribers

Monolingual: No; English explanations

This popular French podcast begins with content for absolute beginners and proceeds all the way to upper advanced.

The course is divided into four levels, or seasons. Each level contains 40 lessons of 15-20 minutes.

The hosts do a great job explaining tricky usage and grammar as well as providing cultural insights.

Caveat: While the hosts’ Scottish accents are charming, much of the content is in English. Personally, I prefer the immersion provided by monolingual podcasts that are completely in French. However, many experienced language learners swear by this podcast. I recommend trying it to see if it works for you.

 

innerFrench Intermediate French Podcast

innerFrench Intermediate French PodcastLevels: Advanced beginner to intermediate

Transcripts: Free transcripts available on the website

Monolingual: Yes

This fantastic podcast, and the accompanying YouTube channel (see YouTube section below), are a huge favorite for me and other French learners.

Engaging topics range from French culture and current events to language learning strategy to self-development. Hugo, the host, speaks very clearly and at moderate speed. 

I listen to a half-hour episode daily, reading the transcription on my iPad and jotting down new vocabulary. It’s greatly improved my listening comprehension.

 

impolyglot | A French Podcast About Language Learning

impolyglot | A French Podcast About Language LearningLevels: Intermediate to advanced

Transcripts: None

Monolingual: Yes

Language enthusiasts will enjoy honing their listening skills while absorbing this show‘s useful language learning tips. (The title’s pronounced “I’m Polyglot.”)

Lionel, the French host, lives in Spain and teaches French, English, and Spanish. I especially recommend the most recent season, as Lionel targets it at his audience of French learners rather than to Francophones as in previous seasons.

Lionel speaks at native speed, so you may need to listen to episodes more than once. However, with practice your ear will become more accustomed. I now understand the audio well, especially in the most recent season.

Recommended by my brilliant friend Marissa, who has the most creative language-learning account on Instagram.

 

Journal en français facile – RFI

Journal en français facile - RFILevels: High intermediate (B2) to advanced

Transcripts: Transcripts and related audio lessons available the next day on the website

Monolingual: Yes

The “facile” in the title of this daily news program is a bit misleading. While the vocabulary may be a bit simplified, the rapid delivery makes comprehension tricky. However, it offers great authentic listening practice.

While I definitely don’t get everything, over time I’ve progressed to understanding the gist of each story. Episodes are only 10 minutes, so provide a nice short daily challenge.

If you wait a day, you can follow along in the transcript online. Personally, though, I find reading the transcript tedious. I also prefer consuming news the same day before it gets too stale.

 

YouTube Channels for Relearning French

innerFrench
Comment rafraîchir son français

Don’t miss Hugo’s helpful tips on how to refresh French.

Levels: Advanced beginner to intermediate

Subtitles: French

This incredible channel is excellent for intermediates and motivated beginners. The host Hugo has an amazingly clear communication style that makes it easy to understand him.

Lots of interesting content on language learning strategy and French culture and society. I watch with French subtitles turned on.

Français Authentique

Apprenez le français avec Français Authentique

Levels: Advanced beginner to intermediate

Subtitles: French

Johan Tekfak’s enjoyable videos explore self-development, learning strategy, and French culture and history. Johan speaks very clearly and in a calm and reassuring manner. His kids provide charming video intros and outros.

The content is completely in French.

Johan’s website offers many more recommended resources such as a free intro course, his newsletter, and an excellent free Telegram group.

Self-improvement fans will also enjoy Johan’s book of personal development tips. It’s a short but inspiring read that provides useful French reading practice.

For more French videos on personal development and productivity try Johan’s channel Pas de Stress. It’s no longer being updated as he’s focusing his efforts on the main channel, but the videos are well worth a watch.

Easy French

Playlist: Super Easy French - French for beginners

Levels: Beginner to advanced

Subtitles: French and English

Easy Languages is a unique non-profit that helps people learn languages through authentic street interviews. Their short, enjoyable videos showcase local language and culture in natural, everyday situations.

I’ve watched their excellent series for German, Russian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Easy French is just as captivating.

To refresh my French, I started with their introductory playlists Easy French Basic Phrases and Super Easy French.

Next, I’m watching all 103 videos of the Easy French street interview playlist. Please note that the channel’s title is a bit misleading, since the French is not easy. It’s authentic French as spoken by real people.

However, dual subtitles in French and English make it accessible. The videos provide a rare opportunity for real-life listening practice with the support of subtitles.

Most videos are set in various cities in France, with a few in Quebec and Switzerland.

French Comprehensible Input

Easy French 2020 🇫🇷 #6 "Révision de 10 verbes" (A1 level - beginner)

Levels: Absolute beginner to advanced (A1-C2)

Subtitles: French; some have English

This highly enjoyable new channel by Swiss teacher Lucas is still a little rough around the edges. The humor and creativity more than make up for that, though. Some videos even have funny hidden subliminal images and text — see if you can spot them!

Videos are classified by CEFR level, from A1 (absolute beginner) to C2 (native proficiency). Apart from the introductory A1 video, all content is in French.

See the recommended viewing order.

French TV Shows on Netflix

Trailer for The Circle France, one of my recommended French series on Netflix:

The Circle Game (France) | Bande-annonce | Netflix

Don’t miss this up-to-date list I maintain of some of the best French TV shows on Netflix for learners. Watching popular French series is an excellent way to learn about the culture while honing vocabulary and listening skills.

Reading in French

Graded French Readers

French graded readers feature simplified language adapted to different levels. These easy reads are a fun way to boost your vocabulary and reading skills.

101 Conversations in Simple French

By Olly Richards (2019)

Levels: A2-B1 (Advanced beginner to low intermediate)

Available as e-book: Available inexpensively. Can be borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library or Kindle Unlimited.

A series of simple colloquial dialogues recount a fun mystery story set in the Paris art world. Chapters are very short and easy to read.

The introduction provides a helpful explanation of intensive vs. extensive learning and tips for how to best use the book.

Each chapter contains a summary and vocab list with English definitions.

To improve audio comprehension, listen to the audiobook version while reading. It’s available free with an Audible trial from Amazon.

101 Conversations in Intermediate French

By Olly Richards (2020)

Levels: B1-B2 (intermediate)

Available as e-book: Available inexpensively. Can be borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library or Kindle Unlimited.

This fun detective story picks up where the previous book above leaves off. While the books share several of the same characters, this story can also be read on its own.

Short colloquial dialogues narrate an engaging whodunit about a wave of organized crime linked to the Paris art world.

The introduction provides a helpful explanation of intensive vs. extensive learning and tips for how to best use the book.

Each chapter contains a summary and vocab list with English definitions.

To improve audio comprehension, listen to the audiobook version while reading. It’s available free with an Audible trial from Amazon.

Easy French Books

Histoires à lire le soir

By Marc Thil (2014)

Levels: A2-B2 (motivated advanced beginner to intermediate)

Available as e-book: Available inexpensively. Can be borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library or Kindle Unlimited.

This charming collection of 12 bedtime stories for kids from 8-12 is deservedly popular with French learners.

The tales are funny, touching, and a quick read. Each story gently conveys a moral without being preachy. Every chapter also features a whimsical illustration by the author.

Despite being for children, the book’s rich real-life vocabulary and grammar provide a challenge. I read it twice and understood it much better the second time.

If you enjoy this format, visit author Marc Thil’s Amazon page for volumes 2 and 3 of the series. Once you’re comfortable reading short stories, try his easy mystery novels for kids.

All the author’s books are available inexpensively on Kindle. Several can also be borrowed for free via the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library or Kindle Unlimited.

French Classes on iTalki

iTalki French teacher search

Sample search on iTalki for a professional teacher from France who’s a native French speaker and also speaks English

Conversation practice is a vital part of any French refresher course. It’s also without doubt the most fun and engaging part of my studies.

Personally, I wait to start conversation practice until I’ve reached A2, or advanced beginner, level. That way, I have a decent knowledge base of grammar and vocabulary to draw on.

I prepare for a first class by writing down simple sentences introducing myself, describing my family, profession, and hobbies; and explaining why I want to learn French.

Speaking French regularly with native speakers keeps me motivated to do tedious grammar drills, since I can see direct improvements in my spoken French.

iTalki is a convenient, affordable way to connect online with professional teachers or community tutors:

  • Professional teachers have a teaching certification and classroom experience. Hourly cost varies by experience and geographic location.
  • Community tutors are an affordable alternative. They are native speakers (or near-native speakers) who provide speaking practice and informal tutoring.

While there are exceptional community tutors, my personal experience is that working with a professional teacher is well worth the extra cost.

Finding a Teacher

I search for instructors with five-star ratings and watch their introductory videos to get a feel for their style. I then schedule lessons with a few different people to find someone I really click with. It’s important to me to have a good rapport with my teacher, since I learn best in an atmosphere of genuine connection and friendship.

Once I find a teacher I really like, I buy a lesson package and met with them weekly over Skype.

Note: If you sign up for iTalki using one of the links on this page, both of us will receive a credit of US $10 after your first lesson. If I recommend a business, it’s because I loved them and think you will too.


Have more suggestions for how to brush up your French? Please share your French refresher tips in the comments.


Banner image © Easy French YouTube Channel

6 Comments on “How to Relearn French”

  1. Not sure when I’ll have time to devote to relearning French, but it’s great that you’ve done the legwork for people like me! And now I know that I’m a “false beginner.” 🙂

    • I’m sure you’d get back up to speed in no time, April. Looking forward to trading French tips with you at some point in future! 🙂

  2. What a great article Ingrid! Thanks for putting this all together – there are heaps of great resources for me to check out and hopefully transform my mid-beginner French to intermediate French!

  3. Glad we have the same French learning project, Penny! It’ll be fun to follow your progress and share recommendations.

  4. Thank you for this list. I have returned home to Canada after living in the States for 38 years, and my French is very rusty. I’m looking forward to relearning it.

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