What's the best way to learn French pronunciation, you ask?
I will have to say songs. I started learning French pronunciation almost purely with songs and I didn't even bother looking into each and every alphabet in the French language until later.
There are research that show the curious relationship between accents and songs—and why sometimes a singer's typical speaking accent can disappear when they sing. Think about how some British singers don't particularly sound British in their music.
In this article, linguist David Crystal mentioned that a song's melody cancels out the intonations of speech, followed by the beat of the music cancelling out the rhythm of speech. The article also continued mentioning that words [in songs] are more drawn out, more powerfully pronounced, and the accent becomes more neutral.
Based on my experience in learning languages, songs are very effective to pick up pronunciations and accents (to an extent).
I select songs that I like, play them while reading the lyrics, and I try singing them out...
again and again until I get the rhythm and pronunciation of each words as close as possible to those of the singers.
This helped me big time when learning how French sounds, and it played a part in my picking up the French r as well.
If you're not familiar with what the French r sounds like, have a listen of the word below.
Audio by Clément San Martin (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)
This audio clip says procrastinateur in French, meaning "procrastinator" in English. There are 3 r-s here, so you should be able to get an idea of what the French r sounds like.
2. Language Reactor
For slangs, listening, vocabulary
When I feel like practicing French, sometimes I play Netflix series and movies with two subtitles showing up at the same time: one in French and one in English.
I do this with a Chrome add-on called Language Reactor (it was previously known as "Language Learning with Netflix"). It was renamed because the tool now supports YouTube and other platforms beyond Netflix. You can learn more about the tool in their website here.
As for the audio, if it's an English-speaking series or movie, I tend to keep it in English. If it's originally a French-speaking one, then I definitely keep it in French.
Either way, I get to read 2 subtitles at the same time and make them make sense to the storyline.
This is an amazing way to learn slangs in French—things that you would normally pick up in everyday conversations but not in textbooks.
For grammar, reading, vocabulary
I used them sporadically but I would've learned better if I dedicated more time for sit-down sessions to really dive into the materials.
Books are good for systematic learning, especially when learning grammar.
For vocabularies and grammar
does this make me the alpha bird? pic.twitter.com/OHXmwFTFfT— Duolingo (@duolingo) July 24, 2023
Yes, like many other language learners, I have tried Duolingo as well. It's good for beginner lessons, and the illustrations/animations within the app can certainly help when learning new vocabularies and grammar.
The gamification and the psychotic Duo owl can also help with consistency.
I've never made it too far in the app so I don't know how the French lessons are like in advanced lessons. Guess the owl is gonna come for me now 👀
For listening, grammar, vocabulary
I used FrenchPod101 for a while, and it was a fun way to practice listening in particular.
The lessons consist of stories about a few French characters, split across multiple chapters.
(I'm trying to avoid giving out spoilers.)
These stories are presented in audio format, and they take form as conversations between two or more characters.
You will be able to listen and follow along to these stories as you progress through the chapters. There are conversation transcripts, vocabulary list, and grammar nuggets in each chapter as well.
I don't want to spoil too much about the story, but you may be able to preview some chapters with a free account to decide whether to give it a go.
6. My Phone
For vocabularies and grammar
Changing most of my phone settings into French really helped with exposure and familiarization with the French language structure.
The language used in a phone's operating system is very regular, there are no slangs, and they are usually worded to be easily understood no matter what the language it is in.
But, doing this would improve your French only if you already have a basic grasp of French grammar and vocabulary.
If you do this as a pure beginner, you'll get lost. So don't do it too soon.
I've signed up for a couple iTalki lessons, and in this website, you can essentially book teachers all over the world to have a scheduled video chat session with you.
I've had French lessons with two French Canadian tutors based in Québec and Vancouver, and four French tutors based in France, Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia.
Really not a bad way to practice speaking in French.
8. University Classes
For listening, speaking, grammar, and vocabulary
I took three French classes in the University of British Columbia when I was an undergrad student.
I joined two beginner classes, and one intermediate French class as I was about to graduate as I needed a few upper-level course credits. In these classes, I had instructors from Mauritius 🇲🇺, Switzerland🇨🇭, and Québec 🇨🇦.
Listening to instructors who conduct classes mostly in French definitely helped sharpened my listening skills. Having exams and commitment to regular weekly learning sessions is also a good thing, so I would recommend joining classes if you can.
The only thing I would want to avoid is having to work in pairs or groups as I do not find these too helpful. Nothing personal, it's just that when most students at a similar French level, there's nothing much to learn from one another.
If it's available, try going to office hours and have a face-to-face chat with your instructor in French...
which was what I did. When I was enrolled in the intermediate French class, I checked into my professor's office hours every other week and tried conversing with her. To my surprise, I was able to hold a few conversations here and there.
Over and Out
I truly believe that to properly learn a language, you can't learn it only from one single source.
You have to practice all facets of the language, from vocabulary, grammar, slangs, listening, pronunciation, speaking... and all of these are best learned from different sources.
Some platforms like Duolingo may be excellent for vocabulary and grammar, but maybe not so much for the rest. Watching movies in French may help with slangs and listening, but perhaps not so much in learning structured grammar.
It's always a good idea to diversify and get as much exposure from as many sources as possible.
Want to Learn French?
Get free vocabulary lists, frequently-used phrases, and podcast-style lessons here.