The Best Way to Learn French Online

From online language exchanges to websites and software and everything in between, there's more ways than ever to learn French online.

There are five basic approaches to learning French, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. These approaches include learning through complete French immersion, learning through translation, grammar-based learning, communication-based learning, and vocabulary-based learning.

Since nearly everything today can be done online, it's now possible to learn a language online using any one of these five approaches. Let's take a look at how these different approaches can be taken advantage of online and the methods they entail, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. Then we'll discuss the best way to learn a language online.

1. The Online Immersion Approach

The traditional immersion approach involves traveling to a French-speaking country, spending an extended period of time there, and living your day-to-day life in the language.

An online immersion approach, however, is a little different. It doesn't require a passport, flight tickets, or even leaving your home. Instead, the online immersion approach involves using real-world videos and conversation partners to immerse yourself in French on a daily basis from the comfort of your home.

Many people consider immersion one of the fastest ways to learn French because it forces French learners to practice the language in natural situations. It's a great option for those who don't like formal study, are self-motivated and good at finding and using online resources. It also encourages French learners to connect online with native speakers and teaches them valuable knowledge about French culture. Not only that, but it does all of this within a very short period of time for dedicated learners.

However, this method is very time-consuming and requires intense dedication and motivation. It can also be frustrating and stressful for learners when it comes to breaking the initial communication barrier. While there are some excellent resources out there, online immersion isn't for everyone.

2. The Translation Approach Online

The traditional translation approach involves finding a book in French and using a bilingual dictionary to translate between French and your native language. It's the "old fashioned" approach to language learning. Naturally, this approach can easily be used online to learn French.

While this is a very cost-effective approach to language learning that can bring results to those willing to invest time and energy in studying, it's not a very good approach for those who wish to learn to actually communicate in French. Finding texts that are written in both French and your native language online is easy, but the process of translating them and learning from it is tedious and challenging. It is, however, a good way for advanced speakers to improve their writing skills.

Unfortunately, the online translation approach doesn't teach speaking, listening, or writing. It's often best left to dead languages such as Latin or Old English. A more interactive approach is recommended for those who want to learn French online.

3. The Grammar-Based Approach Online

The graduation grammar-based approach is the language learning method typically used in most French-learning textbooks and "teach yourself" language books. Emphasis is placed on learning the grammatical rules of French and being able to read and write in the language. This approach can be found online on many free language learning websites that focus on grammatical explanations and exercises.

For learners who like to know the rules of a language and want to be able to apply these rules to their speaking and writing, this is a great and cost-effective method to learn French online. However, students who use this method do not get many opportunities to actually speak or listen to French and must learn a lot of grammar rules. This can be very frustrating, a little boring, and may prevent students from being able to use their knowledge right away.

3. The Communicative Approach Online

The traditional communicative approach is the approach most commonly used by schools that teach French as a second language. Likewise, many online language schools take advantage of this approach in their programs.

The communicative approach involves a teacher who gives lessons to a small group of students. Lessons are usually divided into reading, writing, listening and speaking activities. These lessons are often delivered live online via Skype or an online classroom.

Students who learn French online with the communicative approach are given a well-rounded education. If the class is planned and taught well, students can learn quickly and can start holding conversations in French a few weeks after they began the language course. However, this method depends greatly on the quality of the teacher, classroom materials and internet connection and often involves studying with expensive language academies.

3. The Vocabulary-Based Approach Online

Finally, the vocabulary-based approach is used by many language-learning software programs. This approach involves learning French by associating words with pictures of the objects they represent and is often considered the easiest way to learn French. Traditional grammar rules are not taught, but are naturally learned by students as they progress.

French learners can improve their vocabulary very quickly with this method because of the use of repetition and images. They can also save time and money by using this method instead of a traditional class, and can progress at their own rate in any location.

However, the vocabulary that is taught is often not the most practical. Since grammar is not directly taught, students risk sounding a bit like Tarzan when they try to speak or write. These programs also often neglect to provide valuable information about the French culture. Finding a good vocabulary-based program can be very difficult and quite expensive.

So what is the best way to learn French online?

While many consider the vocabulary-based approach the best way to learn French online because it's so easy to use, this approach still has some major downfalls. As many will tell you, there isn't a single best way to learn French online that works for everyone.

By considering everything that is needed to learn a language quickly and effectively, though, it's possible to develop a list of the characteristics of the best way to learn French online. This list can help to be your "checklist" when it comes to learning French online in the best way possible. Let's take a look at them.

Ideally, the best way to learn French online includes:

  • Interactive lessons that teach French vocabulary, grammar and culture through reading, writing, listening and speaking;
  • A period of daily French immersion;
  • The ability to study at the student's own pace;
  • Professional guidance from a native French speaker trained in education;
  • The ability to interact with both French native speakers and other non-native French language learners;
  • Occasional translation activities between French and your native language;
  • The ability to study vocabulary in a colorful, visual and interactive way;
  • Reinforcement testing of skills learned;
  • Motivational performance incentives to encourage daily practice.

This may sound like a lot to ask for, but several new programs like Rocket Languages can provide language learners with many of these features. It's also easier than ever to supplement your studies with other programs, websites or services online.

There are tons of great French language learning resources online, and we're here to help you discover the best way for you to learn French.

So what are you waiting for? Allez-y!

À bientôt !
Marie-Claire Rivière and the Rocket French Team