If you’re just starting to learn French or want to brush up existing skills, on-line language learning sites offer free and flexible support. While none of these are adequate substitutes for a formal program of language instruction, they can be great tools for staying in practice when you don’t have the time for anything else. Here are a couple favorites:
About.com: The French language section of the huge About site includes exercises, tests, and explanations of grammar rules and conventions for both beginning, intermediate, and advanced French speakers. Work on those pesky prepositions, practice conjugations, or improve your vocabulary. The navigation is a bit clunky so when you find the spot in the site that works for you, be sure to bookmark it. You can also sign up for the e-mail newsletter, a nice touch if you need some extra encouragement to keep working on your French.
BBC: This site primarily focuses on tourist basics although it does have a section, “Cool French” to help you learn the latest slang. There are lots of audio files to help with pronunciation and some listening comprehension activities from the BBC’s own news coverage.
Daily French Pod: There are tons of French podcasts for language learners available from iTunes and other sources but this one is my favorite. Each day, Louis brings you a 5-7 minute clip based on current events. You can subscribe for a nominal monthly fee to access other tools such as .pdf transcripts, video vocabularies, and forums but the podcast is free.
Google Translate: If you want to be sure that you really understand the instructions for your washing machine or the fine print on the airline Web site, Google Translate can come in handy. But take it with a grain of salt. Using this tool for your personal correspondence is not a good idea; the syntax often comes out garbled and you won’t trick anyone into believing that you can write an elegant sentence in French.
ieLanguages.com: An unbelievably rich free site with tutorials on grammar plus a wealth of phrases and vocabulary (and mp3 files so you can hear those words as they are supposed to sound). This site also includes many exercises to help you practice grammar and spelling. The French VII tutorial includes many phrases useful in daily life: in a restaurant, at the doctor’s office, opening a bank account, and on the telephone.
Radio France Internationale: RFI offers simplified news coverage for language learners including quick tests to see how well you understand what you hear. The news content changes daily.