The Ultimate Resource Guide for Learning

The Ultimate Resource Guide for Learning

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French is one of the most popular languages to learn anywhere in the world. Language learners who have mastered the French language not only gain access to a culture of unparalleled refinement and elegance, but also to the lingua franca of 29 of the fastest developing countries around the world. Few other languages have such deep connections with the both the past and the future. If you want to learn French properly then have a look at our detailed resource guide to plan your best course of action.



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Knowledge of the Russian language opens up a vast, diverse world, stretching from the Carpathian Mountains to the expanses of Siberia.  As well as providing the traveller with the lingua franca of over 15 countries and unrecognised territories, the Russian language is intrinsically connected with a rich culture of world-class literature, art, music, cinema, and architecture.  Russian is an excellent choice for a new language to learn, and here we outline exactly how you should go about achieving this goal.

How to Use This Guide

For anyone learning a foreign language, nothing is more important than choosing the right learning resources.  However, as with most languages, the amount of available material for learning Russian is overwhelming, and the quality varies enormously.

So what should you buy?

Most resource guides on the internet simply throw together a vast list of virtually everything related to the language in question, leaving you just as bewildered as you were before.

But you don't need a list - you need a guide!
But you don't need a list - you need a guide!

We know from years of experience that the Pareto principle strongly applies to language learning: you really do get 80% of the results from 20% of the materials you buy.  If we had only known at the time how to separate the textbook-wheat from the chaff, we would have saved a considerable amount of money!

And so we have come up with the solution: an all encompassing, fully-updated handbook, advising you on the best books, videos, websites, podcasts and courses to help you on your path to native-level fluency.

Concept Online Learning

We appreciate that you may not have time to read through the whole of the guide, or may just be looking to improve a particular skills.  So, in order to help you find exactly what you need with ease, we’ve grouped our recommended material into the following colour-coordinated categories:

Grammar & Vocabulary

Reading

Writing

Speaking

Listening

Bonus

Grammar & Vocabulary

Reading

Writing

Speaking

Listening

Bonus

Of course, the material that you use will vastly depend on your current French level.  (After all, there's nothing more dispiriting than working through a course that's too easy or too difficult for you!)  That’s why we have divided the guide into three sections: beginners, intermediate, and advanced – showing you exactly what you need for the stage you’re currently at.


Beginners – Grammar & Vocabulary

Grammar and vocabulary are the skeleton around which your language skills develop - you can't do anything until you've got to grips with the basics.  Obviously it's vital to choose the right material for the job.  So let's dive straight in and look at the best textbook on the market for beginners

Essential French Grammar

All-in-all the best French course available for beginners. It explains all essential grammar points clearly and thoroughly. Its end-of-chapter exercises and the glossary at the back of the book are useful for building up a good stockpile of basic French vocabulary. Should be all you need for grammar to take you up to an upper-beginner level. Very affordable price.

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Essential French Grammar

All-in-all the best French course available for beginners. It explains all essential grammar points clearly and thoroughly. Its end-of-chapter exercises and the glossary at the back of the book are useful for building up a good stockpile of basic French vocabulary. Should be all you need for grammar to take you up to intermediate level. Very affordable price.

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Pay no attention to its cheesy cover - the Essential French Grammar is far and away the best introductory French textbook on the market for beginners. Every fresh-faced language newcomer has to wade through a sea of trumped-up phrasebooks, masquerading as 'complete courses'. This insanely cheap little gem, however, is the real deal and will give you a solid beginner’s foundation in the language.

Don't expect any cheer or colour though: the style is no-nonsense and could put some people off who need to be eased into a new language. Try to look past this: all of the grammatical points are explained extremely well, with plenty of examples and supplementary exercises. The glossary and grammar tables at the back of the book come in useful if you ever forget any material that you've already covered.

Best for price
If money is tight and you can only afford to buy one book, we recommend that you get the Collins Complete French.  It's essentially three books in one: grammar, verbs, and vocabulary.  Packed full of information for a very reasonable price.
This really is a selective grammar – it teaches you what you need to know for basic communication, but no more.  In this sense, it is a great motivator as you know that everything you learn will come in useful in real life situations.

Obviously by the time you have worked your way through it, there will still be considerable gaps in your knowledge, so you should then turn to the next item on our list.

Essential French Grammar - Our Rating
94%

Of course, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t supplement Essential French Grammar with other grammar guides. There are plenty of excellent free websites on the internet that go over all the grammar that a beginner needs to learn.

  • As it’s name suggests, FrenchbyFrench is a free website created and maintained by a group of French teachers.  It’s a nice collection of well-structured lessons that cover all of the main grammar and vocabulary points that you would expect to find in a beginner’s textbook.

  • You can see as soon how much information is featured on Tex’s French Grammar just from the enormous list of topics on its homepage.  Hundreds of examples (and illustrations) for each grammatical point make this an invaluable resource even for intermediate students.

Schaum's Outline of French Grammar

Good beginner’s workbook that will take you up to a solid intermediate level. Has a fairly comprehensive grammar review as well as 550 written exercises and 90 minutes of downloadable audio files. Will keep you occupied for a long time.




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Schaum's Outline of French Grammar

Good beginner’s workbook that will take you up to a solid intermediate level. Has a fairly comprehensive grammar review as well as 550 written exercises and 90 minutes of downloadable audio files. Will keep you occupied for a long time.

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At this point you will want a book to put flesh on the bones and take your French grammar to the next level.  We recommend Schaum’s Outline of French Grammar.

The book is primarily marketed as a workbook with an ‘easy-to-follow review of French grammar’.  This is perhaps doing the comprehensiveness of its grammar coverage a disservice as it goes considerably beyond the topics covered in Essential French Grammar.

With 550 exercises and 90 minutes of downloadable audio files you can be sure that you will get your money’s worth.

What we particularly like about the exercises is that many of them are multiple choice / fill in the blank format.  We feel that these are ideal for beginner students – you don’t want to get bogged down in full-translation exercises at this point, as this will require tedious back-and-forthing with a dictionary.

Schaum's Outline of French Grammar - Our Rating
86%

The Big Blue Book of French Verbs

Solid reference book, detailing the full conjugations of 555 common French verbs. Numerous example sentences demonstrate how each verb is used in various contexts (including idoms). There is also a sizeable dictionary of 2,300 additional verbs, showing which conjugation pattern each one follows so you know how to form them correctly. A worthwhile purchase for beginners.

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The Big Blue Book of French Verbs

Solid reference book, detailing the full conjugations of 555 common French verbs. Numerous example sentences demonstrate how each verb is used in various contexts (including idoms). There is also a sizeable dictionary of 2,300 additional verbs, showing which conjugation pattern each one follows so you know how to form them correctly. A worthwhile purchase for beginners.

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The French verb is undoubtedly one of the more challenging aspects of the language – you need to get your head round it as soon as possible.

This is easier said than done.  With a confusing array of conjugation patterns, a difficult subjunctive, and countless irregulars, French verbs present a serious challenge to new learners.

Thankfully, you have at your disposal the Big Blue Book of French Verbs. It explains how each verb’s conjugation follows one of three approximate paradigms, and shows that once you have memorised these patterns, the process of learning how to use individual verbs becomes infinitely easier.

It then delivers on its promise and sets out the full conjugations of 555 common verbs, as well as listing the infinitives to 2,300 other ones in the back of the back (with their pattern number next to them).

The Big Blue Book of French Verbs - Our Rating
88%

There is a very useful online alternative to the Big Blue Book: Cooljugator allows you to simply type an English verb into its search bar, and you get the French translation in all of its conjugated forms.

It’s not as comprehensive as a dictionary or the Big Blue Book, so you shouldn’t completely rely on it. But it does have some nice features that make up for this downside: stress indicators, pronunciation hints, related verb lists, etc.

The site’s owner claims that he frequently adds new words to the database so this should become an even more powerful tool in time.

French Grammar Chart

Compact French grammar chart (six pages) covering everything from rules of stress to the various verb categories and conjugations. An essential for beginners that struggle to remember grammatical rules and want an accessible reference guide. Very reasonably priced.



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French Grammar Chart

Compact French grammar chart (six pages) covering everything from rules of stress to the various verb categories and conjugations. An essential for beginners that struggle to remember grammatical rules and want an accessible reference guide. Very reasonably priced.

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Is it possible to fit the entirety of French grammar on one wall chart?

Of course not..

But BarChart have managed to cram virtually everything a beginner French learner would need to know onto just six sheets, and for that they deserve kudos!

We are huge fans of visual learning at Language Sherpa (because it works), so we are always looking out for products that maximise on this learning technique, like the French Grammar Chart.

Simply put this colourful chart in a location that you’re likely to glance at from time to time and you will soon start to reap the benefits of having this useful reference guide at hand.

French Grammar Chart - Our Rating
81%

The Oxford Hachette French Dictionary

The undisputed king of dictionary series, the Oxford Hachette French Dictionary contains half a million words, phrases, and translations. Recent stylistic and layout improvements have made it much easier to find the word you need in its correct context. Fully updated to include contemporary business, technical and computing terminology. The best French dictionary out there.

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The Oxford Hachette French Dictionary

The undisputed king of dictionary series, the Oxford Hachette French Dictionary contains half a million words, phrases, and translations. Recent stylistic and layout improvements have made it much easier to find the word you need in its correct context. Fully updated to include contemporary business, technical and computing terminology. The best French dictionary out there.

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Dictionaries are expensive, so you don’t want to keep buying new ones on a regular basis. For this reason, it makes sense to get the best one available straight away.

With half a million words and phrases, you’ll almost certainly find a translation for whatever it is you need.  One of the best features of the Oxford series (that is often lacking in rival dictionaries) is the care they take to provide translations for words in all of their contexts, including idioms, sayings, and figurative usage. Look up a simple word, like ‘hand’, for instance, and you’ll see what we mean: it can be used in dozens of different ways, and doesn’t just refer to the human appendage.

Warning
Don't be tempted to scrimp and buy the 'Compact' version - it's surprisingly patchy. 

Dictionaries are often criticised for not keeping up to date with modern technology and innovation. The Oxford series, however, are frequently updated, meaning that if you get the most recent edition you can be sure that it will stay relevant for a good few years.

The Oxford Hachette French Dictionary - Our Rating
89%

A Frequency Dictionary of French

Lists the 5,000 most frequently used French words (with English translations), starting from most commonly used downwards. All of the words also come with example sentences. Excellent resource for filling in any important gaps in your vocabulary. Can also be used to provide a rough estimate of your vocabulary size.

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A Frequency Dictionary of French

Lists the 5,000 most frequently used French words (with English translations), starting from most commonly used downwards. All of the words also come with example sentences. Excellent resource for filling in any important gaps in your vocabulary. Can also be used to provide a rough estimate of your vocabulary size.

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When you consider that the average native speaker knows about 20-35,000 words, it’s clear that this book will do wonders for your French if you have the stamina to get to the end.

The dictionary allows you to follow a systematic programme of vocabulary learning – master the most common words and then move on to the rarer ones.

Minimum Vocabulary Required for Each CEFR Level

A1 Level:
0
Words
A2 Level:
0
Words
B1 Level:
0
Words
B2 Level:
0
Words
C1 Level:
0
Words
C2 Level:
0
Words

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One negative, however, is that it only gives limited definitions. You will probably want to cross-check with another dictionary to make sure you know what each word means across different contexts.

A Frequency Dictionary of French - Our Rating
82%

Anki

Anki is a spaced repetition flashcard programme. It uses an algorithm that learns which words you find easy to remember and which ones don’t, and adjusts how frequently it tests you on these particular words accordingly. It is completely free and easy to install.

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Anki

Anki is a spaced repetition flashcard programme. It uses an algorithm that learns which words you find easy to remember and which ones don’t, and adjusts how frequently it tests you on these particular words accordingly. It is completely free and easy to install.

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Everyone learns vocabulary in their own way – some people simply suck words in like a sponge and don’t need to make any active effort; for others, nothing seems to stick unless they learn it off by heart.

If you’re the former – great! If not, Anki will prove invaluable.

Essentially, Anki is a flashcard app. But what differentiates it from the hundreds of competitors is the spaced repetition algorithm that it uses. This means that it is able to remember which words you find more difficult to recall than others and to test you on them more frequently.   

While some of the settings can be a little fiddly, and synchronisation between phones and computers can play up, it is generally an extremely reliable app and one that we wished we had used from day one of our language learning.

Even if you only use Anki for half an hour each day, you’ll see marked improvements in your vocabulary. 

Anki - Our Rating
92%

The good thing about Anki is that sometimes you don’t even have to compile vocabulary decks yourself. If you search around on the internet, you can sometimes find pre-made decks that you can import into your folders.

One such deck, created by Neri, displays 5,000 French sentences sorted from easiest to hardest. It’s a great way to gradually build up set-phrases and connecting words. You can download the deck from here.


Beginners – Reading

Choosing reading material is not easy when you’ve just started learning a foreign language. The vast majority of books and newspapers available to you will be too challenging at this point, and yet, equally, you can’t stay tethered to the artificially simplistic exercises in your textbooks for too long.

So where is the best place to start once you’re ready to venture out into the world of literature?

Many language guides come out with the same suggestion: start with children’s books. This is TERRIBLE advice. There is nothing easy about children’s literature – especially for learners of French! Although the concepts and storylines are simplistic enough to be enjoyed by toddlers, you face a number of surprisingly tricky linguistic challenges, such as a confusing array of diminutives, strange vocabulary, and irregular sentence structure.

A far better option would be to start off with something aimed at older children/teenagers. The vocabulary in these books is still pretty simple, but the grammar is often more regular than those aimed at younger readers.

The Adventures of Tintin

Classic comic book series by Belgian artist, Hergé. Fun and interesting stories with non-complex language and sentence structure. Excellent for beginner readers to build their colloquial comprehension. Entire series can be found here.

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The Adventures of Tintin

Classic comic book series by Belgian artist, Hergé. Fun and interesting stories with non-complex language and sentence structure. Excellent for beginner readers to build their colloquial comprehension. Entire series can be found here.

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If you’ve worked through about half of Schaum's Outline, you should find it relatively easy to read one of the Tintin books.

As well as being great stories in themselves, the comic book format means that you’re reading succinct speech bubbles, rather than long sentences. This makes for good, easy practice texts while you’re still mastering trickier grammatical elements, like participles and relative clauses.

New Penguin Parallel Text: Short Stories in French

Classic short stories with the French original on the left hand page and the English translation on the opposite page. All stories are from the twentieth century and feature writers that readers may not be familiar with, giving a fresh perspective on French literature.


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New Penguin Parallel Text: Short Stories in French

Classic short stories with the French original on the left hand page and the English translation on the opposite page. All stories are from the twentieth century and feature writers that readers may not be familiar with, giving a fresh perspective on French literature.

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When you’ve finished the textbook the best thing to do is to read some French texts with parallel translations. Having to go back and forth between the book you’re reading and a dictionary can be incredibly frustrating, and often saps a lot of the fun out of reading.

This is the solution: collections of classic short stories from the twentieth century with English translations on the opposite page.

Surprisingly, that’s pretty much the only volume of French parallel texts out there.  If you want some more reading practice, we highly recommend Olly Richard’s Short Stories for Beginners.  It’s an excellent collection of unusual stories that would be perfect for any upper-beginner learner.


Beginners – Writing

It’s vital that you practise your writing as much as possible when you’ve just started learning a language. Reading and learning vocabulary is important but you won’t be able to cement all of this new information in your brain without putting pen to paper. Fortunately, there are many excellent French course books on the market. Here are the best ones:

The Ultimate French Review and Practice

Very detailed and rigorous grammar review book. Features over 400 writing exercises designed specifically to strengthen grammar skills. Categorised as an intermediate-level book, but should be a good choice for ambitious beginners that have worked through the textbooks we recommend above.

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The Ultimate French Review and Practice

Very detailed and rigorous grammar review book. Features over 400 writing exercises designed specifically to strengthen grammar skills. Categorised as an intermediate-level book, but should be a good choice for ambitious beginners that have worked through the textbooks we recommend above.

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All of the textbooks that we have selected for our grammar and vocabulary section have lots of written practice exercises.  However, if you have exhausted these tasks and want some more drills to work through then you should have a look at the Ultimate French Review and Practice.

Its enormous stock of written exercises perfectly supplements the grammar topics that you will have learned from your beginner’s textbooks.  As if that wasn’t enough, you can find an additional 250 exercises (including some audio ones) as part of the digital content that can accessed with the publisher’s app.

The Ultimate French Review and Practice - Our Rating
85%

Easy French Exercises

Simple exercise book for beginner learners of French. Broken down into 15 chapters, it features written exercises and challenges on a number of important topics, like time and directions. Great value for its low price.

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Easy French Exercises

Simple exercise book for beginner learners of French. Broken down into 15 chapters, it features written exercises and challenges on a number of important topics, like time and directions. Great value for its low price.

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If you want something a little lighter than French Review and Practice, then look no further: Easy French Exercises is an excellent little self-study workbook.

Packed full of fun puzzles, games, and written exercises, it will come in useful if you’re looking for a language refresher rather than serious drilling.  It’s a good way to ease yourself into some of the harder workbooks we recommend in this guide.

Easy French Exercises - Our Rating
75%

Beginners – Speaking

Get speaking as soon as you can! It’s the hardest (and most important) language skill, but the one that we most often neglect.

Although you could get a private tutor straight off the bat, it may be cheaper and more constructive to enrol on an evening course in your city.

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The hourly prices of these courses are often twice as cheap as those that a native speaker will charge for one-to-one tuition in your city. On the other hand, a large class will limit the amount of time you get to speak, and sitting patiently while the inevitable class laggard struggles through material that you mastered weeks ago can be incredibly irritating.

But if you can find a course with a small-number of other highly motivated participants, your speaking will make incredible progress.

Well-reviewed French courses in selected cities include:

An Introduction to French Pronunciation

Accessible guide to modern French pronunciation. Leaves no stone unturned in setting out an academic route to drastically reducing your foreign accent. Worth buying if only for the section on regional variations.

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An Introduction to French Pronunciation

Accessible guide to modern French pronunciation. Leaves no stone unturned in setting out an academic route to drastically reducing your foreign accent. Worth buying if only for the section on regional variations.

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French stands out among the Romance languages for being notoriously difficult to pronounce correctly.  While it is certainly not as difficult as languages like Mandarin Arabic, you will struggle to pass yourself off as a native without some serious effort.

An Introduction to French Pronunciation attempts to lighten the load and provides an excellent guide to current French pronunciation.

While this academic approach may not suit all learners, for others the clear and detailed chapters on word elements, rhythmic groups, and intonation may be just what they need to reduce their foreign accents.

Whatever your style, the sections on regional variations will prove to be invaluable for all students.

An Introduction to French Pronunciation - Our Rating
73%

Beginners – Listening

Girl Laptop IllustrationGood news! The rise of computer technology and the internet means that there is now an enormous amount of listening opportunities out there for you to take advantage of.

Here we narrow down the best courses, channels, and podcasts for beginners to take their listening skills to the next level

Rocket French

The best online French course for beginners looking to kickstart their listening skills. Packed full of targeted audio and writing exercises, all organised thematically. Seamless transition from desktop to mobile app, and vice versa. No subscription – a reasonable one-off fee unlocks the entire platform for life.

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Rocket French

The best online French course for beginners looking to kickstart their listening skills. Packed full of targeted audio and writing exercises, all organised thematically. Seamless transition from desktop to mobile app, and vice versa. No subscription – a reasonable one-off fee unlocks the entire platform for life.

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In compiling this guide we trialled over a dozen of the top online French courses.  Rocket French stood out as easily the best of the bunch – here’s why:

  • The content is thematic

    We are huge fans of thematic vocabulary learning (Using French Vocabulary, for instance, is an essential resource to get) as we have found that structured learning is the best way to keep words in your long-term memory. We were really pleased to see that the team at Rocket French share this viewpoint and organise their lessons along thematic lines.

  • The mobile app is brilliant

    Most language apps come across as little more than half-hearted afterthoughts. Some platforms even have the audacity to charge you extra for it. Rocket French’s mobile app (free for both iOS and Android) has been designed excellently and was far more intuitive than all of its rivals.

  • It doesn't smother you with unnecessary features

    Rocket French only provides you with the tools you need to make real progress with your French – interactive audio lessons, detailed writing exercises, and an excellent narrative story which solidifies your situational vocabulary.

  • Everything is 100% downloadable

    This means that you can sit down and get all of the material in one place – no need to keep going in and out of the site itself to use its contents.

  • Real-life audio from the start

    The sooner a student weans themselves off what we call ‘teacher-speak’, the sooner they will understand real conversations. This is what Rocket French does from the very beginning, using authentic dialogues to build your listening skills up.

  • No subscription

    Almost all online language courses nowadays charge for monthly/yearly subscriptions, meaning that over time they turn out to be very expensive. With Rocket French, however, once you’ve paid the one-off fee you get access to the full platform for life. Although the price may seem a bit steep, you then fully own all of the lessons and downloadable material inside – you’re not ‘renting it’. This means that in the long run Rocket French is probably the cheapest course on the market.

Give it a go!

Sign up for Rocket French's free trial here:

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Learn French with Free Daily Podcasts!

FrenchPod101

Incredible online language learning system. Huge number of audio and video podcast lessons, extensive vocabulary lists, personalised learning programmes, PDF worksheets, review quizzes, and many more tools. Dedicated friendly staff and frequently updated content make this an excellent resource to get your listening off the ground.

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Learn French with Free Daily Podcasts!

FrenchPod101

Incredible online language learning system. Huge number of audio and video podcast lessons, extensive vocabulary lists, personalised learning programmes, PDF worksheets, review quizzes, and many more tools. Dedicated friendly staff and frequently updated content make this an excellent resource to get your listening off the ground.

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We are naturally suspicious of online language courses, as the vast majority do not deliver on their promises – FrenchPod101 is one of the few exceptions.

For a very reasonable price you gain access to a veritable treasure trove of French learning tools and resources, including:

High quality audio and video podcast lessons

Printable PDF Lesson Notes

2000 Most Common Words List

Entertaining Review Quizzes

Database of French grammar constructions

1-to-1 Direct Instruction From Native French Speakers

Interactive Pronunciation Comparison Tool

Portable Survival Phrases Centre

A personalised learning programme

Although the lessons are probably a bit on the easy side for advanced learners, for beginners this is an absolute must-have resource.  The sheer quantity of audio and video lessons alone makes it far and away the most efficient way to improve your French listening skills.

FrenchPod101 has been expanding steadily for the last few years thanks to its dedicated team.  As it is continuously adding new content to the site you can be sure that you will always have fresh material to practice with.

FrenchPod101 - Our Rating
93%

Interested?

Create a free account at FrenchPod101 now!

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While the online courses that we’ve reviewed above are excellent, make sure you don’t neglect the thousands of free YouTube channels dedicated to teaching Russian:

Amazing Russian

Amazing Russian is hands down the best YouTube channel out there for beginners looking to improve their listening skills.

The reason why we are so enthusiastic is because it is rare to come across such a practical and educational channel on YouTube.  Most ‘learn Russian’ channels rely heavily on gimmicks and flashy appearances without delivering much substance.  But if you want to make real headway with your listening then this is the channel for you.

The videos, mostly dealing with everyday situations, effectively ease students into the listening comprehension with a steady speaking pace, core vocabulary, and optional subtitles.

Beginners – Bonus

French Keyboard Stickers

High-quality transparent stickers for laptop keyboards. Versions for both black and white keyboards available.

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French Keyboard Stickers

High-quality transparent stickers for laptop keyboards. Versions for both black and white keyboards available.

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Although French only uses a few extra letters than English, it’s still a good idea to get some keyboard stickers while you get used to their placement.

You can find a range of transparent French stickers that sit neatly on your keyboard without obscuring the original English symbols next to them.