What Is the Best Way to Learn French?

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Learn French - Immersion

The best way to learn French is to be immersed in it, which means living for an extended period of time (a year is good) in France, Québec, or another French-speaking country. Immersion is particularly helpful in conjunction with French study - either after you've spent some time studying French (that is, once you have some knowledge of French and are ready to immerse yourself) or while taking classes for the first time.

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Learn French - Study in France

Immersion is the best way to learn French, and in an ideal world, you would not only live in a French-speaking country but take classes in a French school there at the same time. However, if you can't or don't want to live in France for an extended period of time, you can still do a week- or month-long program at a French school.

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Learn French - French Classes

If you can't live or study in France, the next best option for learning French is to take a French class where you live. The Alliance française has branches all over the world - there is likely to be one near you. Other good options are community colleges and adult education programs.

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Learn French - French Tutor

Studying with a personal tutor is another excellent way to learn French. You'll get personal attention and plenty of opportunity to talk. On the downside, it's obviously more expensive than a class and you will be interacting with only one person. To find a French tutor, check the announcement boards at your local high school, community college, senior center, or library.

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Learn French - Correspondence Classes

If you don't have time to take a French class or even learn with a personal tutor, a French correspondence class might be a good option for you - you'll be learning on your own time, but with the guidance of a professor to whom you can direct all of your questions. This is a great supplement to independent study.

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Learn French - Online Lessons

If you truly don't have the time or money to take any kind of French class, you have no choice but to go it alone. Learning French independently is not ideal, but it can be done, at least up to a point. With online lessons such as those found on this site, you can learn a great deal of French grammar and vocabulary, and use the sound files to work on your French pronunciation and listening. There's also a checklist of lessons to help you learn progressively, and you can always ask questions and get corrections/feedback in the forum. But at some point you will need to supplement your French learning with personal interaction.

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Learn French - Software

Another independent French learning tool is French software. However, not all software is created equal. A program may promise to teach you a year's worth of French in a week, but since that's impossible, the software is likely to be garbage. More expensive often - but not always - means better software. Do some research and ask for opinions before investing - here are my picks for the best French learning software.

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Learn French - Audio Tapes/CDs

For independent students, another way to learn French is with audio tapes and CDs. On one hand, these provide listening practice, which is the most difficult part of French learning to do on your own. On the other, at some point, you will still need to interact with actual French speakers.

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Learn French - Books

One final way to learn (some) French is with books. By nature, these are limited - there is only so much you can learn from a book, and they can only cover reading/writing, not listening/speaking. But, as with software and the internet, French books can help you to learn some French on your own.

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Learn French - Pen Pals

On the forum, I often see requests for "a pen pal to help me learn French." While pen pals are certainly useful for practicing French, expecting to learn French from one is a bad idea. First of all, if the two pen pals are both beginners, you will both make mistakes - how can you learn anything? Secondly, even if your pen pal speaks French fluently, how much time can you really expect this person to spend teaching you for free, and how systematic can it be? You really need some kind of a class or program.

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