Down The Rabbit Hole: How to learn French with Youtube

How I managed to learn French with YouTube without going down the rabbit hole

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Last summer, I decided that I need a challenge and that learning French for 3 hours a day for fifty days straight would be a great idea. And so I did it. Aside from reading and studying grammar for two hours, I spent at least one hour a day on YouTube watching French videos.

Results?

After these 50 days, I was able to fully understand spoken French, listen to French audiobooks as if they were in English and ultimately study in this language.

In this post, I share what I did to learn French with YouTube effectively.

My way of learning French on Youtube

For human beings, watching Youtube appears to be a very natural activity: on par with breathing, eating and sleeping. Needless to say, that hour of daily French from Youtube quickly became the most exciting part of my learning experiment.

The watching sessions were relatively effortless on my part. All I needed is to maintain a rather high level of mental focus and do a real effort to understand the speech.

Although some recommend to approach Youtube with a pen and a paper and take notes of every new expression encountered, I ignored this advice altogether. I assumed that if an expression or a word is frequent enough, my brain would learn it incidentally anyway by the 50th day. And if not, then I probably donèt need it anyway.

I also did not reply the same video twice even a single time. Nevertheless, it is an insanely useful strategy for beginners. (I’m using it now to learn Spanish).

So all I did during my French YouTube hours was exercising narrow listening. But before I could relax and allow my brain to naturally tune into the language, I had to set up the system.

And it didn’t go as smooth as I expected.

Down the rabbit hole

Youtube is a wonderful tool for language learners for various reasons. It has terabytes of French videos, provides speech samples from a variety of dialects, and is free. But… suggesting a beginner to learn French with Youtube is like giving matches to a toddler. You know why?

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

My favorite quote from Far Cry 3 Alice’s adventures in Wonderland

This is exactly what was going on during my first “field trips” to YouTube for learning French. I could be watching a video about imparfait and passé composé, and my eyeballs would hungrily explore the content of the Watch Later sidebar:

4 astuces pour améliorer ton français écrit…
Why we struggle learning languages…
Adorable elephant attempts to play with a cat…

Wait, what? An elephant?! Playing with a cat?!

Needless to say that the next minute I find myself watching another baby elephant compilation. Ugggh.

How to learn French on Youtube: removing distractions

After making a similar mistake several times and wasting my precious language learning hour on mindless surfing on the Youtube dumpster, I made a rule.

Looking for videos to watch and watching them must be two separate activities.

Since then, I go on video hunting only once a week and with a very particular goal in mind. This goal is to find a new French channel or to replenish my “watch later” playlist with new potentially interesting videos in French. I prefer to keep my Watch Later list having at least 20 videos, which is typically enough for a week.

Second, I keep a separate “watch later” list for learning French on Youtube. Theoretically, it’s just another playlist, which I happen to name à regarder en français. The reason for keeping your French learning videos in isolation is obvious. (Just take a minute and look what’s inside your general Watch Later playlist).

Third, I always create quick access to any of my learning materials. In the case of Youtube, it was creating a bookmark with à regarder en français and saving it on the bookmark panel. The fewer clicks I have to make the less temptation I have to forfeit the task halfway. Moreover, this way I avoid getting caught by another TED talk about someone’s reason to travel 196 countries showing up on my Youtube homepage.

Sometimes, it is useful to create a totally separate Youtube account for learning languages. YouTube bases all its recommendation on what you’ve already watched. So if you regularly watch videos in French, more of them will appear as recommended. Such a system will greatly facilitate your choice of what to watch next.

How to find Youtube channels for learning French

I follow a very minimalistic approach to everything, including language learning. So instead of choosing a hundred and one Youtube channels for learning French, I literally came up with four. I stuck to one at the very beginning and added three more as I gained enough confidence with spoken language.

But in order to pick those 2-3 bloggers whom I’d watch for the next 2-3 months, I often have to weed through a couple of dozen channels. So I make my choice according to three criteria:

#1: Language

It should be obvious enough but if your goal is to learn French with Youtube, then videos you watch should be in French. Not in English. I automatically reject bloggers who try to explain points of French grammar, phonology or semantics in English. The very first sign of such channels is video titles written in English.

That’s why I didn’t go with the channels like Learn French with Alexa or Learn French with Vincent.

#2: Interest

The human brain has a natural tendeny to focus on things that matter to us. Likewise, it checks out within the first ten minutes, if exposed to the boring stuff1. And as far as my own brain is concerned, the language I don’t understand is categorized as “boring stuff” by default.

That’s why I always look for bloggers who make videos on the topic of my interest. The desire to learn something new about my hobbies motivates me to try to make sense of the mysterious sequence of French sounds for longer.

#3: Intelligibility

People speak differently. Speed, enunciation, vocabulary, even a dialect – all these matter when I’m choosing Youtube channels for learning French. If I don’t understand at least 1/5 of what is being said, it’s of little use.

Nevertheless, I often save interesting but temporarily unaccessible channels and return to them later.

Finally, my strategy for finding French Youtube channels in the first place is simple comme bonjour. I simply make a list of French keywords associated with some topics of my interest (routine matinale, confiance en soi, natation, etc) and hit the search.

Youtube channel I used to learn French

As I said, I set off to learn French with just one Youtube channel in mind. It was Français Authentique. Nothing, in my opinion, is better suited for the needs of beginner to intermediate French learners.

The whole channel is in French. Nevertheless, Johan speaks very slowly, clearly and, so to say, calmly; my brain always had plenty of time to catch up with meaning.

Another reason his French is so easy to understand is his lexical choice: he uses very simple vocabulary. So for me, watching Français Authentique was like reading an adapted novel.

I could watch Français Authentique for years and never come to an end of it. But as my level of listening comprehension advanced (and it happened within a month), I shifted towards other French channels.

Watching French YouTube

My transitioning from Français Authentique to other French YouTubers (who didn’t adapt their videos for language learners) wasn’t very smooth. In fact, I found myself in a very awkward position. I was already annoyed by Johan speaking too slow and still frustrated by, say, David Laroche speaking too fast.

What saved me was one amazing Youtube setting called video speed. So I did two things:

#1: I accelerated the speed of Johan’s videos (1.25x was fairly comfortable)
#2: I slowed down my other three YouTube channels to 0.75x

I spent two more weeks watching French YouTube in slow-motion but it helped me to quickly pick up new vocabulary from three of my YouTube “teachers”. Who were they?

Olivier Roland – French entrepreneur with almost a thousand of videos about business, self-development, and learning;
David Laroche – very eloquent guy with a deep voice who makes inspirational videos on self-confidence, motivation, and success;
Théophile Eliet – another French vlogger who covers topics of financial independence, investment, and marketing;

As you can see, these channels have nothing to do with learning French per se. What was important for me is the opportunity to explore interesting topics in my target language. I was able to put my embryonic French skills right to use.

Learn French with Youtube

I can summarize my strategy this way:

  • Find 2-3 authentic French channels building on your interests and proficiency level;
  • Create a special French à regarder plus tard list and pin it to the bookmark panel;
  • Spend at least one hour a day watching videos you chose, focusing as much as you can;

Thus, bit by bit, you’ll expand your vocabulary, naturally improve your listening skills and build up your confidence with spoken French.


Image Credits: Photo by Szabo Viktor on Unsplash

Author Details
Polyglot, Author and Founder of Linguapath
Hey! I am Alina Kuimova, and my long-lasting obsession with learning languages led to creation of this site. Apart from being a grammar enthousiast, I enjoy reading smart books in any language available, finding easier ways for the brain to learn things and buffing productivity stats by 180%.
  1. John Medina – Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

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