Building and optimizing a set of apps for learning French was at the core of my French experiment. I spent a fair amount of time on deliberately selecting each of them, and, quite expectedly, they played the major role in helping me to maintain my interest in French throughout my challenge.
In this post, I share what I ended up with having on my phone: app by app.
French learning apps for building vocabulary
Memrise. Long-time readers know that I’m a huge proponent of Memrise when it comes to dealing with anything-vocabulary-related in any language, French included. However, there is a whole bunch of alternatives to this app, and the (non-exhaustive) list includes Duolingo, Busuu, MosaLingua, RosettaStone, Mind Snacks and Brainscape.
“What the hell is a difference?” you might ask, – and I’d just shrug my shoulders. All these French language learning apps are based on some kind of spaced repetition system integrated into a set of vocabulary flashcards. There are, perhaps, minor differences in individual SRSs I’m not aware of, but it doesn’t matter. Whatever app you choose, all it will do is load you up with vocabulary.
I prefer Memrise just because I got used to it. I’ve been using this app for more than 4 years by now and I have a Russian-based Pro account that costs me around $10/year. Why would I change it, right? Plus, Memrise recently introduced a lot of terrific features like native speaker videos, pronunciation modes and inductive grammar lessons that make learning more fun and effective. (Here’s the link for my Memrise review, if you want to learn about all the new stuff in this app).
Apps for learning to speak French
Vocabulary builders are cute and self-comforting. No joke. Nothing can be more reassuring than almost an hour spent in TTC playing with Memrise and “working on my French”.
But let’s admit it, Memrise alone (or any other toy you choose from Play Store or App Store) will not magically turn you into a fluent speaker of French. But since very few people can actually suck it up, put down their phones with all those fancy apps for learning French and go out there for a meeting of Polyglot club, here are some cheat codes:
Pimsleur. I learned about it from a TED talk by Stephen Duneier, and now Pimsleur is my personal savior in any language learning situation. Because… here’s a thing. The mere thought of speaking in a foreign language paralyzes me. In worst case scenarios, I end up staring in the eyes of a native speaker like a deer in the headlights. That’s why I consider it essential to have my tongue trained in saying certain things (at least “Bonjour!”) automatically. Pimsleur does precisely that: it forces you to speak French – on the daily basis – and drills essential phrases into your brain until they become automatic. Pimsleur courses are pricey but they give the confidence you need to start speaking.
For bolder people not suffering from the “dear in headlights” syndrome, there are Tandem and HelloTalk. There you have a chance to catch natives and chat with them either via texting or via a videocall. For bolder people who don’t mind investing in professionally guided learning there is also iTalki. The purpose of this app is the same, but you rather get a language teacher than stumble accross a random native speaker. All three are not just apps for learning French per se but rather apps for learning languages in general (however, there’s a lot of francophones in each community). Currently, HelloTalk has the most users (over 5+M downloads on Play Store, seriously), so it makes more sense to go with this one.
Dictionaries and other apps for learning French
I strongly believe that a good monolingual learner’s dictionary is a must-have.
Now, there are, of course, a bunch of French dictionaries with big names like Larousse, Le Robert and Collins but they cost money so I don’t use them. Instead, I found this little gem called Dictionnaire Francais by Livio that covers all my needs for free. This dictionary provides a detailed list of definitions with examples, pronunciation, some synonyms/antonyms, and even a primitive translation into several major European languages. It also gives a full list of verb conjugations. And it’s offline.
I also use a bilingual French-English dictionary by Dictamp. The reasoning behind this choice was similar: this app has a good deal of clear definitions with examples, pronunciation and synonyms. It also has a “training” function which I never end up using; but theoretically this dictionary can create flashcards to review and memorize words you looked up.
Finally, there’s Context.Reverso which is another must-have in whatever language I learn. This app is indispensable for those who plan to write in French at least from time to time, because it drastically decreases the number of awkward phrases you may produce. It also helps in solving all those awful dilemmas like “demander de or demander à“.
French language learning apps for grammar enthusiasts
Here, I really have to make a point: you don’t need to spend your time practicing French verb conjugation with Le Conjugueur if you learn French just to find your way around in Paris. I covered motivation matters in this article, so if you’re not quite sure what you should be focusing on you probably want to read it first before jumping in.
However, if you’re a French Major or if you’re preparing for something like DELF then you’re most welcomed to use any of these French learning apps:
Dr. French – well, that’s The French Grammar for you. Compiled. In French. With exercises.
I personally found this app extremely helpful at every stage of my learning from A1 to C2. You can use Dr. French to get quick peeks into French grammar at the very beginning (to understand how to negate verbs, for example). Or you can mindfully drill specific aspects of French grammar such as La concordance des temps or Le Subjonctif. How and to what extent you use Dr. French will depend on your proficiency level. Even now, I keep it for a quick grammar reference or for a random memory-refresh with “grammar puzzles”.
Français Authéntique – there is literally a zero chance that you have never heard of FA during your French learning journey. So if for some reason you decided to ignore it – go get it now, because it’s literally one of the best apps for learning French ever created. Francais Authentique is a repositorium of videos, podcasts, and articles en Français about the French language, the French culture, and France itself. And Johan, the creator of FA, is the most comprehensible native speaker you can find on the web. So if you have trouble understanding spoken French, try his videos on Français Authentique.
Build your combo of French learning apps
I just listed around 10 apps for learning French (and briefly mentioned eight more). Now, do you have to install them all?
Not necessary. In my opinion, having a dozen apps on your phone just for learning French is insane. It’s also nearly impossible to use so many on a daily basis. And even if you get them all, you will forget about a half of them within a week.
Instead, I recommend you to limit the number of apps you use but take the most them. Simply choose one from each category defined here. You don’t need both Memrise and Duolingo because their function is essentially the same. So just pick one. Instead of jumping between iTalki and HelloTalk, choose the app that satisfies your “speaking practice” needs the most and ignore the rest. Finally, if you know in advance that you’re not going to do any grammar drills in French – there’s no point of installing Dr. French.
Only when you define your priorities, apps for learning French can turn from distracting toys into power tools that boost your learning. So start with that.
Image credits: Photo by David Švihovec on Unsplash