While there are variety of websites and apps to learn French online, sometimes a book is still the best way to learn French grammar and vocabulary. A book doesn’t rely on battery life, doesn’t need to power up before you can look something up, and it’s easy to flip back and forth between chapters. But what books should you be looking for to learn French fast?
Less than £5 will get you a basic French phrasebook from either Collins Gem, Berlitz or Eyewitness Books. These will give you the French phrases that will get you through a holiday in Paris or Lyon – French greetings, expressions, basic dialogue and some general grammar advice. But if you are serious about speaking French and need something to accompany your French classes, you will need a real grammar textbook.
A French phrasebook is a great help on holiday, but if you are serious about learning French, you need to invest in grammar books. Photo credit: byJoeLodge on VisualHunt
Some of the best books to learn French remain the Dummies series. They have easy-to-understand explanations that makes French for beginners easy and fun. They have a compendium edition ( ISBN: 978-1-118-22815-9) that includes a phrasebook, beginner French grammar, intermediate grammar and an appendix with verb tables.
Collins is always a good go-to for languages. Collins Easy Learning Complete French (ISBN-13 978-0008141721) offers a three-in-one book on grammar, verbs and some French words useful in everyday life. It is organised according to grammatical terms (verb, noun, adjective), making it easy to look up any questions about adverbs, reflexive verbs and conjuctions you might have.
The “Façon de Parler” series of textbooks by Angela Aries and Dominique Debney include both grammar lessons and French vocabulary and phrase sets to get you through everyday situations. Activity books offer more exercises to let you practice the French lessons from the textbooks.
If you feel you need to be taken a bit more in hand and need to hear things spoken to learn well, Paul Noble offers an audio course, available as a CD or on Audible.
If normal grammar textbooks bore you, here’s a challenge: a satirical study on French grammar – in French. Photo credit: APPLE BOUTIQUE on VisualHunt
Having trouble with your French lessons? Brilliant Publications offers “Unforgettable French: Memory Tricks to Help You Learn And Remember French Grammar and Vocabulary” by Maria Rice-Jones (ISBN 978-1783170937) It is divided into 6 learning units that each cover a variety of subjects, most difficult or confusing points of French grammar or French words according to theme, such as the passé composé or vocabulary words for expressing time. These are coupled with little mnemonic phrases to help you remember them.
One of the great motivation killers when trying to learn French fast is French verb conjugation:
Some people do fine learning the vocabulary words and conjugation charts from their French lessons online. Others have trouble with the traditional learning methods. Fortunately, there are a few games designed to learn the French language in a playful manner:
Once you have the basics of the French language you might find it useful to have books in French to look up grammar and verb conjugation so you can stay in the French “zone” when looking up points of grammar or vocabulary.
You can look for the current French schoolbooks online. When typing your search, remember: French schools name the grades differently. For basic schoolbooks, use the search terms “grammaire” and CM1 and CM2 (these will get you grade 4-5 textbooks, practical for beginners because the explanations will use simple language). Then, the lower the number, the higher the grade. 6ème is 6th grade, then comes 5ème (7th), 4ème (8th), 3ème (9th), 2nde (10th) and 1ère (11th). You won’t find any textbooks for Terminale (12th) because in that year French students learn philosophy instead.
The BLED is a schoolbook that has short explanations on single points of grammar, then a series of grammar exercises to consolidate it. It’s not as easy to navigate as a grammar book but it breaks down French grammar into very little chunks that are easy to learn. There are BLED books for all school grades, and a comprehensive one with a general grammar overview.
Find for more books and websites with grammar exercises here.
The Bescherelle is THE French book for verb conjugations. The Bescherelle publishers, in addition to their conjugation book, also offer board games to make speaking French fun. If you want a quick reference with free French verb conjugations, visit http://bescherelle.com. You will also find dictations, quizzes and online games, as well as an app for easy French lessons.
Learn French verb conjugation with the French verb bible: the Bescherelle. Photo credit: Cesar Pics on VisualHunt.com
You might also want to invest in a French-French dictionary that will explain words rather than give a translation that may not suit in all cases.
Of course, you can learn all the grammar you want, if the only word you know is “bonjour”, you won’t get very far on your next French holiday. Here are some good books and flash cards to learn French fast.
Vocabulary books have lists of words arranged according to certain themes. You can find them from T&P Book Publishing: “French Vocabulary for English Speakers” by Andrey Taranov, ISBN 978-1780712956 and from the same author “English French Theme-Based Dictionary”, Kindle Edition, ISSN B00DR9OGOW)
More useful for learning than vocabulary books are flash cards. Of course, you can make your own from vocabulary lists or use flash card apps, but you can buy ready-made flash cards as well:
Another interesting flash card concept are audio flash cards by Talk in French (ASIN: B06WW6Z8KR) with audio drills.
Of course, the ultimate vocabulary book is a dictionary. Photo credit: Tim Green aka atoach on Visualhunt
Not everyone learns well with flash cards. Some people need a more visual way of learning French words. Picture books for adults and children are a wonderful way to associate words with things, rather than translating them in your head. After all, it’s how you learned English as a child!
Usborne also has a “Listen and Learn” book for learning French. The scope of words is limited but you can listen to all of them and learn them by sound.
Make sure your French is street-ready with books such as “Colloquial French” by Frédéric Bilbard (ISBN 978-1503352506), “Excuse my French” by Rachel Best and Jean-Christophe van Waes (ISBN) and “Dirty French: Everyday Slang from ‘What’s up?’ to ‘F*%# off!’” by Adrien Clautrier and Henry Rowe (ISBN 978-1569756584).
The best way to learn a language is in context – with films, series and by reading newspapers and stories. There are story collections specifically aimed at people who are learning French:
If all this doesn’t satisfy your desire to learn French, you can also consider a private tutor. Searching for French lessons London produces the most results on Superprof.