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Learning French

Bonjour travel friends,
We hope to be in France most of April and I want to have at least a clue about reading hearing and speaking the language. I am wondering about experiences with Pimsleur or Babble, or maybe something else. I spent a few weeks on duo lingo, it was ok, but certainly not travel oriented. I am wondering if any of you have experience and recommendations for French language basic learning? With just a few months to go I think that is the best I can expect!

Posted by
930 posts

Best you can do in 3 months is to get a phrase book, or the online equivalent, and learn a few key words and phrases, learn a bit about menus, etc. I have no recommendations for the proper tool.

Posted by
16894 posts

Have a look at French In Action through It is designed to be a high school or college first-year course (with the text and workbook). The videos are entertaining and interesting, and they are free to watch online.

If you like them and want to enhance your reading comprehension, you might want to buy the text or workbook. Amazon may have used copies.

Edit: used copies of the text from $7.98

Posted by
15688 posts

Pimsleur is very good but not necessarilly geared only for travel. If you do the entire three month Pimsleur program ( parts 1. 2 & 3) you will be able to have a general conversation.

I've been using an app called Busuu with some success.

The problem with just learning phrases is you don't really understand the answers.

Posted by
6374 posts

Pimsleur is my favorite, but as Frank II said, it's not travel oriented. Take a look at Rick's French phrase book; I've been surprised at how much his phrase book cover. And perhaps Pimsleur or the YouTube video mentioned upthread to get an idea of pronunciation. There is an amazing amount of foreign language podcasts available, as well.

Posted by
2713 posts

I applaud your effort. Everywhere I’ve traveled people appreciate the effort of having a few words of their language. I found Pimsleur to be the best for me as you are hearing native speakers and mimicking them. At the time I was working and spending a lot of time in my car so it was easy to get several lessons in per day. Nonetheless you won’t be fluent in a few months. And, perchance you are then you’ve got a bigger problem-they will answer you in French and you will be lost! But, give it a go, it can be rewarding. I remember being with my wife and daughter early in our trip to Paris and telling the server in my best French we would like a bottle of white wine. She said, in perfect English, “My my your French is perfect. May I suggest this bottle?” Made it worthwhile spending all those hours shouting back at my CD player!

Posted by
6113 posts

I use with Geraldine. Helpful bite sized practical topics such as how to order a coffee etc.

Posted by
6670 posts

I'm also a Pimsleur fan, though I never get beyond the first set of discs -- which I can check out of my library. Although the Pimsleur people tell you not to use a book with them, I find that a phrasebook helps me with words I have trouble pronouncing without seeing them.

While Pimsleur isn't totally travel-oriented, its early stages focus on saying hello, asking where things are, talking about eating and drinking, using numbers, and other simple stuff travelers are likely to use. The phrasebook can fill in with other things like please, thank you, sorry, bathroom, etc.

For me, the real test of a phrasebook is how extensive a "dictionary" it has at the end, and whether it translates in both directions. I've vacillated between the Rick Steves and Lonely Planet phrasebooks, both of which have these features, but decided Lonely Planet is better because it includes pronunciations in the dictionary, while RS just gives you the words and expects you to know how to say them.

With a few months you should be able to easily learn enough French words and phrases to function on a basic tourist level. French people love to correct our vocabulary and pronunciation, and we should be grateful for that. The key is to start every interchange with "Bonjour Monsieur" or "Bonjour Madame," instead of just getting to the point. Carolyn already knows this, as you can see from the opening of her original post!

Posted by
7452 posts

I was in France last time for three weeks in 2019, traveling solo to Paris & Nice and also some less touristy locations. I used DuoLingo daily for a couple of months. It helped me a lot because I remember at first, all I could hear was “ssss” sounds and after a few weeks I was hearing words! ; )

What helped me a lot with the travel words was watching YouTube videos of French travel words. I liked watching a variety, repeating them, and wrote down some specific words beyond the RS 1-sheet page in the back of the guidebook. I also make sure to learn numbers & time since I travel by train; sometimes updates are announced vs. on the reader board.

When I’m traveling to Europe, I like to create a 2-page double-side sheet to review on the plane & each morning for the first few days. Full sentences such as “Hello, I have a reservation for one person for two nights.”, or “Good evening. I would like a table for one, please.”

Just using the Duolingo, the YouTube videos, and my sentences sheet, I was able to get around nicely at all of the locations without an issue….except at one fast-food place where everyone behind the counters were talking at once! LOL!

Posted by
1625 posts

Hi Carolyn, I am doing babble and I really love it and feel more in tune with the French Language. I like that the lessons afford me the opportunity to speak and then it tells me how my pronunciation is. They also offer live small group lessons that I plan to take advantage of. My plan was to do 15 min lessons daily, and some days I hit that and some days I don't but that is okay I can go back and review previous lessons. It's a start and I can always advance to a different program.

Posted by
3242 posts

Your local library system may have an app that you can access through them, to learn all kinds of languages.
Ours has one called Mango that is quite useful.
I think it's better than DuoLingo.

Posted by
4592 posts

focus on important words and short phrases, not things like sentence structure or conjugation. So that means memorization, which I have found is much harder for the current me than the high school me.

One site I tried once (perhaps Duolingo?) was going on about sharks and boys eating apples, which I found invaluable in my travels.

I also found myself speaking Franglish, that weird mix of English and French words. And people would do the same back to me. It's a good way to meet halfway and get your point across.

Posted by
426 posts

I liked the Michel Thomas cds since he gets to speaking full sentences right away. I also really like the Coffee Break series, which I used for Italian. They start with more basics like numbers, but still offer chances to speak full sentences rather than just words. And they use a teacher (someone from Italy)- student (the host or another of his fellow scots) format. The lessons are about 20-30 minutes each so not overwhelming. Doing that (Michel Thomas) plus flash cards for important words and phrases helped me get through France ok. Most important is say “bon jour” when walking into stores to acknowledge someone working there. I was told that by someone who had been and it’s still been recommended on this forum.

Posted by
354 posts

I did Duolingo before my first trip to Paris and it was pretty good for basic phrases.

I have found that when traveling to French speaking countries, posing questions in French without being able to understand the response is not helpful. French speakers speak quickly and seem annoyed (understandably) when I don’t understand their answers. Personally, I think they’d prefer a “Bonjour madame/monsieur ”, then a question in English, followed by a “merci. Bonne journée”.

Being able to read a bit in French would be helpful though.

I have been taking French classes for a year now and am still only at the elementary school level (and I had decent French to start with from childhood).. I don’t think you have enough time to get more than the basics.

Bon vacance!

Posted by
2912 posts

Carolyn, I’ve been using Duolingo to pick up a few French words. The early lessons seem irrelevant but as I learned more words and phrases it’s starting to make sense. I also listen/watch YouTube French travel phrase videos. I have no illusion I will be fluent or even conversant, just happy learning 30 polite basic words/phrases.

Posted by
1533 posts

I have an ongoing subscription to Babbel and I change the language prior to each trip. Except this year I am staying with French even though I am (hopefully) going to Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Czechia before I go to Paris.

I am too old and am using too much of my brain for focusing on my job to learn a foreign language. However, being somewhat familiar with the language helps immensely with reading signs and menus. Being able to say hello, please, excuse me, thank you and "I speak a very little bit of French" is helpful. So far, my experience is that locals appreciate the effort I make to start out the conversation in their language. I make my best attempt to pronounce things correctly (French is a bear!). In case I do a good job and get a response in the language that I cannot begin to understand, I have the "I speak very little of X language ready to go." Smiling and gesturing go a long way if the other person's goal is communication.

But, I don't put the effort in to impress the locals. I put the effort in to make my experience more enjoyable. Speaking some of the local language is similar to sampling the food and other cultural experiences that are on offer.

So far, my favorite language has been Swedish.

It has been fun learning French though because my husband took French from grade school through 4 semesters in College. He is trying to get me say those French R's and the nasal vowels better. He tells me that even with all of the French that he knows, can read and can speak, he would be embarrassed to try to have a full conversation with a local in France. So, I figure I've no chance, but that won't stop me from trying my best.

Posted by
32 posts

Thanks Everyone,
I ordered Rick's phrase book and Babbel. If time permits I will try the French in Action suggestion. I'm thru the first course series
on Babbel, and so far prefer it over DuoLingo. I like the presentation on verb forms and pronouns, easy to follow for me. This should
be a great workout for my senior brain!

Posted by
427 posts

I would suggest Camille's and Olivier's French Today website. There's a rich mix of free and paid content, and she is one of the few instructors who highlights the distinction between proper, written and spoken French, and the French one might hear on the street in any corner of l'Hexagone.

She's very good, and if you have any technical problems with the digital files, Olivier is extremely prompt and attentive with providing assistance.

Posted by
4 posts

I heartily second the French Today method. It is excellent. They have a Modern Phrase audiobook that would serve your purposes well. Audio is the best way. In the Modern Phrase audiobook there are tons of phrases that you might use at the market, at a restaurant, airport, taxi, hotel etc. She covers most common situations. The audiobooks display the text, and also come with a pdf. She also gives cultural tips, which are helpful. They are easy to download and to use.

For folks that want to get into the grammar and such, French Today's other audiobooks are great, as well. I've been using them for a few years as a supplement to my weekly French classes and they have helped me immensely.

Posted by
1175 posts foreign languages for travelers has pertinent phrases pronounced for shopping, dining, greetings, etc. is also your friend for more phrases useful in everyday encounters. We even learned enough Zulu to interact with our trackers using Travlang. Never did get that tongue clicking figured out......

Posted by
1170 posts

One problem is that every one will recommend the one thing they tried, but most won't try more than one method. I went with Pimsleur after reading several reviews from language experts rather than fellow travelers. The reviews I read seemed to think it, and a course offered at the U.S.Military Language School in Monterey were the best, so I went with the one option available to me. It was good and helped a lot, but only after several years and visits to France. But I wouldn't consider myself anything near conversant. If I can get through a restaurant without breaking to English, I consider that a huge success. I highly doubt you will have any sort of meaningful conversation in three months, but if you work at it, you will recognize a very few words and phrases, and be able to discern numbers if not spoken rapidly.