Homeschooling and Learning French

Learning French at Home:

Eiffel Tower at night from hotel window
Eiffel Tower at night from hotel window

It's hard to find good options for learning a foreign language as a homeschooler. To me the best way to learn foreign languages is through immersion, or being in a situation where everyone is speaking that language exclusively. In school, there are daily classes that can be taught as immersion classes. This is harder to set up as a homeschooler. Homeschoolers frequently use tutors, but their cost can be prohibitive especially for daily lessons which result in the best progress. For beginning foreign language learners, homeschooling families can find a teacher and form their own classes. There are audio and software language programs available, but they vary widely in quality.

We used the typical homeschool resources for learning a language:  audio and computer programs, a homeschool co-op class, and a tutor. I had a background in French from school, so could help some with basics. My daughter and I worked on French together, and I found it slowly coming back to me also.

pedestrian shopping street in Paris
pedestrian shopping street in Paris


We got to the point where we started looking for a more intensive program and found the Contacts: Langue et Culture francaises program by Jean-Paul and Rebecca Valette. It is the equivalent of the first year of college French, and includes a text, audio tapes, and a lab book. We went through the course at our own pace and found it very good. (Please be aware there are some errors in the lab book, though.) After that, we felt the need for a regular immersion class and took a year of immersion classes at a local university extension school which included four hours a week of class for the first semester and a lot of reading, grammar, listening, speaking, and writing in French. The second semester was mainly web-based. It included keeping a blog in French, participating in online discussions in French, lots of reading, watching videos, more grammar and four 5-hour Saturday immersion sessions which included eating lunch together and chatting in French while we ate. We found that our French performance increased greatly that one year.

I recently got Tell Me More French Performanceby Auralog and am pretty happy with it. Because it has 10 levels and three modes of working in it, I find I can start at the point where I feel comfortable, and change the working mode to suit my mood.

Another good program is "French in Action", a PBS series that is available for purchase through Annenburg. It is expensive, but can often be found in libraries.

I found Friends Abroad, a website for finding international penpals who are interested in learning another language, last year, and found several French-speaking penpals through the site. The site is set up so you can "correct" the other person's English email before you send yours in the chosen language. They receive both your email and a corrected version of their email. Friends Abroad also has a "chat" or IM option and a talking option through Skype. Friends Abroad members must be at least 16 years old, so it isn't an option for young children. My daughter started using it when she turned 16. For ways to insert accents in your typing see Dawn Ontario's How to Produce Accents page. The page also explains an easy way to type French accents in Microsoft Word under "Microsoft Word Shortcuts".

This year my daughter has two French penpals through Friends Abroad. They write to each other two to three times a week. I have also had a penpal through Friends Abroad for over a year. We were fortunate to be able to meet and spend a wonderful evening with her and her lovely family on a trip to Paris last year.

If you are trying to learn a language on your own, there are several software programs available. These can be supplemented by watching French movies (with or without subtitles). We find French videos at the library and on cable movie channels. Also many English language dvds now come with the option of viewing them in French or Spanish. Le, France 3. Fr, and TF1 have short videos online.

We found several resources for listening to and reading French on the Internet. Radio France International (RFI) has a special section for learning language here with a variety of activities including Le journal en français facile with news broadcasts given at a slightly slower speed. BBC Afrique also has news articles and news broadcasts in French. One Thing in a French Day has podcasts in French with text that you can read along with. Chante France is an online radio station with French pop artists.

There are also several online French reading opportunities. Le Figaro and Le Monde are French newspapers that have online access. A search on Google France for French language blogs in an area that interests you (such as cooking) will bring up blogs in French. There are also links for some French blogs in my blogroll.

We've found we can cobble together a French learning atmosphere using a variety of resources. The most important thing we discovered was to practice speaking, reading, and writing French on a regular basis and to have regular opportunities to hear native spoken French.  We found resources we enjoyed so we were motivated to continue using them.

Reference Resources online: is an online English/French and French/English dictionary (It's also available in Spanish and Italian.) that is very helpful when you're writing in French on the computer. It also has a forum you can join. You can then post questions about words or phrases you can't find. They have always been answered very quickly for us by native French speakers. Wikipédia is a French language version of Wikipedia. You can listen to pronunciation of French vowels and consonent sounds on has a lot of helpful information on French grammar. has online French classes that begin with a placement test so you will start at the appropriate level. BBC has beginning and intermediate French language classes online. The "Ma France" units have interactive videos with comprehension questions.

Reference Resources Books:

Schoenhof's Foreign Books is a wonderful retail foreign bookstore in Cambridge, MA. that also has a website. The website is being reconstructed, so may not be working perfectly right now.

Here are some of our favorite reference books.

Dictionaries and Thesauruses:

Harrap's Shorter French Dictionary published by Chambers Harrap Publishers * Huge, but very complete.

Larousse Advanced French-English/English-French Dictionary by Editors of Larousse

Larousse Concise Dictionary: French-English/English-French by Editors of Larousse A good paperback size. *

Le Petit Larousse Illustre 2007 edited by Larousse (This is more like an illustrated desk encyclopedia - it is completely in French.) *

The Cambridge French-English Thesaurus by Marie-Noklle Lamy and Richard Towell

Using French Synonyms

by R. E. Batchelor and M. H. Offord


Ensemble: Grammaire en action by Raymond F. Comeau and Normand J. Lamoureux This is a complete course in French grammar. We used it as a text in our university extension class. *

The Ultimate French Review and Practice by David M Stillman and Ronni L Gordon *

Advanced French Grammar by Monique L'Huillier *


Bescherelle: Complete Guide to Conjugating 12000 French Verbs edited by Bescherelle (English version) -- These are the best for conjugating verbs. If you have Bescherelle, you don't need other French verb books. *

Bescherelle: La Conjugaison Pour Tous by Frederique Hatier (French version - completely in French)


Mastering French Vocabulary: A Thematic Approach (Mastering Vocabulary Series) by Wolfgang Fischer

Using French Vocabulary by Jean H. Duffy

French for Reading by Karl C. Sandberg and Eddison C. Tatham *

Tune Up Your French: Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken French by Natalie Schorr *

Reading Practice:

Pauvre Anne by Lisa Ray Turner and Blaine Ray This is an "early reader" level book in French. There is a series of the readers by these authors.

Ensemble, Littérature by Raymond F. Comeau and Normand J. Lamoureux This is wonderful with glossaries on each page and a CD for listening to several selections in the book. We used it for one of our texts in our university extension class. *

Easy French Reader by R. de Roussy de Sales

French for Reading by Karl C. Sandberg and Eddison C. Tatham *

French Stories / Contes Français (A Dual-Language Book) by Wallace Fowlie *

Fun Books to read:

Le Petit Nicolas by Sempe-Goscinny There is a series of the Nicholas books. *

Les Aventures de Tintinby Herge *

Many comics in book form are available in French and there are also French comic series such as Tintin, Lucky Luke, and Nathalie. We bought several when we were in France including a Garfield and a Nathalie, but there is a large selection online here. You have to buy a minimum of five books. Canadian online bookstores are another possibility. Fichtre is an online Canadian bookstore that specializes in French comic books. For more on using comics for learning to read, please see my previous post on "Homeschooling — Comic books and Learning to read" .

mini cars Paris
mini cars Paris