According to the makers of Duolingo, 34 hours on the app are equivalent to a semester of university-level education. Available on iOS and Android, it uses a game-like format to deliver bite-sized lessons in vocabulary, grammar, writing, pronunciation, and listening. Far from time-consuming, users can advance through three or four units in just 20 minutes. The only potential downside is that you have to follow a set path and can’t pick and choose topics to focus on. Nevertheless, Duolingo has been ranked as the highest-rated French learning app on the Apple App Store and won Google Play’s Best of the Best award in 2013.
Like many other apps, Busuu is based on a comprehensive learning component covering grammar, vocabulary and writing. However, its unique selling point is its social network, which allows users to improve their speaking and listening skills by connecting and interacting with a community of native French speakers. Busuu costs €14.99 per month and is available on iOS and Android and was rated by Apple as one of 2014’s “Best Apps”. As with all forms of human-led learning, there’s some potential for disparity in the quality of feedback depending on the native speaker you connect with.
Brainscape aims to improve users’ vocabulary development and retention through adaptive flashcards as well as listening and speaking tools. The app claims to have the best-designed custom algorithm to drill users on French vocab through ‘confidence-based repetition’. It also has a Sentence Builder component that allows users to master grammar concepts by translating increasingly advanced sentences. Some other highlights include the app’s features for developing knowledge on French history and popular culture. Brainscape is free and can be downloaded on iOS and Android.
Le Conjugueur (“The Conjugator”) aims to make French verb conjugations easier to grasp. Users can practice translating verbs and identify the right tenses to be used in different contexts. The app helpfully provides explanations on key grammar rules and highlights any misspellings. Le Conjugueur lets users look up 9,000 French verbs to find out how they are conjugated and guides them through irregular or less common tenses to reduce the likelihood of errors. The app can be used offline and is available for Android and iOS.
For decades, Rosetta Stone has been one of the leading providers of language learning in the world. What sets its app apart is that it is an entirely immersive form of learning: from the outset, the course and instructions are all in French. The goal is to simulate the most conducive learning environment by linking concepts to their French words instead of the English. This method has its advantages but may be better suited to more advanced learners. This iOS and Android app doesn’t come cheap but a free trial is available.
FluentU uses video-based learning where users of different levels can watch real French clips – TV shows, commercials, and YouTube videos – and then be tested on them. The videos are subtitled with definitions and language explanations, helping users to improve their listening skills, understand French culture, and identify accents and common expressions. Other features include video transcripts, grammar points, and the “learn mode” tool with multiple choice questions. The app has 50 million users worldwide but it is only free for the first 15 days. It is available on iOS and will soon be downloadable on Android.
MindSnacks is available on iOS and uses a game-oriented approach for learning and revising French words. The app is divided into different units focusing on different subjects like food, transport, and jobs. There are over 50 vocabulary sets available and more than 40 hours of games for users to engage with. To help develop listening skills and understand the correct pronunciation, each word is accompanied by audio clips for users to practice. While this €4.99 app is simple and interactive, it is more student-focused than other apps.
What makes this app stand out is its use of spaced repetition software (SRS) when presenting new words. This determines when words should be presented for the user to revise, which is to say just before they are about to be forgotten. The result is that words are better retained. The app has over 14 categories and 100 sub-categories containing conversations and audio files to help users learn. Plus, it has an audio phrasebook with over 3,000 phrases. MosaLingua is available on iOS for €4.99 and Android for €5.99.
Memrise uses a unique learning methodology: rather than teaching words through pictures, it does so through humorous phrases to help users better understand the word and grammar in context. These phrases are not created by professionals but instead submitted by other users of the app to show how they are understanding the language through applying it in a joke. The app features various modules from Basic to Advanced levels. The words are presented fifteen at a time in an interactive and simple format. The app is available for download on both iOS and Android.
You can’t hope to learn a new language – or significantly improve your use of one you learned long ago – without the help of a good dictionary. For that, look no further than the Larousse English-French dictionary. It’s far better than relying on Google Translate, which can get more and more inventive the longer the phrase you’re looking to understand becomes, and it provides context and connotation for every word. The app also contains useful lists of idioms and everyday phrases and a tool for sounding out pronunciation.