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?
Basic French Grammar Books for Beginners
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.
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Grammar lessons in book form
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.
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.
Mastering French verbs
One of the great motivation killers when trying to learn French fast is French verb conjugation:
- “1000 French Verbs in Context”by Alex Forero (also available in an audio version) gives examples for the use of common French verbs in sentences, making it easier to study your vocabulary and conjugation.
- Frederic Bilbard’s “French Verb Drills Megabundle”, available for Kindle (Amazon has an app for your smartphone if you don’t own one), helps you with French verb tenses and pronunciation, as it is narrated by a native French speaker.
Learning French with Games
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:
- Brainbox Games’ Let’s Learn French lets you study and revise French grammar and vocabulary with a card game.
- Kloo Games has card games and board games for all ages to learn to speak French and consolidate what you already know.
- Usborne also a French vocabulary Snap game.
French-Language Grammar Books
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.
Learning French Grammar with Textbooks
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.
French verb conjugations at your fingertips
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.
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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.
French Vocabulary Books
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 list books
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)
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Flashcards and notes
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:
- Usborne has a series of image-based flashcards with 200 French words, as does Berlitz (ISBN 978-1780044644).
- Flash Sticks has an interesting concept: flashcards on post-it notes you can scatter about your house. They are colour-coded (for example, masculine nouns are on blue sticky notes, feminine ones on pink ones).
Another interesting flash card concept are audio flash cards by Talk in French (ASIN: B06WW6Z8KR) with audio drills.
Check for French language lessons for beginners here.
Picture vocabulary books
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!
- The Caillou First French Word Book von Chouette Publishing (ISBN 978-2897183059) is aimed at children, but don’t let that stop you! The illustrations are adorable, and you will always have a smile on your face when you learn your French vocabulary.
- The Usborne First Thousand Words in French ( ISBN 978-1409566113) is similar to the Caillou book, with drawn illustrations. The style is not as naive as the Caillou book, but still very sweet.
- Le Grand Imagier Photos des Petits is by Larousse, the main French publisher for dictionaries. It is a word book with tonnes of words in many categories, illustrated by photos. No English translations, here, though!
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.
French slang and colloquialisms
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).
Beginner French Texts and Stories
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:
- French Short Stories for Beginners: 8 unconventional short stories by Olly Richards and Richard Simcott (ISBN 978-1522741138)
- Learn French With Stories by Frédéric Bilbard (ISBN 978-1540498854) has the stories as audio files as well, so you can hear the words pronounced.
- French: Short Stories for Intermediate Level by Frédéric Bilbard (ISBN 978-1540498854 ) with audio files for those with more advanced French skills.
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.
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