1 Book, 1 Film, 1 Podcast: French

January 18, 2022

It’s a language that most of us in the UK started learning at a young age; few Brits can remember a time before we knew how to say ‘bonjour’ or ‘merci’. So, many people make the mistake of associating French with that miserable world of vocab lists, verb drills and the dreaded oral exam. But clinging onto this image of French is to ignore the vast beauty and expressiveness of the language. 

You see, from childhood, the French are taught a special brand of devotion to their mother tongue that few populations truly share. This results in, not only such cultural phenomena as the Académie Française, but an essence of the poetic, a certain je ne sais quoi, in even the most banal of addresses between French people. It’s no wonder, then, that so many choose to look past the challenges and devote themselves to mastering this enchanting language.

In the tangle of peculiarities that can be found in an average French class, from word gender to irregular past participles, it’s easy to forget that French is actually relatively close to English. Our two languages share a lot of history, starting from the Norman invasion in 1066, and, as a result, have a good deal of common vocabulary. From the more subtle ones - ‘route’, ‘justice’, ‘souvenir’ - to full-on frenchisms - ‘bon appétit’, ‘déjà vu’, ‘au contraire’ - traces of French are everywhere we look; we couldn’t escape them even if we wanted to. This vast bank of shared words certainly makes it easier to pop across the Channel and understand snatches of what’s being said around you.

That said, becoming fluent in French, as with any other language, is no walk in the park. If you want to master the language, spoon feeding by teachers isn’t going to cut it. This is your time to take control and become an independent learner. Your formal French lessons will be reduced to mere bits on the side next to the mountain of authentic French content you’ll need to independently expose yourself to in order to reach those higher echelons of fluency. So, we’re here to offer you a few suggestions on where to start with this content. Improving your French doesn’t have to be a chore; with our recommendations it can become a hobby instead!

Book: Art, 1994, by Yasmina Reza

First up is Art, a play centred on themes of beauty, interpretation and subjectivity. This is possibly a slightly left-of-field book recommendation as it’s not technically a novel or a non-fiction work. But reading plays is a wonderful activity for language learners as it offers all the benefits of a reading experience without the need to consult a dictionary every two minutes.

Art is set over the course of an evening and depicts three friends gathering for dinner. The conversation quickly turns heated as they express their contrasting feelings on a painting that their host has recently bought. The play presents questions around class, taste, and, of course, art itself and is incredibly thought-provoking. It quickly became an international success when it was first performed so you may well have seen it staged in English. But even if you have, reading a text in its original language is a unique experience and is one you should grasp with both hands.

Film: Entre les murs, 2008

I confess this is a somewhat sentimental choice on my part as Entre Les Murs was the first French film I managed to watch (and understand) entirely without subtitles. Most language learners will recall their version of this landmark but every time I return to Entre Les Murs I’m reminded of how excellent it is in its own right. The film tracks the journey of a French teacher as he embarks upon another year at his school on the outskirts of Paris. Throughout the course of the film, he encounters students of diverse backgrounds and attitudes who variously challenge, anger and inspire him.

This film is consistently funny and touching without overdoing the sentiment, and the young actors give astonishingly authentic performances. The setting of a school allows for manageable pacing and repetition within the dialogue, making it more digestible for French learners. Plus, you’ll take in a good smattering of slang while watching it which will be sure to get your French sounding that bit more authentic. 

(For more recommendations for films, visit our previous blog on alternative french film suggestions.)

Podcast: Français Authentique

To really get your French level off the ground, you’ll need to spend a lot of time listening to the language being spoken. What better medium could there be than the humble podcast to integrate spoken French into your day-to-day life?

Français Authentique produces 10-15 minute episodes several times a week so you can access snatches of French while you’re on the go. When it comes to language acquisition, little and often is the golden rule so you really can’t ask for a better structure than this. The episodes cover various aspects of language learning - tips on how to improve speaking skills, new expressions, etc - and are very helpful for those looking for advice on reaching fluency as well as authentic content.

Français Authentique is part of a wider learning structure complete with a website that offers video content and study packs. You can also access transcriptions of podcast episodes there, allowing you to read along and look up any words you don’t know. The platform’s founder, Johan, talks at a slow, steady pace in both podcasts and videos, so, unless you’re a complete beginner, you’ll be able to grasp most of what’s being said.

Useful Websites

French Together - Created by two expats (one French living in the UK, one American living in France), French Together provides lively and engaging content around various aspects of the French language - grammar, vocabulary, etc - and its culture.

French Today - French Today covers various different areas of the French language. Our favourite section has to be its vocabulary page which lists a plethora of words by theme. These themes range from ‘weather’ to ‘covid-19’ to ‘facial hair’ - it really does have everything!

MosaLingua - MosaLingua provides a wealth of resources, including apps to facilitate vocabulary memorisation and the general learning process. Its blog examines language learning from a range of different angles and offers some excellent tips on how to learn effectively and efficiently.

All Things French - All Things French focuses on the travel implications of life as a francophile, gathering stories and tips for your next trip to France. Fun and lighthearted, we highly recommend!

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Ella Burgess

Ella is a content writer at Tutor House and explores a range of education centred topics, having previously spent time teaching English while living abroad. A foreign language enthusiast and lover of text art, she is devoted to words in all their forms. She'll happily immerse herself in anything wordy from conceptual art to vintage murder mysteries.

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