Learning French is more than just learning about the particularities of French grammar and studying your verb tables. You need to be able to apply what you have learned in order to speak French like a native. To become fluent, doing exercises will help consolidate what you know and make it easier to use it in your French courses (see 'French classes Montreal' for more info).
Grammar Exercise Books to Learn French
Are you the sort who likes to sit with a notebook and write things down? Do you learn better with a pen in your hand? Here are some books to help you to learn French.
Books with grammar exercises
A lot of grammar textbooks have a few basic exercises to help you remember the grammar rules. Here are a few with a greater emphasis on testing your knowledge:
- Philippe Delanoy’s two books, “Elementary French Grammar for Reading and Writing” and “Intermediate French Grammar” with exercises. The first is organised by theme (numbers, greetings) with few purely grammar-centric chapters and is keyed toward absolute beginners, whereas the second is intermediate level and focuses mostly on French verbs with only a few thematic chapters. Both have an answer key to the exercises at the back of the book so you can check your answers.
- From the “Practice Makes Perfect” collection, “French All-in-One” by Annie Hemingway. It starts with particularities of the French alphabet and goes through verb tenses, adverbs, the difference between written and spoken French, etc. Within each lesson, each of the points have two or three exercises to go over the material again.
- “Practice Makes Perfect” also has a French sentence builder, focusing specifically on French sentence structure, letting you practice making interrogative, conditional and imperative sentences to amaze your French teacher (or private Superprof tutor!) the next time you have French class.
- The “Façon de Parler” textbook series by Angela Aries and Dominique Debney have very intense grammar lessons, coupled with conversational French to get you through everyday situations. Every few modules, a series of exercises let you review what you have learned. In addition, there are activity books for both levels (beginner and intermediate) with additional exercises.
If you are an advanced French student and are willing to brave grammar exercises in French, try to find the BLED . You can get a general BLED or a version adapted for various school grades. It has short explanations on very specific grammar points and a lot of exercises to make sure you understand.
French verb drills
Want to brush up on “avoir” and “être”, your verbs in -er and -ir and how to conjugate “aperçervoir”?
“French Verb Drills” by R. de Roussy de Sales tells you all about regular and irregular verbs, with exercises to perfect your French verb conjugation.
Learn to use your vocabulary and French grammar rules
Want to practice your French words? Here are some good ways to learn new words and improve your French conversation.
“French Vocabulary Drills” by David Stillman and Ronnie Gordon has more than 25,000 words grouped into subjects, with five to seven exercises for each subject. And, perhaps more importantly, “French Gender Drills” by Frédéric Bibard will help you remember which of those words are masculine and which are feminine!
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And don’t forget your flash cards. Flash Sticks has an interesting concept with pre-printed sticky notes you can put up all over your house, so you can practise your French vocabulary while cooking, cleaning up the living room or while doing the laundry!
You can also use French dictionaries and vocabulary lists to make your own flash cards. Take small index cards (A5 or A6) and write the English word on one side and the French translation on the other. Don’t forget to write the article with the word so you will learn its French noun gender!
Websites for French Grammar Exercises
Book-reading and written exercises are not for you? You prefer to learn French online? Here are some websites with quizzes and exercises to help you speak French:
- The French verb conjugation bible, the Bescherelle, has a site with quizzes and puzzles to help you with your irregular and regular verbs (and some other points of French grammar). They also have online dictations to help with your listening skills, practice French spelling and make sure you understand how to make your verbs and adjectives agree with your nouns.
- Conjuguemos has a series of grammar and vocabulary exercises you can do online to test your knowledge. You can practise making sure adjectives and their nouns agree, comparisons and conjugations. It’s really a sort of French test geared towards students using their website together with a teacher, but you can do them without being logged in.
- The Alliance Française, the main institute for learning the French language outside of France, offers a series of exercises to accompany their coursebooks. The site leads to external links that are very colourful and reminiscent of the Internet’s early days, but include various aspects of the language, from grammar to vocabulary (you can learn how to say that someone is angry or sad as well as how to conjugate the present tense of “avoir”).
- Ciel Bretagne has exercises to help you learn French and practise your grammar.
- Sadly no longer updated but chock-full of French language content, this site from the BBC offers everything from a test to figure out your level to a quiz of French rugby terms to free French lessons online through a series of tutorial videos.
Done them all? Le Point du Fle has links to French online exercises all over the Internet, organised by subject.
French dictations online
To improve your spelling and listening comprehension, try doing a dictée - basically, you listen to your teacher reading a text and write down what you hear as best you can. This also improves your grammar as you have to think of things like making sure your adjectives agree and whether you spelled your verb forms correctly.
There are online dictation websites that provide audio files and a transcript so you can correct yourself. One of these is on Lawless French and at French Circles.
Learn to Speak French with Apps
Of the multitude of language apps out there, here are a few that stand out with their teaching method:
- Rosetta Stone banks on French immersion. It is entirely in French, with no English explanations whatsoever. It relies on images and associations to help you understand, ensuring that you don’t get out of the French “zone” when learning terms and tenses.
- FluentU takes immersion to the next level. They use actual French videos to illustrate grammatical rules and take language learning far beyond “bonjour!” and “merci!”
- MindSnacks is an Android and iOS app that teaches French vocabulary using games. There are 9 different types of games for 50 different vocabulary sets.
- Memrise uses a combination of images and humour to help consolidate your vocabulary - the ultimate in memnotic tricks!
Other Ways to Learn French
The best way to learn a language is by immersion. That way, you are sure to learn the French actually used by real people, get up-to-date on current slang, improve your listening comprehension by being confronted with words that are not on a vocabulary list, and become acquainted with French culture.
Films and series
The best way to learn spoken French is to watch French films and series in the original language. If you are just starting to learn your second language, you might want to watch films you already know, so you don’t need to follow the plot but can concentrate on hearing French pronunciation from native speakers. But where to find them?
See if your DVDs or Blue-Rays (if you still have any!) have a French language option, or search for French productions on Netflix or other streaming companies. Netflix and Amazon both not only have a selection of foreign films, but also produce their own series together with French productions firms (I can highly recommend Lazy Company).
You can also look at the online libraries of various French TV stations, such as Canal +. Some of them will have the latest episode of some of their series available; or at least you can watch and read the news.
Watching and reading French news
If watching films and series can help improve your conversational French and idiom, the news with greatly expand your vocabulary.
Again, French TV stations will often post all or part of their news segments online. If you prefer print, turn to the online versions of newspapers such as Le Monde or Le Figaro for free French news. The BBC French language-learning site has a list of French TV and radio for you.
French children’s books to help you learn in context
Is this still all too much for you? Are you looking for easy French texts to learn your new language and complement your online French courses? Why not try out children’s books?
For absolute beginners, picture books with simple, short sentences are best. For more advanced readers, there are those perennial favourites, “Le petit Prince” by Antoine de St.-Éxupéry, or “Le petit Nicholas” by Jean-Jacques Sempé, illustrated by René Goscinny, of Astérix fame.