Need to maintain my French during a year off using it
April 21, 2016 8:24 AM   Subscribe

My French is good, but I am not a native speaker. I am looking for books, podcast, blogs, YouTube channels etc. which I can use to maintain it during my maternity leave.

The extended background is that I am a French teacher by profession. My French is pretty good (better at spoken than at written, but I'm working on that) but work-related activities are pretty much my only place to practice it.

Unless something dire goes wrong, I will be on maternity leave for the entire next school year. I have to work 20 days to maintain my spot on the sub list, and once I do, I am guaranteed a job when I return from the leave. So I want to keep my skills up while I am off to be ready to return to work after.

Obviously, money (and time) will be tight since, baby. So I am looking for blogs, podcasts, books, YouTube channels etc. And perhaps suggestions for some kind of plan...

I have got so far, and/or I want to get:

- A series of Kindle books which present French stories, with English translations following every few lines. I find these okay, but actually think I can follow proper books pretty well at this point, even though my reading and writing is not as good as my speaking. I don't want to read more Jules Verne and Le Petit Prince. Surely there is something fun and contemporary I can read?

- I have an app called Brain Pop French which has a short featured video every day. I find the sameness of them a little dull, but I like this concept and if I could find more like this, but with more diverse content, that would be fantastic.

- Maybe a podcast? I used to listen to one called Learn French by Podcast which was okay, but a little basic for me in content, and in don't know if it's running anymore.

- Maybe blogs. I would love to be able to take my skills to the next level, as it were. Something maybe which goes beyond the basics and into stuff like 'common mistakes which give you away as a non-native speaker' or even blogs geared to teachers.

- YouTube or Songza playlists which pop-ish songs? I have lots of kiddie French stuff for teaching. I am more interested in authentic language I myself can enjoy...

So, any suggestions?
posted by JoannaC to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Might be below your level but I like the Duolingo web site and app for this.
posted by sid at 8:32 AM on April 21, 2016

Radio-Canada's baladodiffusion page. The Quebec accent is sometimes mocked, but the standard Radio-Canada accent is pretty neutral. Some of the podcasts are local in focus, but there's also food, science and technology podcasts there.

Events at Montreal's Grande bibliothèque are recorded and released as podcasts, again some of local and historical interest, some more general.
posted by zadcat at 8:37 AM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am a bit confused about the level of materials you have in mind. Are you looking for advanced learners'materials, or actual French materials but with a simpler vocabulary (or even regular French materials)? And if you're looking for actual French materials, what kind of things do you enjoy in English, so we can suggest similar things in French?
posted by bibliotropic at 8:53 AM on April 21, 2016

I find that watching French language tv has helped me keep up.
posted by analog at 8:57 AM on April 21, 2016

Have you considered subscribing to a French magazine? The first thing that popped into my head was to subscribe to French Vogue, but there are magazines on all subjects. Choose your subject and then go looking for the magazine.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:17 AM on April 21, 2016

Netflix has a ton of French films, which I've found very useful. I play them while working on other stuff to flex my listening skills, and the subtitles are available if I hear something I don't understand. As a result they've been very good for expanding my knowledge of colloquial French, and proper accent.
posted by lizbunny at 9:32 AM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nothing beats personal interaction. Are you in an area where there may be native French speakers? Maybe some students who would like to earn a little money? My French is more than decent, but it's certainly been getting a much-needed workout from interacting with my kids' French-speaking babysitter.
posted by Liesl at 9:58 AM on April 21, 2016

Bibliotropic---not so much learner's materials. I have tried a few of them and found them a little basic. I'd like actual books, music etc but at a somewhat simplified level. Like, Nancy Drew books in French type of thing---still interesting enough to hold my grown-up interest, but a little more basic than a real novel.
posted by JoannaC at 10:10 AM on April 21, 2016

You don't mention what you are interested in, but on the off-chance you're interested in international politics I am a regular listener of the Enjeux Internationaux podcast produced by France Culture.
posted by lecorbeau at 11:16 AM on April 21, 2016

When I need to maintain my Spanish skills in between trips, I like to watch movies or TV shows (Telemundo FTW! Also Dora the Explorer. Don't judge me.) in Spanish. If you find that people speak to quickly, or that you don't have the vocab to keep up with movies, try French kids shows and cartoons and work up from there - simple vocabulary, and they speak very slowly and clearly.

If you like Disney or Pixar movies, you can find French-language versions. This can make things easier on you as you'll already know the plot, and the language is fairly simple, but more advanced than say, Babar.
posted by ananci at 11:19 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I use Duolingo to learn other languages, and at some point, I decided that, since French was my original and still my favorite foreign language, I would use Duolingo to brush up on my French as well. As you'd expect, it's pretty basic, but considering I hadn't spoken or read French on a daily basis in 18 years, it got me back up to speed pretty quickly. It's easy and fun, too.

I read Le Monde from time to time, which keeps me pretty sharp.

I also listen to some French music. Albin de la Simone and Elista are artists I enjoy - they're on Spotify, etc.

The BBC's Languages site and Open Culture's language learning resources might be helpful.

Bonne chance!
posted by kevinbelt at 11:47 AM on April 21, 2016

May I recommend (or second Liesl) that in addition to consuming French media, you actually keep up a practice of using it? Journal in it or find a French speaking pen pal or why not talk to your baby in French?
(Duolingo can help with this, too, tho it's sometimes a bit frustrating to use when you have learnt a language elsewhere as it will only accept the vocabulary it has taught you. Unless it has improved in this.)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:40 PM on April 21, 2016

When I was in a similar situation, I read Simenon's Inspector Maigret novels; the reading level isn't too hard, and the plot will generally carry you along even if you don't get all the words. Also, they exist in seemingly infinite quantities.
posted by dizziest at 1:01 PM on April 21, 2016

Depending on how good your library is or how far reaching it's inter-library loan status, there are French movies on DVD
posted by IndigoJones at 1:37 PM on April 21, 2016

I really like the Libre Antenne broadcast on Europe 1. Listeners tell their personal troubles to a kind, understanding host who helps sort them out. It's usually far less academic than most other French radio I listen to; it includes lots of colloquial language, regional accents, and — because these are not scripted discussions — there's a lot of repetition and restatement, which is how normal unscripted language works. For example, today I listened to a woman talking about the lack of sexual relations in her marriage. An explosion of new vocabulary for me! :)
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:21 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Many/most/all Netflix original shows have French subtitles and dubbing as options.
posted by clorox at 7:31 PM on April 21, 2016

Almost every week, there's a subtitled film from France among the free Criterion films available on Hulu. This week, it happens to be a silent film, but something like 175 out of 900 of the Criterion films they have online are in French, so it usually works out. Paying for Hulu so you can binge-watch might be worth it. Incidentally, you can find random movies in French on YouTube by searching for "film complet" or "film complet en français," and although it looks like they make you sign in now and may be region-limited, I've watched easy-to-follow reality TV on before--maybe that still works for some shows. Also, Project Gutenberg has a listing of their free classics in French, and Gallica has tons more if you search or browse around (including some children's lit).
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:17 PM on April 21, 2016

Fluent U is a good site that basically tailors tons of native videos (commercials, TV clips) based on your level (you take an assessment quiz at the beginning). The recommendations are based on your progress. There's interactive subtitles and activities you can do to actively work on building and remembering vocab you hear. Clearly the paid version is better but there's a free trial and also a bunch of free features as well.

I've heard that Bonjour Tristesse is a good novel for those somewhat on the Intermediate/Advanced cusp so you might want to check that out as well!
posted by thebots at 2:03 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Depending on your tastes, maybe French translations of genre/airport/dime/YA novels, or originals of the same. Also nonfiction written for a general audience in translation or in the original; depending on your interests, books on crafts/renovation/arts, like those published by Reader's Digest or Black & Decker are often available in French.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:13 AM on April 22, 2016

I remembered the other thing I wanted to say! Amélie Nothomb's novels are said to be quite accessible in terms of language usage. They are relatively short, so you can get through one reasonably quickly with a sense of accomplishment, and she has many books if you decide you like her style. She's a well-known and contemporary writer.
posted by Liesl at 8:20 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

And for budget, you might find cheap books at a used bookstore that French-promoting organizations might run in your city.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:22 AM on April 22, 2016

It might be a little tighter time-wise, but a conversation exchange or Skype chat or something with a native speaker on a semi-regular basis might help you keep your speaking skills sharp. Or if you wanted to work on your writing skills a little more, a French online penpal might be something to look into instead?
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:24 AM on April 22, 2016

(Great suggestions/advice above, especially regarding consuming vs. practicing - but I've got no recommendations for the latter.)

Some streaming radio apps (like TuneIn Radio) have a location-based search and dozens of French stations (almost entirely music, but some news and talk as well).

Personally, I found Bonjour Tristesse unrewarding, but YMMV - I read it while in an intermediate-level class, so it definitely isn't too advanced.

It's hard to miss when browsing Netflix, but Les Revenants / The Returned - was unexpectedly good (a few instances of horrible violence and pervasive eerie/unsettling tone.) Both seasons are available. (General Netflix subtitling frustration applies: French audio, but only English subtitles … anybody providing the master key to unlock all French subtitles will be nominated for beatification.)
posted by verschollen at 5:56 PM on April 22, 2016

Seconding TuneIn, and in particular the stations by Radio France. I particularly like France Culture (which is available on TuneIn).

Also, here are some French threads that might be of interest (although that page hasn't been updated for three years or so).
posted by djgh at 11:49 AM on April 23, 2016

TV5 monde is great. They have a youtube channel with occasional news videos which are relatively simple, and the website has a ton of material on a very wide range of subjects, including an educational section (
posted by inbetweener at 10:36 AM on April 27, 2016

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