Mais Oui! A Guide to Learning French Online

Meet Jessica, who writes on behalf of This is a website with all kinds of tips and tools for beginners, intermediate and advanced learners, as well as French teaching resources, ideas and activities for primary and secondary teachers.
Take it away, Jessica!

I didn’t require much convincing to decide to learn French online. Indeed, this has proven to be an effective, inexpensive, and convenient way to learn the language. There are, however, several challenges that I’ve faced and I’d like to share them with you — and tell you how I overcame them.

First, I had a real problem with pronunciation. Like all native English speakers, I found this difficult because some French sounds have no English counterparts. I had an especially tough time with the letters U and R, which take on modulated pronunciations and which are difficult to describe in text. It’s challenging because you don’t have a tutor to guide you on the correct accents. I overcame this by watching French movies and listening to French music, all of which can be accessed through your local library. I also recently visited France, which allowed me to get firsthand experience in French pronunciation.

And then there’s the French H. The French H comes as either muet or aspiré. Both sound the same (they are both silent), but there’s a huge difference in that mute H (H muet) requires liaisons and contractions whereas aspirated H (H aspiré) acts as a consonant. Remembering which H word is which is tricky, but I’ve overcome this by making a vocabulary list that has definite articles such as l’homme (H muet) and le homard (H aspiré). English movies with French subtitles also helped. (Additional helpful hint: I’ve discovered that the longer you make spelling mistakes, the more difficult it will be for you to fix them!)

Listening to French recorded lessons, watching French movies and my interactions with other French learners in discussion forums and other online communities has been a great resource. As an example, I now automatically pronounce B, C, F, K, L, Q, and R whenever I find them at the end of a word.

When I was starting out, I had a problem concentrating in my lessons and following my personal schedule. I’ve discovered that — for me — learning French in a structured manner was the path to learning effectively and efficiently. I enrolled in an online class and set a specific time early in the morning for my French lessons. (I also talked to my family and asked them to give me sufficient space and support.)

Finally, French is unique in that French words are assigned gender (they are either masculine or feminine). This, as I’m sure is the case with most native English learners, has been very confusing to me. The only answer seems to be memorization. There is no other way around it. I have read countless books to get proper usage of French words and to determine their gender.

And in the end, has it been a worthwhile endeavour? I can confidently say: mais oui! It certainly has.

It’s all Spanish to me — language learning with guest blogger Stephanie Medford

Happy Thanksgiving to you Canadian readers! Everyone else, I hope you had a great weekend. Today, I’m delighted to be bringing you a guest post with Stephanie Medford. She’s going to be talking all about learning another language with library resources.

Stephanie is an artist and blogger and has been in love with Edmonton for as long as she can remember. Check out her hand-printed postcards and read about her adventures in Edmonton at

Take it away, Stephanie!

StephanieHello! I’m super excited to be a guest on Library Life Hack.

I’m the type of person who never pays for something she can get for free. When I decided to learn Spanish before traveling to South America, it never crossed my mind to pay for a class. I’m an independent learner and I knew the Edmonton public library had all the resources I needed. Having been in French Immersion as a child, it’s possible that my bilingual brain already had a leg up on language learning but I think that anyone who’s willing to put in the time can teach themselves a new language.

I knew that I would need a mix of resources to learn the different components of the language: speaking, listening, and reading/writing. While learning to understand and speak was my main priority, I was committed to getting a good grasp on the grammar as well, partly because I’m not one to do things halfway, and partly because I find that an understanding of small details makes the whole that much stronger. While there’s plenty of material out there, many of the resources I found were not terribly useful. Finally I stumbled on three items and used them almost exclusively during the 7 months of my self-instruction,, borrowing items for the longest period allowed, then returning them and putting them on hold again if I needed to.

The Pimsleur Language Program by Recorded Books received high reviews on the library site. It consists of a series of sequential CDs that immerse you in the language right from the start. I got the Latin American version, which was really helpful since the language is quite different in Spain (I soon learned that it varies quite a bit from country to country as well!). I listened to it in my car almost every day. The lessons repeat material over and over again, without it ever feeling redundant, so you don’t have to work to memorize anything. It’s designed so that you really know the material before it introduces anything new, and you are constantly reviewing old material. This was probably the most effective resource that I tried.

Ultimate Spanish by Living Language uses a great combination of listening, reading, and grammar and is a comprehensive introduction to the language. Lessons advanced very quickly and I found that I needed a firm grasp of the material before moving to each new chapter, which required a lot of extra study after each lesson. I liked how thorough it was but I struggled to remember things from one lesson to the next.

Complete Spanish Grammar by Gilda Nissenberg is a good guide to grammar, with plenty of exercises to practice the concepts. Because there are grammatical structures and variations in Spanish that we don’t have in English, I slowly worked through the exercises to get a handle on how the language is put together. Once I started trying to communicate I was really glad I had put in the extra time to learn the complicated verb tenses: trying to tell stories in only the present tense was no fun at all.

The final part of my self education project involved watching stacks of movies. I found an organization that has released independent movies from many Latin American countries – just search Film Movement in the library catalogue. It also pays to look through the Spanish section of the DVDs in any branch. All these helped me practice my listening skills, gave me a good understanding of how the accents vary from country to country. I watched Maria Full of Grace without subtitles and while I missed a lot of details and nuance, I was pleased that I was able to follow the story.

As obsessed as I was with learning the language, I didn’t work very hard. Outside of driving I put in maybe 3 hours a week. When I arrived in Peru I felt completely lost at first, but because I had built a solid foundation, my comprehension increased dramatically after only a couple weeks. 3 weeks in, I was already translating for others. The only thing missing from this self-study program was the opportunity for conversations. But listening to endless CDs meant I understood pronunciation and basic sentence structure, and once I was immersed in the language my speaking skills grew quite quickly!

Language learning is expensive. A 2-month “Spanish for Travellers” class costs $229 at Metro College. Rosetta Stone level One costs $199. I couldn’t find the exact Pimsleur program on Amazon but a similar Pimsleur course levels 1-4 costs from $210 – $305. Ultimate Spanish can set you back between $80 and $200 and Complete Spanish Grammar goes for around $13. Needless to say, teaching myself using library materials was definitely the cheapest option.

Thanks again for having me, and good luck in any language-learning adventures!