Updated 7/17/18 to include details on the new and improved course formats.
There are plenty of French courses on the market, never mind the option to pay for traditional classes. If you’ve ever bought a course and later found out it wasn’t what you expected or even if you’ve been worried about trying to find a “good” one, you know the struggle.
I’ve been there before. I still have a Rosetta Stone course for Italian on my bookshelf from a few years ago. I don’t speak Italian (yet!).
Last week, I was super excited to get a copy of the French Together course. I’m a regular subscriber to the free e-mail lessons and the course creator, Benjamin Houy, was offering a free copy of the course to any bloggers who wanted to review it. I love finding new language learning resources, so I jumped at the chance.
Now, even though I received a free copy of the course in order to review it, please note that I was not paid at all and I’m not just writing up some insincere, five-star review.
This post isn’t paying my rent. I’m sharing my thoughts because I want people to be successful at learning a language. The American school system does a hell of a job of discouraging would-be learners. People certainly don’t need to be scammed on top of it. I know how hard it can be to find good material.
So, if you want an inside look at the course to see if it’s a good fit for your French learning needs, please read on.
On the main page for the French Together course, you have the option of purchasing Level 1, Level 2, or both Levels 1 and 2. If you only buy one Level, it’ll cost you $59. If you buy both, you’ll pay $99 and get a bonus e-book.
Once you make your decision, you’ll have a few download options based on your device:
- Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, Mac)
- Non-Apple PC
- Android phone or tablet
Don’t worry if you have more than one kind of device. You’ll receive an e-mail after you’ve completed your purchase with the links so you can download the course onto another device. This is great if you want to put a copy on your both your PC and phone so you can learn on the go.
The course has been updated so that each version is the same and has audio files integrated into the course book.
Navigating the Course
If you go for either the PC or Android versions of the course, you’ll first have to download an application called Kotobee reader. I received an e-mail with the link to download the reader on PC, though Android users can get it from the Google Play store. The download took no time at all for me.
After installing Kotobee reader, you’ll have to download the course and save the file. Then, you’ll want to use Kotobee reader to open the saved EPUB file. Once you find the file and click on it, it will automatically open and the course will remain in your recently viewed list until you exit Kotobee reader. If you leave the reader, you’ll have to find and open the EPUB file again.
Overall, Kotobee reader is clean and easy to use. I spent no time at all figuring out how to move through the course material. For anyone who doesn’t get along with technology, here’s a quick breakdown:
Now, you should note that the Chapters tab actually lists out page numbers, not chapter numbers. You can jump to a different page this way.
Settings gives you an option to view the reader in full screen mode, change the interface language, and alter the page flip animation.
I found the notes option super helpful. However, after lots of searching and googling, I could not figure out how to find my bookmarked pages, which made the bookmark option pretty useless.
The Course Layout
The first few pages of each level provide a short guide on the best way to use the course. To summarize, you should:
- Listen to the conversations.
- Listen and repeat in French.
- Read the transcript and lesson info.
- Use the conversation practice audio file to try saying the French translation from the English sentences.
The lessons are short and sweet at only 1 or 2 pages. Each chapter is centered around a short conversation in French and provides a translation as well as some additional clarifying information.
The updated version of the course is also attractively colorful and modern looking. The text is clear and there are neat little boxes containing all of the lesson info. You’ll notice that some of the boxes are helpful in breaking down grammar rules while others are used to explain how certain phrases are used in everyday French.
I did find a few of the explanations, such as the first one in the big blue box, a little confusing. Luckily, it’s not a common problem. Most of the explanations are easy to follow.
Listening and Repeating
Each lesson provides three audio files: one normal speed, one slow speed, and one in both English and French for practice.
In terms of the audio quality and content, I didn’t notice any issues. The normal speed conversations were clear, not rushed or mumbled. Compared to normal conversations you might hear on the street, they’re very easy to follow. In Level 1, the slowed speech is easy to follow and the pauses were very deliberate. In Level 2, the slow versions aren’t always that slow, but I could always figure it out after going through the transcript.
It was a bit difficult trying to repeat the French dialogue without reading the text, but it was good practice. So, the audio part of the course did work as intended.
So…How About Those Lessons?
As the website says, Level 1 is meant for complete beginners and Level 2 is for beginners. Level 1 starts with directions, hello, and the niceties. Level 2 starts with past tense and, by the time you’re finished, you’ve explored everything from imperfect (l’imparfait) to future tenses as well as agreement.
It’s probably almost as much material as all four years of my high school French class, only without a lot of the unnecessary extras. True beginners might want to keep a French-English dictionary nearby as there are no vocabulary lists in sight. Phrases and expressions are often explained in the notes.
The notes in boxes surrounding the audio transcript contain the only instruction and reference material. This ranges anywhere from comparisons between formal and informal French and common phrases to advice on when to use certain words.
Everything is taught within the context of the provided conversations, which is great for referencing and retaining what you’ve learned. Beginners will appreciate having a reference for new words, even if meanings need to be looked up elsewhere.
Verb conjugations are introduced gradually based on the words used in conversations. So, instead of getting the rules and a bunch of unrelated words to learn, you get the most common words, like avoir (to have) and expand as you keep going.
In this sense, the French Together course certainly sticks to its promise of teaching only the amount of French needed to understand most conversations. There are plenty of words, phrases, and silly expressions I learned in high school French that haven’t done me any good.
The way the course presents material is rather smart and aims to avoid overwhelming learners. True beginners will have enough of a challenge trying to understand the French dialogue, so the lack of in-depth grammar lessons won’t be missed.
If you prefer to learn all of the rules first, you’ll have to find them elsewhere. Though, if you only need a bit more grammar instruction every once in a while, it’s easy enough Google an explanation.
As I said earlier, the lessons are short. A few times, a link to the French Together website is provided with more information on a subject.
I liked the bits of French culture thrown in. There are a lot of courses that just teach you the language and some that just add a few history lessons to try to teach culture. French Together gives you the literal meaning of a phrase, explains how it’s actually used, and gives you examples in a dialogue.
I was also pleased that there was plenty of pronunciation and listening practice. As a self-learner, those things can be hard to come by. In this course, spoken French is the introduction to and the focus point of the material.
After a bit, I was thankful that the lessons were short, since the format became a bit repetitive. However, you should keep in mind that I went through multiple lessons at a time in an attempt to get through as much material as possible in a week. I also don’t consider myself a beginner in French. So, you may have a different experience.
You might prefer this course if you like to study for short periods of time throughout the day or if you don’t always have time to read through lessons as there is a lot of listening involved.
There’s a Free E-book, too?
Despite the title, How to Learn French in a Year, doesn’t just contain language learning help for French learners. Anyone with aspirations to learn more than just one new language will find that many of the suggestions can be applied to learning any foreign language.
Some of the most valuable tips were about goal setting, how to remember vocabulary words, and places to find good reading material for your French level. There’s also a comprehensive list of additional tools to help you study vocabulary and grammar as well as sites to practice your French.
Should You Get It?
You just want to know if you should buy it, right? Well, I can’t simply say yes or no.
For a French course that only costs $99, I’m impressed. The content is good. The lessons are sound. The conversations are useful.
If you’re looking to learn French and you consider yourself a beginner and if you follow the course to its end as instructed, you will learn a good amount of French.
If you wish to speak French fluently, you will have to do a bit more. Whether that means finding a conversation partner or expanding your other resources is up to you. To be honest though, I would be genuinely skeptical of a course that promised to take you from beginner to completely fluent for under $100.
The creator of the course, Benjamin Huoy, even recommends finding a conversation partner at the end of each Level. This can be done on free apps like HelloTalk and Tandem or through sites like italki. If you have a friend who speaks French, that’s even better!
I’d also add that you might want to find resources that are entirely in French, like cartoons, TV shows, novels, videos, or podcasts. You’ll need to take the leap into content that doesn’t offer a translation. I think the way this course is designed is a good stepping stone for that. The bonus e-book even provides multiple ways to start immersing yourself in French.
Overall, I think both Level 1 and Level 2 courses are great for providing a foundation in learning French. Even though it’s targeted towards beginners, I found myself learning a few cultural and everyday French tips. I’ll probably use the audio files every once in a while, too.
So, if you’re looking for a course that won’t break the bank and you still have a lot to learn, this course could work out well for you. Here‘s the link again if you want to give it a shot. If you’re still not sure, you can still check out the French Together website to see what else it has to offer.
Questions? Comments? I’m always happy to hear from you.