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Even though we are currently living in France, we homeschool mainly in English and follow the Ambleside Online curriculum schedule. However, being in France, we are beholden to their laws and must pass a yearly inspection. This requires me to include French lessons that fall in line with the French program. My children need to be able to pass an oral or written test at each inspection. I wrote more about the laws and inspections in earlier posts.
Nevertheless, I still want my children to enjoy their education and try to follow the Charlotte Mason method as much as possible. Below are a list of my favorite resources for learning and teaching French that I have found online. Most of them are free though a few are paid. Here are my top ten in no particular order.
Linguee is a free online language dictionary which translates from English to French and French to English. What I like most about this tool is that they give real-life examples of the words and their translations. This way I can check that the word I want to use has the proper meaning. Every language has words that can be used to mean two different things. With Linguee, it is easier to see that I am picking the right one.
Now, this is a resource that is not just for French but for many other languages as well. Here is a list of the other languages that can be translated from or to English.
- Estonian and
Not a bad list for language learning lovers (say that three times fast).
There is even a free app for phones. I’ve used it on both my phone and my laptop with the same great results.
In order to first learn those languages you want to translate on Linguee, I’d highly recommend Duolingo. This is a free online language learning resource. It is easy to navigate, fun to use and great for beginning learners as well as those just trying to brush up on that language they took for four years in high school but haven’t used since. (German, anyone?) The lessons are short, 5-10 minutes at most. They are offered as mini-games or exercises in various formats: multiple choice, listening, speaking, or matching for starters.
I’ve been using it to brush up on my French. Though I’ve been living here for over 12 years, I still make some common mistakes and I use this tool to keep training myself to be better.
At the same time, my 7-year-old daughter has been using it to learn Italian. No one in our family speaks Italian so this tool is great for her to do some independent learning. All my kids will be starting their third language around 7 or 8 years old or in third grade. With Duolingo, they each choose whichever language interests them the most without it breaking the bank.
This is another resource that is great not just for French but for a host of other languages as well. Here is the list from English.
- High Valyrian
- Navajo and
If you noticed, you can learn two languages that aren’t even real. Hahaha.
A mobile app is also available and is fantastic. It is what we use the most because the listening and speaking skills are so much simpler to use.
There is also a paid version that eliminates all the ads, repairs streaks and allows lesson downloads on mobile. But to be honest, the ads aren’t really intrusive so I don’t see a great advantage in paying for that. Of course, you may want it to repair any streaks. Streaks are basically how many days in a row you have managed to do your daily lesson. Losing a streak can be pretty devastating (psychologically) when you’ve managed to work for over 100 days straight and then life happens and you miss one day and have to start over. Ugh. And the downloaded lessons might come in handy if you have limited data usage on your phone.
I’ve heard a lot of people in the United States like Pandora as a music streaming site. However, for those of us in the rest of the world, this site is not available to us. I’ve found an equivalent that works well, is free and is available nearly everywhere. This is Spotify.
I use Spotify for our music courses. I create three playlists for each year. One for our Composer Study, one for Folk Music Study, and one for Hymn Study. What is great is that I can find most of the songs I am looking for from the Ambleside schedule and from my own created schedule of French folk songs and hymns (or Christian music in French). We’ve even added Italian folk songs on our list this year for my daughter’s Italian classes.
There is a free version that has numerous ads that pop up and interrupt listening, much like a radio station. The paid version eliminates those ads. Since we use Spotify frequently and often listen to our composer study in the background while doing other lessons like copywork or art, I’ve chosen to pay for the paid version. The ads were too frequent and I couldn’t control their content. I don’t like exposing my children to the twaddle that is promoted today if I can help it. The price is reasonable and saves us from untimely interruptions during some of the longer pieces by composers.
I would be remiss in excluding YouTube. For all of the flack given to YouTube recently, though merited, it has remained an extremely useful tool for learning. We use it a bit less than some of the other resources since I try to limit screen time. But it still has a lot to offer.
Whenever I have trouble finding a song on Spotify, the first place I’ll look after that will be YouTube. There are even playlists created by other Ambleside families for the Composer, Folk Music, and Hymn studies.
But what is especially great about YouTube for languages, and in particular French, are the channels for kids. My favorite channels on YouTube with French songs and nursery rhymes (comptines) are Boutchoo, also known as Baby Songs Tube, Monde des Titounis and Les Patapons. All three channels have cute little animations of some of the most well-known kids’ songs and will often print the lyrics karaoke-style so you can follow along.
You can also find episodes of popular kids’ cartoons in French. To search, simply put the title of the cartoon you are looking for followed by français. Often you will find what you are looking for and your kids can watch an episode they have memorized already in another language, turning screen time into learning time too.
5. Amazon Prime Video or Netflix
Video streaming is the new DVD rental. And with such great services as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, it is easy to see why. We can have access to hundreds of movies and tv shows without ever leaving home. And the price is right. For less than $10 a month, you could virtually watch hundreds of dollars worth of movies on the old video rental plans, aka Blockbuster. And Amazon Prime is even cheaper on a yearly payment.
But what I like most about these streaming services are the subtitle and audio possibilities. We can watch original language films with subtitles or even switch the audio to English or French on nearly all videos. This is a great tool to have when learning languages. Often, when my children want to watch their favorite movie for the umpteenth time, I will have them switch it to French. This way, they are practicing their ear. Since they know the story so well, the language does not impede on their enjoyment. Rather, they are working the language center in their brains while having a little screen time. Win-win in my book.
I’m sure you could add Hulu in this group but since I’ve never used it, I cannot speak to its abilities or possibilities.
If you were to ask me about my personal preference between Amazon and Netflix, I would have to choose Amazon. (Disclaimer again: I am an affiliate of Amazon. I receive a small commission if you purchase anything through my site though it does not cost you more. However, this does not change my opinion.)
Not only is it cheaper in the long-term, but I get more than just movies for my money. We have a monthly subscription for bulk items such as diapers and toilet paper through Prime already. This saves us money and frustration since we do not drive. Carrying large boxes of diapers is too difficult to transport without a car. And buying smaller batches more frequently can become expensive. But with Prime we have the perfect amount shipped to us monthly at a slight discount. Add to this, free movies, TV shows and free shipping on other products, and I can’t think of better value.
As a side note, we did have Netflix for a few months to test it out. Though there were more choices available for us, I could not justify spending the money when we already had a streaming service available through our Amazon subscription. When Netflix announced its coming release of a new cartoon for kids titled Super Drags (about drag queen superheroes), I canceled immediately. As Christians, I feel it is important to choose products that do not blatantly oppose Biblical values. A case can be made, of course, that all streaming services will have things that are not Christian. But, to me, Netflix was just too blatant and was beginning to target the kids more openly than the others.
This may seem redundant but Amazon has been such as huge resource, I feel it deserves another mention. This time for its products.
I already said that we use Amazon Prime for its subscription service and its video streaming. However, before these were made available, I still used it quite a lot.
Now, to be clear, I mostly use the French site for my commands, Amazon.fr. Obviously, this is because we live here and shipping is cheaper if we buy local.
But regardless of which version you use, the list of products is astounding. You can buy just about anything and have it shipped for a decent price.
We like to have access to English books, not just for school but for pleasure. Sometimes, we can find the book we are looking for in English at the local library. Even rarer, we will find it at a local bookstore. But more often than not, if we wanted a book in English, we could only find it on Amazon. And usually for a very good price, considering it is not always local shipping.
My favorite product is the Kindle. With limited space and a strict budget, buying books for school can be difficult. We can’t always find what we need at the library or médiathèque as it is called here. I am a real bibliophile and love the smell of books. But I love my sanity more so my solution has been to get as many books as I can for my Kindle.
As an incentive for our kids to learn to read in both English and French, we offer them their own Kindle as soon as they have shown to be comfortable reading basic books in both languages. That they can follow along when I do read-alouds is an added bonus. I’ve found that my daughter’s reading skills improve exponentially when she does her own reading but can follow along with me as well. And we only have to buy the book once for everyone to enjoy it at the same time.
I’ve looked at the Amazon site for the US and can find just as many French books that I like available over there so if we were ever to move, I would be sure to be covered. When in doubt of a product, I will always check Amazon. Usually, they have what I’m looking for at a reasonable price.
I like to support small businesses when I can, but being a family with ties in two countries, having a large company like Amazon available is a blessing.
For those unaware, Project Gutenberg, is a website that digitizes old literature, specifically those books who have entered the public domain. They offer free access to over 57,000 books in epub or Kindle format.
Most of the books available are in English. However, there are a few books offered in three other languages: Portuguese, German, and French.
I am always looking for ways to save money and this is one option. Before buying any classic book, I will always check Gutenberg first. The quality of the digital copy is good. In fact, the Kindle version is so good that I can even change the font size and will sometimes have images. Only if they do not have it, will I consider spending money.
You can access the French books directly through this link.
One of my favorite sites from this list is definitely Mama Lisa’s World. This website has an impressive list of songs and rhymes originating in over 200 countries and/or cultures.
When I was in Year 1 with Ambleside Online, I wanted to follow their suggestions for Folksong Study. However, I also wanted to add in French folk songs along with it. The problem was that not being a native Frenchie, I wasn’t familiar with what would be considered the classics. Not to mention, teaching my kids the nursery rhymes and children’s songs every French child should know.
Sure, I found a couple of books at the médiathèque with lists of classic French children’s songs. But I could only keep those for a month, two at most. I wanted something I could refer to again and again without buying it if I could help it.
And this is where Mama Lisa’s World saved the day. When I landed on her page after doing a few different searches, I was blown away. The sheer amount of songs and nursery rhymes she had listed for France was fabulous. Plus, she had the lyrics with their English translation and sometimes even an audio clip of the song.
Now, when preparing my monthly selection of Folk music in French, I immediately go to Mama Lisa‘s for inspiration and to print out the lyrics.
With the addition of my oldest daughter’s lessons in Italian, we have even begun using the Italian section to add children’s songs in that language as well.
I cannot recommend strongly enough this resource for music and cultural learning.
Now we are getting into the French resources in only French.
Because we must show an awareness of the national program in France (even if we don’t follow it completely), I needed to find a resource that would placate the inspectors while at the same time fit in with the Charlotte Mason method as much as possible. This is where the Collection Boscher comes in.
These are a series of workbooks for grade school that give exercises and training in reading, writing, French grammar, and math. What drew me to these modern books over any others is that they have the closest resemblance to the old way of teaching. All the newer educational programs are much like the common core. I don’t trust the methods and want to stay as old-school as possible since I can’t easily go all Charlotte Mason here.
The Boscher collection is the best compromise. They have fun little workbooks for preschool and kindergarten with lots of activities and stickers that my littles enjoy doing. This is their “school” when the bigs have lessons to complete and they want to join in.
After that, each class from CP to CM2 (think 1st to 5th grade) has a book for French grammar and vocabulary, dictation (and French grammar), math, and Tout le programme (the entire program including science and geography). My kids don’t mind the lessons since we only do one page a day and we skip anything that is not compatible with their abilities at the moment. There is even a section for learning English which my kids laugh at while completing because it is so easy for them.
These workbooks conform with the official program so just by having my kids complete occasional lessons, we can keep up-to-date with what is expected of them.
And then there is a series of general books for no particular age that teaches French history, the geography of France, an overview of science, technology, and regles de vie. This is basically lessons to teach kids how to be respectful and follow the rules, or common courtesy, which is included in the national program. As Christians, we learn this just by following God’s commandments. But since France has removed religion from education, and Christianity specifically, they were forced to create their own secular program to address the problems not being addressed by religious education.
By completing these workbooks, we can show respect for national requirements without deterring too much from the real education that is taking place under Mason’s method.
And the kids enjoy them, which is the main reason I like them.
10. Manuels Anciens
My last favorite resource is also entirely in French. It is a website that offers all the old schoolbooks that are no longer used or even in print. Many of them can be downloaded as pdfs or images that can be transformed into a pdf.
I love this site mostly because I found the greatest method for teaching a child to read. It is called Mico, mon petit ours. It is basically a story about a little bear called Mico but written for the child to read by himself from the beginning. Each lesson introduces a new sound which is then used to create a word that in turn advances the story.
For example, the first five lessons introduce the sounds m, i, c, o, d, n, e, l which in turn create the words, Mico, Mimi, Coco, dodo, dîne, Milène, and comme. These are used in story form to introduce Mico the bear, Mimi the cat, Coco the donkey who then go to bed (dodo) eat (dîne) with the little girl who loves them, Milène. The story grows as the child’s knowledge of sounds and words grow. A wonderfully Charlotte Masoney concept.
And this is only one resource of many that are available. The only inconveniences are that it is entirely in French. And not all the books are in pdf format for immediate download. Many of them need to be saved as images and then require a program to turn those series of images into a pdf.
But the entire site is worth it just for the download of the first two books of Mico for learning to read in French.
With the internet, we have easy access to a multitude of resources that we could never have dreamed of forty years ago. And more are being added daily. Learning a new language has never been so simple or cheap. The biggest problem now is knowing how to sort out the most useful of these thousands of possibilities. This list should narrow it a bit for you to keep you from being as overwhelmed as I was when trying to give my children an education in a language that is not my own.