This is a review of FrenchPod101.com, an online resource for learning French, through podcasts.
I’m going to take you inside the paid members area, with a video showing you the main features of the website, and then give you my honest assessment of the quality of the product, so you can decide whether it’s right for you.
If you’re thinking about how to learn French, you’ve probably noticed that there are tonnes of interesting resources to choose from. This is great for learners, but it can also be paralysing.
When there's so much to choose from, what do you choose?
One option that you'll see crop up again and again online is FrenchPod101. Their marketing dollars are clearly being well spent!
But is it any good? Is it a scam?
I bought a premium membership and got stuck in. This review is all about what I found out.
If you don’t have the time to read the whole review, then I’ll summarise it here by saying that FrenchPod101 is a good, engaging resource, especially for beginners and lower levels.
Their bite-sized approach to study materials makes it appropriate for busy people and those who struggle with motivation, but it is certainly not any kind of shortcut and as with any resource, you will still have to do the hard work yourself.
To help you with that hard work, I’ve put together my own guide for using the site as effectively as possible and getting you speaking French quicker. More details at the end of the review.
Overall, I think FrenchPod101.com is a well-made and useful resource for learning French. It’s been designed to be easy to consume (hence the podcast format) and it has a clear structure with different sets of lessons for each level (absolute beginner to advanced). This means it’s going to work well for people who don’t know where to start, aren’t easily motivated, or just want to be walked through a learning programme.
However, independent learners may find it's structure and the pace of the episodes limiting.
Like other courses from Innovative Language, FrenchPod101 works on a freemium model. This means that it's free to create an account and use some of the early lessons but you'll still need to pay for most of the best content that is available only to paid subscribers.
There are various different subscriber options and as you might as expect, the longer you subscribe for the cheaper the price.In my opinion, the prices are reasonable.
Let's take a one-year premium subscription as our baseline – this costs $180. That's a lot more than the cost of a book but substantially less than other commercial products like Rosetta Stone ($399) or Pimsleur ($345 for 30 lessons), for example.
And to be honest, if it works, why wouldn’t you pay $180 for it?
If it works.
Here’s a video showing you the inside of the member’s area on the website:
Lessons in FrenchPod101 are organised by level. Each level has different ‘seasons' or sets of lessons which are normally 25 lessons long. This adds up to literally hundreds of French audio lessons, making FrenchPod101 one of the most substantial resources you can find.
That said, with so much content to choose from, it's difficult to know where to start.
A new feature called ‘Learning Paths' helps by offering your different paths or course structures based on your current level and what you most want to learn.
For example, beginners can choose from learning paths like ‘Greetings From Paris: Culture Class in French', ‘Essential French for Emergencies in France' or ‘Speaking Perfect French at a Restaurant'.
I like this idea because it helps you decide where to start. It also makes it clear what you'll have learnt once you complete the learning path.
What's Included In Each Lesson?
Each lesson contains 3 audio tracks:
- Full Lesson Audio
- Review Track
- Dialogue Only Track
Each lesson normally follows the same format:
- Dialogue in French
- Repetition of the dialogue with a translation
- Discussion of the story and cultural insight
- Explanation of new vocabulary
- Explanation of new grammar
Once you've completed the main lesson, you can use the review and dialogue-only tracks to practice what you've learned. The review track allows you quickly review and learn new vocabulary. And the dialogue track allows you to simply repeat the dialogue without listening to all of the explanations.
The Good Stuff
The really valuable parts of FrenchPod101 are a few powerful features accompanying each lesson.
The dialogue is given in an interactive format: each line is clickable, so you can hear the audio at your own pace, line-by-line, and you can switch the text between French and English translation.
This works really well, and is ideal for breaking down the dialogues into smaller parts, listening and reading at the same time, and is great for improving your vocabulary and listening comprehension.
Another page gives you a list of vocabulary from the dialogue, which, again, is clickable so you can hear the audio (at natural speed and slowed-down) and see how it’s written.
Now here's the fun stuff …, you can then choose the vocabulary you want to learn and export it to a flashcard system that’s built into the website. These flashcard decks are fully customizable and use a spaced repetition system to help you learn them.
In case you prefer a physical copy of what you're learning, all of the lesson material is available in downloadable worksheets. There’s nothing special about those, it’s just a pdf version of the information given on the website. Nevertheless, people like to consume information in different ways, and if you like to have everything printed off and there in front of you, it’s good to have.
In addition to the lessons, there are a lot of extra resources for beginners, which, for me, adds real value for people learning French for the first time.
When you’re just starting out it’s a delicate stage where you really need a lot of solid information (basics of grammar, phonology, spelling system) and the last thing you want to do is waste time and stifle your progress by trying to piece it all together from various websites. Here, it’s all in one place:
- Overviews of the language
- A Guide to French pronunciation
- Introduction to French Grammar
- French Verb Conjugation Charts
- Key French Phrases
A couple of other nice features include a quiz function, which gives you vocabulary and writing tests based on language from the lesson, and an online dictionary (French-English and English-French), which is accessible inside the website from the search bar. It contains all of the language from the lessons and lets you export words directly to flashcards.
What I Like About It
- It's a very substantial resource. There are lots of lessons for all levels and the library is updated regularly with new material
- The website is user-friendly for the most part and nice to use.
- The course is well-designed. It’s not easy to select and produce graded material for an entire language course, but I’ve been impressed with the content. Grammar points and language vocabulary get repeated over the course of each level, which helps reinforce what you’ve learnt.
- The podcast lessons are short and entertaining, so they're perfect for anyone who lacks motivation, or is looking for an easy way to get started. It’s important to note here that listening to the podcasts is only going to be one small part of the process of learning French – you need to compliment it with more involved study! But even if you did nothing more than listen to the FrenchPod101 in the car for a month, you will undoubtedly learn a lot.
- The fact that the lessons follow the same format help to give structure and make it easier to follow exactly what points are being taught. This structure is fantastic for some (although admittedly, it can be a little boring for others).
- The difficulty levels are just right. Once you figure out your current level and get started, you'll find that the progression from level to level is well managed.
- Vocabulary is well selected and the dialogues are based on life-like situations. This means the lessons teach useful language (the kind of French that’s actually spoken by people in French-speaking countries), unlike many other French learning books and resources I’ve seen. This on its own is a big plus. (After all, what's worse than learning vocabulary that people don’t actually use?)
- The grammar that's taught in the lessons is relevant and well explained – it's easy to understand and use right away.
- The flashcards feature works well and is very useful.
- The line-by-line clickable dialogues with audio, transcription and translation are AWESOME. For me, this is the main benefit of the product and worth the price alone.
- Each lesson has a comments section where you can ask any language questions you have. This is one of the big benefits of online learning – you can actually interact directly with the course creators. That's something you obviously can't do with a book.
- There is a decent balance of French and English in the podcasts. That is to say, they use enough French to give you some good exposure to the language, but not so much that you get frustrated because you don’t understand what’s going on. That said, some learners prefer to be more exposed to the language.
- The Learning Paths allow you to customise your course and learn the things that are most important and relevant to you.
- The printable worksheets, which summarise information from the lesson, are very handy for reviewing.
- Having the lessons available in a podcast format is great because you can use them anytime. You can either download them or use the app and listen on the go during your commute, in the gym or while pottering around the house.
What’s Not Good
- The dialogues in each lesson are short. This is good for beginners but frustrating as you become more advanced. As your level improves, you'll probably start to feel that there's too much English in each episode compared to the amount of French you're hearing. This is certainly the case for me when I reach advanced levels – I feel a need for more substantial, higher level texts that I can sink my teeth into. Even at the higher levels, the dialogues are all very short. This is understandable given that everything needs to fit into a short podcast, but some learners may find it frustrating.
- Even after you sign up, there is a quote a lot of advertising, up-selling, and cross-promoting related products (by way of emails, on-site banners etc), which gets irritating when you’ve already paid for the product. It definitely detracts from the user experience.
- The resources are, at times, not very ‘cared for’, which is a bit disappointing for something you pay good money for; podcasts are sometimes poorly edited, the voice recorder function doesn’t seem to work most of the time, and the information across the different study tools is not always consistent. For example, some words in the database don’t come with audio recordings, some translations are inaccurate or misleading (although staff do correct them once pointed out by members), and there are occasional programming bugs like the fact that opening the comments box in lessons resets the lesson page you were looking at, meaning you have to click all the way back through. None of this is a deal-breaker, but it does leave you feeling a bit neglected!
- The vocabulary lists and flashcards work with single words out of context, which is a big missed opportunity. It's much more effective to learn words in context. If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I go on about this quite a lot! Of course, you can see the words in context within the dialogues, and there are often sample sentences given in the flashcard programme, but I’m a big believer in keeping words in full sentences at all times, especially when revising.
- One issue I have with the lessons are, ironically, the fact that they are just that – lessons. What do I mean by that? In one 15-minute lesson, there are only 30 seconds-ish of sustained listening to French (the dialogue). The rest is teaching – explanations of vocabulary and grammar. You might find this frustrating after a while (especially after you’ve been through the lower levels and reach the intermediate course). It wasn’t that the “teaching” isn’t useful or good quality, it’s just that you need to change things up a bit and spend more time with the language. I would like there to be more material for extensive listening, so you can just listen and enjoy without having to always be taught something new. At the intermediate level, a little more French is used during the lessons, which is great, but it’s not quite enough, as English is still the main medium of instruction. However, this shouldn’t necessarily put you off – if you want well-targeted, digestible language lessons, and/or can get your main exposure to French elsewhere (such as TV or audio books), then this isn’t a problem.
- Vocabulary lists from the lessons don’t always contain all the useful words from the dialogues. Instead, they're words that are related to the topic. While there’s no harm in seeing related vocabulary, the fact that you haven’t heard it in the dialogue makes it a bit random, and it would be much more useful to provide the vocab that you’d already heard. It’s often the case in the lessons that you want to know what a word means, but it’s not given in the vocab list. You can look it up in the dictionary that comes with the website (and from there you can export those words to flashcard decks), but it’s unnecessary and interrupts the user experience.
Conclusion – [yasr_overall_rating]
Overall, I think FrenchPod101.com is a substantial and well-made resource for learning French. It’s been designed to be easy to consume and, despite my issues with the teaching format, I think it will be very useful to learners who are not sure where to start or what to focus on.
The tools on the website, especially the line-by-line clickable dialogues and the built-in flashcard tool are excellent, and really make it possible to get stuck in and analyse the language. The course designers and material writers are good and have designed quality content – it’s just a bit of a shame that the marketers behind the scenes have been given slightly too much freedom, as you’re left with the impression you’re getting sold to a fair bit.
However, this shouldn’t take away from the value of the French content itself. Remember that this is just one language learning resource. Like any other book, audio course, or even language school, don’t be under the impression that it’s any kind of silver bullet, or that simply buying this will be any guarantee of you learning French. There is no single resource with the magic answer.
Many people will be tempted to just rely on the podcasts, because they’re there, easily digestible and entertaining, but you still need to spend just as much time (and probably more) with your head down, stuck into the lesson transcripts and vocabulary sections to really improve at a good rate.
You will also eventually need to find ways to start speaking in order to become fluent in French. It’s not just about the studying – you’ve got to get out into the real world too, something that is often forgotten.
So, in conclusion, this is a good product with a lot that can help you. What’s important is that you keep an independent, self-directed approach to your learning, and use this product as a resource to learn what you need, rather than let it direct your learning for you.
To help you do this, I’ve written a guide that shows you how to make the most out of the features on the website. Through a lot of trial and error over 6 months of study, I figured out how best to use the dialogues and resources to improve much faster than simply following their lessons through one by one.
The guide is free – click here for more.
I hope this review has been informative and that you now have a better idea of whether FrenchPod101.com is right for you or not.
What do you think of FrenchPod101? Let me know in the comments below.