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A selection of my recommended resources for
Russian can seem daunting with its cyrilic alphabet, complex cases, long words and arbitrary word order, but learning it can actually be easier than you think if you approach it the right way. Start by listening to spoken Russian and learning simple every-day vocabulary in context. Don't worry too much about proper grammar or reading cyrilic alphabet yet (it will come later!), but get a feel of how the language sounds and how the basic phrases are used in context. Resources below are a good place to start - pick a few of these, and try to spend at least an hour a day working on them! Many of these tools can be used on the go, making it easier for you to fit language learning into your schedule.
Recommended books for learning French
As much as the new technologies are fun for learning a language, good old traditional books are still a necessary and valuable resource for any language learner. If you want to solidify your knowledge and progress, you should have:
A good grammar book (I recommend Mary Crocker's "Schaum's Outline of French Grammar")
A good phrasebook (a good one is "Lonely Planet French Phrasebook" by Michael Janes)
Frequency Dictionary showing the most frequently used words in French, so you can focus on learning the words that are most frequently used ("A Frequency Dictionary of French" by Lonsdale, Deryl, and Yvon le Bras")
Fiction in French: you can start from kids' books (such as Le Petit Nicolas), but there are also lots of short stories in French available on Amazon and from Olly Richards mentioned above.
My favorite place to get French books is BookDepository.com - an excellent online bookstore that has a great selection and free shipping!
Recommended mobile apps
While there are dozens of mobile apps available for language learners (and I've tried many of them in search of the most user-friendly and effective), my favorites are still Busuu and Memrise.
Memrise is my preferred app for expanding vocabulary in the early stages of learning a language. They use the spaced repetition method to get you to repeat words before you are likely to forget them. Their app feels like a game, as you are prompted to choose the right answer from multiple choices, translate words from English to French and back, and do speed rounds of vocab tests. You also compete with other users for top scores (making it easier to stick with the app and encouraging you to do more every day). Memrise has a free version, but even their annual subscription is very affordable (if you get the right deal, it can be as low as US$ 30).
Busuu is a great app for learning French grammar in addition to useful vocab, and I prefer this app to the giants like Rosetta Stone or Babbel. The lessons are structured around levels (From A1 to B2) and a daily lesson can take as little as 5 minutes. Another cool feature is the opportunity to have your exercises checked and corrected by native speakers. This can be intimidating in the beginning, but once you get over the initial shyness, it's quite a great feature. And it's also very affordable! A yearly subscription would cost you less than $50 (and promotions are regularly available), but a free version gets you quite far as well.
Mondly French is another good app that can as an excellent study aid for reinforcing basic words and concepts that you learned elsewhere. While it would not be sufficient or effective to be used on its own or as an only tool, it can be a good complement to other tools described earlier. It can help you practice simple dialogues, learn new vocabulary, and see words and phrases in context. There's a limited free version, so you can try it out for yourself without the risk or heavy investment.
Recommended resources for intermediate learners
Beelinguapp - This fun app helps you learn Languages with Audiobooks and Music. The app shows the exact same text in two languages, side by side, so you can compare the two and learn the language in context. At the same time, it is an audiobook, and with its unique karaoke reading, you follow the audio in the text on both sides. The texts go from fairy tales and news to science papers and novels, and new ones are added every week. You can listen to a native speaker narrate at your preferred speed (even with your phone locked or while offline) and take tests to assess your comprehension. This is definitely one of the more fun apps, and it makes learning entertaining as you are reading and hearing real stories and songs.
Rocket Languages (described above in the section for beginners) is also a great choice for intermediate learners (go straight for Level 2 on their site)! As mentioned above, in addition to 20-25 minute audio lessons (somewhat similar to Pimsleur) that you can listen to hands-free, they have intensive pronunciation training (forcing you to pronounce all words and phrases until the voice-recognition software confirms that your pronunciation is 100% accurate), a series of exercises to test your memory and spelling, and a solid grammar section. I like that it forces your active participation and has interactive leaderboards putting you in competition with other users (this speaks to my competitive side and motivates me not to lose my streak). This app is a bit costly, but they have regular promotions that can be as much as 60% off, allowing you to get the full course (from beginner to advanced) for less than US$ 180, and less than US$60 for just one level. This is way less than you would pay for in-person classes to reach the same result. If you actually stick to daily lessons with Rocket, you can make impressive progress in as little as 2-3 months.
Language Learning with Netflix - this Chrome extension lets you watch shows with two sets of subtitles on at the same time, so you can visually pair translations with dialogue and learn new vocabulary in the process (this only works with your Chrome browser, not on your TV, unfortunately...). It’s a clever service that makes use of Netflix’s massive catalog and all of the major languages in which it already offers subtitles, including French (but also Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and many others).
The tool works best as a supplement for people who already have some basic understanding of the language they’re learning. There’s a vocabulary-highlighting feature that grays out less common words, which is adjustable to match your vocabulary level. Hovering over a word produces a pop-up dictionary, and clicking the word lets you hear it. You can also slow down the dialogue or automatically pause playback at the end of every subtitle, so you can learn line by line. There’s even a catalog of recommendations for movies and shows that are good to study.
Grammar Hero - this course from Olly Richards (creator of the incredible "Uncovered" courses) is aimed at intermediate learners who are tired of translating in their head when they speak French. It makes learning grammar much more fun (and so much easier) than what you may remember about grammar learning from those boring language classes you had in school. Here Olly invites you to learn grammar through immersion in a story. You will be surprised how quickly you will master grammar in French when you are enjoying reading and listening through "controlled immersion". This method will help you internalize French grammar, speak with authenticity, and communicate with freedom!
italki - this site has hundreds of online tutors available for private one-on-one classes at a time convenient to you, and starting from as low as US$ 5 for a 30-minute session. You can test a few different teachers before you find the one you love! At this level, it's really important that you start speaking with native speakers, and an iTalki tutor will be a great option for your conversation practice, explanation of tricky grammar points, and pronunciation training. Scheduling regular classes with a tutor will also help with accountability and will force you to stay on track and be prepared for classes!
Recommended resources for advanced learners
If you've made it to the advanced level in French - CONGRATULATIONS!!! This must not have been easy, and you should be proud of yourself! Many people who reach this stage, however, feel frustrated by struggling to achieve even marginal progress. They feel that they are stagnating, going in circles and sometimes even regressing, losing some of the language skills they've learned over the previous months and years. If you feel that way too - that's perfectly normal. This often happens because you may still be using the tools and techniques you've been using earlier - at beginner and intermediate levels. These tools, however, are usually not well adapted for advanced learners. So what can you do to take your language skills to the next level and get closer to near-native fluency? Let us give you some ideas...
One of the best ways to rapidly improve your language skills is taking an immersion course in a country where the language is spoken. Even if you do just a two-week immersion where you take advanced classes, speak the language during the day with locals and classmates, and experience the life lived entirely in a foreign language, you'll discover that you will start thinking in the language, stop translating it in your head, pick up lots of local expressions and feel so much more comfortable speaking the language. This is something that is very hard to do when you take lessons in your home country and are surrounded by temptations to switch back to your stronger language(s). So why not spend your next holiday actively learning a language instead of lounging by the pool?
LanguageCourse.net is the best site I've come across to find a good language school in your country of choice. It allows you to search for French language schools in French-speaking countries and filter your search by cost, city, type of classes, and type of living arrangements (e.g. you can seek family-stay or live in a student housing). It also offers school reviews from former students, so you can see for yourself what other learners had to say about their experiences. Many of the schools suggested on this site also offer extracurricular activities (always in your target language), such as cooking, dancing or sports, and that is another great way to practice language in context, beyond classroom walls.