1. The vocab notebook.
Buy a small one, so you can pop it in your back pocket or your handbag. Take it everywhere with you. Use it to scribble down new words to look up later. Have it next to you during your lessons, so that you can jot down useful new phrases. Whip it out when you have two minutes between metro stops, and have a quick read of the last few words you wrote down, or test yourself on the English translations of those on page 17, way back when.
2. The textbook.
I’ve used many different textbooks down the years, but I keep coming back to Hodder‘s Facon de Parler. This book works very well for British adults “false beginners”, who may have had some French in school but feel as though they have forgotten most of it: it’s a good mix of dialogues and varied exercises, and isn’t too heavy on the grammar. For self-study, I recommend the “complete pack“, which includes the CD and the answers to the exercises in the book. Separately, you can also buy the Activity Book, which is ideal for consolidating the lessons learned in the main book.
3. The grammar book.
I heard it. That sigh. Yes, whatever some websites will tell you, grammar is essential, and no, there is no better way to learn it than repetition and exercises. Despite their unimaginative titles – the French don’t go in much for disguising a grammar book with a catchy, friendly-sounding name – you can’t do better than the Grammaire Progessive du Francais series. (Anything published by CLE is worth its weight in gold, by the way: conjugaison progressive, vocabulaire progressif, phonétique progressive, and, for when you are a little more advance, culture progressive and littérature progressive.)
4. The dictionary
No, Google Translate is not a dictionary. You need a real one – Collins Robert now produce electronic versions of their paper dictionaries, and both are available on their website. They come in all shapes and sizes, and it may be best to start with a smaller one, such as this one.
5. The podcast.
Podcasts are ideal for learning when you think you don’t have time to learn: in the supermarket queue, in the car, or while you’re loading and unloading the dishwasher. And until someone finds me a better one, I’m going to keep recommending radiolingua’s Coffee Break French, not least because of its manageable length – just 15 to 20 minutes. I bet you can find the time for that every day.
6. The website.
Interactive video courses, crosswords, phrase of the day: the BBC languages website has it all.
7. The easy readers.
Easy readers are books that are especially designed for learners of foreign languages. They are usually simplified, adapted versions of well-known works of literature, and are divided into level (usually measured by the number of words used). The sense of achievement in getting through a whole book – yes, even a short one – is a great boost to motivation, and that, in turn, helps your learning. Not to mention what reading itself can do for you: helping you to see grammar in context, teaching you new words, introducing you to the culture.
Have you found any other good materials you’d like to recommend?
— for more hints and tips on language learning, buy Conquering Babel: A Practical Guide to Learning a Language here in the US and here in the UK.