We bought a book called Easy French Step-by-Step as the first step in learning French. However, a quick browsing through the book confirmed to me that this book is not the place to start. When it comes to pronunciations, and especially with a language like French, in which pronunciation is the biggest challenge for new learners, reading instructions on how to pronounce in a book is not gonna be of great help.
So, I started searching for websites/software and here are the sites that I looked at:
This site has been on my radar for a year. I downloaded their iPhone App about a year back and I liked it. I took the first few lessons of the course online and on my iPad and I was very disappointed.
In the first lesson, you are introduced to a variety of introductory words and phrases using flashcards approach. Immediately after this first lesson, you are presented a long passage and you are asked to answer 3 questions. I was completely irritated with this approach. Here I am, a complete beginner trying to learn the first few words in French and their proper prononciations and I am flooded with test material which completely overwhelms me.
I wanted to like this course since it had the best look-and-feel. But content-wise, I felt that it left lot to be desired. Also, the speed of pronunciation of the introductory words was too fast for me – Yes, I can listen to the same phrase multiple times, but even then it is very difficult to get all the real sounds made by the native speaker since my ear is not accustomed to it. A prononciation guide in English for each phrase in the course would have helped.
There is a very active community here and this may come in handy for me at a later stage when I want to practice the language but not now.
This is another very popular and heavily promoted site. This site was no different from Busuu.com in their approach. Same flashcards-based approach – very fast pronuniciation, no pronunciation guide in English, etc.
The test were simple unlike busuu.com’s complex review. Here, after learning the words, there are exercises to write about yourself – I am not sure whether it is useful at this stage. In my opinion, in the first few days of learning, the focus should be on learning words/phrases with proper pronunciation, repeating them aloud, trying to use them in real-world settings and listening to real conversations to see whether any of these words/phrases are used.
There is a community aspect here as well – you can submit your writing/speaking to the community and some native speaker will review and get back to you with corrections.
I decided to give Livemocha a try and I felt this was better than Busuu.com in terms of content and organization, despite the fact that Livemocha did not an iPhone App. The interface is also a bit worse than Busuu.com. I was given an offer to buy their Gold Key offer for $9 instead of $99 – I decided to take the bait, even though I was not sure whether this subscription will do me any good.
This site looked much more polished and professional than the 2 above. There was a clear road-map given on what would be covered in each course, organized by stages. There is even a year-long course planned for you. They have a free iPhone App.
Busuu.com and LiveMocha.com give you access to many lessons/units in your trial period but here only the first lesson was available and after that, you have to pay to access other lessons in that course. After looking around for a while, I found a way to get a 2-week free trial with access to all the content.
Of the 3 sites that I looked at, this was the one that I was most pleased with after doing one lesson. The interface is quite nice, the content is quite good, they make you type the words which I felt was better to fix the written word in my mind. There was a Review Manager which supports Spaced Repetition System (SRS) – I am a big fan of SRS, I will write a detailed post about it later.
This was the last one I looked at and here again, I was given access only to one lesson and then I have to make up my mind to purchase. It is a downloadable course unlike the above 3 sites.
But, boy, I was very pleased with this when I saw the first lesson. They have done lot of great things in this course – when a sentence is given along with its translation, the words are highlighted in different colors. If you pick a word highlighted in one color in French and see the same colored word in English, you see the word-for-word translation. This was very pleasing to me as this allows you to get a sense of the way the sentence is formed in French – whether the word orders are the same. Also, rather than memorizing a full phrase without knowing the individual words, you get to know the individual words and then you learn the entire phrase as well.
Here is the first place where I saw a very helpful pronunciation guide in English for each phrase. There was an option to record your voice and play it simultaneously with the native speaker – this was very cool as well. Most sites provide an option to record yourself, but not to offer simultaneous playing of your utterance and the native speaker’s utterance. This will help you to figure out whether you are putting the emphasis on the wrong place or stretching some word where it should not be.
The interface was quite pleasing – Price tag was $79. I almost wanted to buy it, but decided to wait for 2 weeks until I try Babbel.com and Livemocha.com.