Of all the language-learning products I've tried, Rocket French is in my opinion the most well-balanced, well thought through of them all. The heart of the course is an "interactive audio course" which is similar to other audio courses with the idea that it teaches through conversations, and through repetition. Where Rocket French differs, though, is that the lessons are actually interesting, and often rather funny.
Each lesson is around twenty minutes long, which allows me to knock one lesson off on my way to work. The audio is clear, and the lessons teach you practical language skills like booking a hotel room — and even flirting! — while still giving you a good grounding in grammar.
Beyond the audio lessons, there's also a well-constructed grammar course (with audio), and tools to practice what you've learned. You can record yourself for instant feedback on your pronunciation — really important when you're self-teaching. It improves your listening comprehension, speaking, reading and writing skills, so you end up with full fluency... rather than just a few phrases stuffed up your sleeve.
Best of all, it's flexible and caters to many learning styles. This is a tool you can keep coming back to as you progress, and you'll keep finding new ways to use it.
Fantastic value for the price. Suitable for beginners. Comes with a fun and effective audio course (good if you're going on vacation) as well as a more comprehensive grammar course, so you don't need to buy them separately. Free trial (no credit card required). If you do buy, it's a one-off purchase — no ongoing subscription fees. Free updates for life. Web-based software works on all devices. Fully-featured separate app for iOS and Android works on phones and tablets.
The grammar course component is not quite as fun as the audio course — it's similar to a friendly textbook, with interactive audio examples. Good for explaining how things work, but it can be a little dry.
A relative newcomer to the language learning scene, Ouino isn't just the same French grammar lessons repackaged with new fancy gadgets and some marketing spin.
Ouino has rethought some of the traditional steps that most academic French courses, and strikes a sweet balance between explaining how the language works, while not overwhelming you with unnecessary detail. It feels like their goal is to quickly get you to the point where you can use the language, before going back and filling in all the details.
Like Rocket French, you can jump around between lessons, and they encourage you to explore the software and find the path that works for you. But if you need some guidance, there is a recommended path that you can follow that is very well devised.
Beyond the grammar, it comes with some extra bonuses: A whole section on verb conjugations; a big library of vocabulary grouped by topic; a "record and listen" tool to help perfect your pronunciation — broken down by sound.
Ouino works on all devices, and can be bought either as a subscription, or as a one-off purchase. The one-off purchase price is extremely reasonable, and comes with free updates for life.
Teaches the components of French very well, but without overwhelming you with detail. Gives you a lot of freedom to choose what you want to learn. Very interactive — this would be suitable for older kids and teens. Works offline (there are apps for all devices), and syncs your progress when you reconnect.
Hefty download for computer/desktop version. (There is a new web app version, but it may not be super reliable yet.) May feel more basic and less comprehensive than Rocket French, because they only give you the essential information.
If you want to work on your French grammar and vocabulary (rather than survival phrases for taking on vacation), and you enjoy a bit of offbeat humor, then Frantastique is incredibly fun and worth a look.
The course material is structured around an increasingly ridiculous story plot that involves French-speaking aliens and a naked Victor Hugo. (Don't worry — his beard covers everything!) There are cartoons and silly videos, and you’ll be giggling the whole time.
But underneath the silliness there’s a solid French grammar course with clever algorithms that adapt material to your skill level as you complete exercises.
The format of the course is a little different: Instead of giving you all the material at once, it's drip-fed to you a little bit each day. This "little and often" approach is really good for building good habits and allowing your brain to absorb the material, but it might be offputting for anyone who wants to "binge" on their French course.
(It might also be a bit frustrating when you consider Frantastique is a paid monthly subscription.)
Hugely entertaining, if you're not put off by semi-naked cartoon characters. (It would also be good for teenagers, I think.) Smart algorithm adapts to your level after the initial "training" period. A wide range of exercises make it actually pretty fun to learn French grammar.
It’s not designed for complete beginners to learning French — the material is taught exclusively in French (although with English translations available), so it’s best if you’ve already done a tiny bit of French study already, or you're happy with an immersion approach.
There isn’t much focus on pronunciation, but the course does highlight differences between different flavors of French — most notably, between French-French and Canadian-French.
It's a monthly subscription rather than a one-off purchase. But this means you can see if you like it without spending a whole lot of money.
FrenchPod101 has arguably the largest collection of French-learning podcasts online. There is hundreds of hours of audio, as well as a good number of videos lessons for certain membership types.
A wonderful thing about FrenchPod101 is the variety of learning paths you can take. All lessons are graded (absolute beginner through to advanced), so you are always operating within your level. But within each level you can choose from a structured learning path, or dive off into topics (like French slang, everyday activities, holidays), or different formats (like listening comprehension).
While the audio/video content is the foundation of the product, there are a lot of extra features that come with a membership, like interactive activities, flash cards, and line-by-line audio practice. These are useful if you're using FrenchPod101 as part of your 'core' learning strategy.
Content gets a little thinner as you reach more advanced levels of the course, and one common criticism is that there is often a lot of English being spoken, when there should be a bit more French (especially at upper levels).
But if you're looking for a huge array of French podcasts to inject into your day-to-day routine, this should be your first stop. Both the "Basic" and "Premium" membership types are reasonably priced for the amount of content you get, and the additional features available.
FrenchPod101 memberships go on sale quite often. Click here to see if there are any deals available at the moment.
Rosetta Stone's French products are pure "acquisition" method tools. That is... they don't make you learn grammar or vocabulary lists, they just throw you in the deep end and allow you to "absorb" the language by seeing it used in context with pictures and audio — in much the same way as we learn our mother tongue as children (in theory).
At first I had my doubts about Rosetta Stone. To be honest, I thought it was a bit of a gimmick. I mean, how much French can you really learn just by looking at pictures? Sure, you can manage things like "the girl drinks water", but there's so much that you can't show in a photo. "I am currently having serious doubts about my purpose in life..." would be tricky.
But I've come around to it. What it does do, it does well. It's good for learning actions (the man eats, the man runs), and simple tenses (the man ate, the man eats, the man is going to eat).
But most of all: It really sticks the material in your head. Even if that happens at a slightly tedious pace.
You probably won't be able to rely on Rosetta Stone alone, but it's a good tool to have in your arsenal.
Fun and game-like. Introduces basic grammar in a way that doesn't feel like hard work. Good emphasis on spoken French. Easy to use, either online through the website or through the app. Sticks in your head.
Isn't going to get you all the way to full fluency. There are limitations to the picture gimmick. Voice recognition is a bit iffy — I could say nothing at all and it would mark me correct.
At its heart, Pimsleur is a series of 30 minute audio lessons that pioneered the idea of spaced repetition: The material you learn is repeated after an appropriate amount of time, so that you can remember and recall it better.
The lesson content is practical and conversational, rather than academic. A lesson is typically introduced by a conversation, which then gets broken down and practiced piece-by-piece.
You're instructed to avoid writing anything down or looking at any written dictionaries or textbooks, so that you don't end up speaking French with "an American accent" because you've spent so much time looking at "American letters".
You won't find bubbly personality or whimsical digressions, like you might find in FrenchPod101 or Rocket French. Pimsleur pre-dates all of those. Here you'll just find calm, clear instructions, and a whole lot of repetition.
You can purchase Pimsleur lessons one-off in blocks of varying sizes, but the price is quite high indeed. A much better option is to get their monthly subscription, which gives you access to all the French lessons.
Good for pronunciation. Good for really sticking the material in your head.
Can be dull and tedious. You don't learn a lot of language for the time you invest in the program (but you'll learn it very well). No personality in the recordings... just lots of repetition.
A French course is only going to work if you actually use it. So regardless of what I’ve said here, if there’s one course that you really love to use — do it!
If you’re only going to buy one, in my opinion Rocket French offers the best all-in-one package. It’s very reasonably priced for what you get, and it’s a one-off purchase for lifetime access so you’re not being stung with monthly fees.