What better time to learn french than in the car! Instead of filling your head with mindless commercial radio, you can instead fill it with a new language, and make the most of all that time spent zipping up the highway or cooling your heels at traffic lights.
(And for all those of you who are too afraid to speak your French out loud... your car is the perfect sound booth for rounding those vowels and perfecting your French RRRRRR.)
Here are a few French courses that I recommend you check out. All offer interactive audio courses, and come either as CDs or as MP3 downloads.
The interactive audio course part of Rocket French is simply wonderful. The 20 minute lessons are just long enough to teach you a short conversation between the two characters, while explaining all the finer points of the language as you encounter them in context.
They go slow enough that you'll pick it all up, and by the end of the 20 minute lesson you'll be amazed how much you've learned. That confusing-sounding conversation at the start of the lesson will now be clear as day.
Unlike most other audio courses, this one is also supported by a full written grammar course. On the website you also get full transcripts of the conversations, which tends to solidify things in my head.
Note that this product is available as a download, while all the other products I'm going to mention will have to be ordered from Amazon, or purchased from the store. For more info you should read my full Rocket French review.
This one isn't an "in your car" course as such, and it's not broken up into short segments suitable for car journeys, but you can just hit the pause button and resume it later. Michel Thomas is quite famous for his methods of teaching that don't really involve "memorizing" new information, but builds on the material you've learned earlier. Note: The link above is to the most recent incarnation of this product, which does not feature as much Michel as previous versions.
Yes, this elderly gentleman gets two mentions! Formerly called "French Language Builder", this course is designed to build on the earlier courses, but I found that I could mostly follow it with just my existing knowledge — I just had to hold on tightly as he built basic sentences into much more complicated ones. In a short space of time I could say "I don't want to go to Luxembourg, it's too far from here. You can't walk there, you have to take a taxi." I thought that was pretty special. Although I preferred the pick-up lines that Rocket French taught me!
FrenchPod101 has one of the largest collection of French-learning podcasts online.
I have not personally been through their full collection so I can’t attest to the quality of the lessons in higher levels, but the introductory podcasts followed a similar structure to the Rocket French interactive audio course.
To listen to these podcasts when you're on the go, you'll need to use iTunes to access the full podcast feed. It doesn't seem possible to download the actual audio files and save them on your device, like you can with Rocket French.
FrenchPod101 is a monthly subscription service, and if you cancel your membership you will lose access to the podcasts. If you don't like the idea of paying a monthly fee, you might be better off with any of the other courses on this page. They're all one-off payments.
Well, the title has it right. You can certainly listen to these in your car! Unfortunately you might forget what you just learned as soon as you step out of the car, because these courses appear to be little more than vocabulary and memorization, with little focus on how to actually hold a conversation. Good if you just want to learn how to pronounce (travel related) words, but not so good if you actually want to string words together and have a meaningful conversation with a French speaker.
The old staple French course is still doing its job: Plug these lessons into your car stereo and repeat, repeat, repeat. These lessons tend to be nice and bite-sized for car journeys. You don't learn a whole lot of usable French for the money you're paying, but it's good for perfecting your pronunciation. Just don't listen to these lessons late at night on a dark deserted highway: You might fall asleep!
I'll be adding more courses as I discover them, but for now my favorite is Rocket French, followed by the Michel Thomas products.
I find Rocket French to be a more pleasant driving companion because the lessons are quite entertaining as well as educational, and I enjoy Michel Thomas for his ability to cram more vocabulary into me than my brain can actually hold. He doesn't explain it... but he taught me how to demand a taxi to Luxembourg!