When I was a high school French teacher, I told my students that high school was the last time in their lives when they could take a foreign language class for free. Now that I'm raising my children in French, however, I see that my statement wasn't entirely accurate. Here are five ways to learn French or improve your knowledge of the language for free without enrolling in a class:
1. Join a conversation group. Here in Oregon, the Alliance Française de Portland tracks the French conversation groups that meet regularly around our state. Participation is free, and I'm sure some attendees would be willing to work with beginning speakers.
2. Find library resources--there's so much more than books! Many library systems offer free access to Mango Connect, an online language learning program, and Muzzy Online, for children. (Multnomah County Library patrons can find quick links to Mango here and Muzzy here.) Libraries may also organize French conversation groups like this one at our North Portland branch.
3. Host an exchange student. This doesn't have to be a year-long commitment; many students come for just a few weeks in the summer. While they generally come to improve their English, I'm sure they'd be glad to teach you phrases in their language. Here in Portland, I recommend Andeo International Homestays; my family has also hosted students with AFS Intercultural Programs.
4. Use your Internet or WIFI connection--there's so much more than YouTube! Ihab & Nicole recently told me about XBMC, a free entertainment hub that enables legal access to French TV channels on your TV or computer. French media sites TV5Monde and Radio France International offer online language lessons. And for basic news podcasts in French, I like France Info Junior and RFI's Journal en français facile.
5. Trade your time or services for tutoring. Even if you don't think you have a skill worth trading (like offering lessons in a language you know), you can offer to babysit or pay for coffee dates. You never know what a tutor might take in exchange for language lessons.
What's wrong with language classes?
Not much! Taking language classes is a common and somewhat effective way to learn a language (it's how I learned French!), but many adults don't have the time, finances, and motivation required to enroll as a student again. But keep in mind that whatever method you choose for learning a language, frequency and consistency are the keys to progress.
I learned this through a regrettable experience: during my last semester of university, I audited a beginning Spanish class, wanting to learn the language without the required classwork. After just a few weeks, however, my classmates surpassed me in their ability to respond to the professor in Spanish. I was surprised that they'd made so much progress simply through bi-weekly listening labs and homework activities. Within a few months, I stopped attending the class regularly, being unable to understand the dialogue and keep up with the curriculum. That was the only class I ever skipped with frequency, yet the experience of falling behind due to a lack of consistent work and effort was a good lesson for this future language teacher!