French was one of the first foreign languages I attempted to learn way back in college.
I took private classes at the time and even did a few immersion trips to France over the years following.
One thing I quickly discovered is that French is a language where learning resources abound – there’s never a shortage of choices when it comes to purchasing a French book or course. Compare this to other languages where resources are hard to find and it’s great.
But the problem is that when you have so many options, deciding which ones are quality and which ones aren’t isn’t easy.
Or perhaps it’s just a matter of finding the French resource that suits your own learning style.
FrenchPod101 is a growing audio and video resource ranging from absolute beginner level right through to advanced, and it’s certainly one of the more comprehensive online options for French learners.
Here I’ll share what I discovered.
FrenchPod101 has undergone some major changes (improvements) recently
Innovative Language courses (of which FrenchPod101 is one), were up until recently very disorganized and poorly structured.
Their content was all over the place and it was difficult for learners who preferred a more ‘linear’ course (start to finish).
This haphazard navigation is for the most part gone now and replaced with an optional structured course format.
They call this Learning Paths.
If you take a look at the Absolute Beginner category for example, you’ll see a range of different paths such as “Essential French for Emergencies in France” and “Interacting With People”. Within these paths, you have a series of linear lessons on that particular topic which you can move through sequentially.
The approximate time to complete each path is also displayed (e.g. “Interacting With People: 116 Lessons, 13 Hours, 38 Minutes”).
If you tried FrenchPod101 before they implemented the Learning Paths feature, you’ll agree with me that this is a welcome improvement.
The FrenchPod101 dashboard and lesson structure
FrenchPod101 has an fairly complex and detailed dashboard with an almost overwhelming amount of features.
The ‘Learning Paths’ section under ‘Lessons’ is the ideal way to start now as it really simplifies the navigation for new learners. If you’re the kind of person who prefers a linear or sequential course (lesson 1 -> lesson 2 -> lesson 3, etc.) then you’ll appreciate this.
But thankfully it’s totally optional.
Some people (myself included) prefer to decide what to learn next and don’t work well with too much structure. So it’s good that you can opt out of this.
The paths aren’t perfect however and don’t always adhere to ‘ascending difficulty’ – you’ll find on occasion that some hard lessons appear early on and easy ones come later.
There are essentially 2 lesson delivery formats in FrenchPod101 – audio (as podcasts) and video.
They all go from Absolute Beginner through to Advanced but there’s an Introduction category that helps acquaint you with France and its culture and history. I personally skipped over this as it isn’t necessarily foundational to learning the language.
Lesson subject matter is fairly haphazard but tends to be more topic-focused, preparing you with French language based on culturally appropriate situations.
The quality and substance of most FrenchPod101 lessons varies
The audio lessons in FrenchPod101 are basically podcasts and are presented by a variety of hosts at different levels.
I’m not sure if this variety is because they simply hired hosts at certain points or if they just have a large team working on the site but the inconsistency might be a little off-putting for some (one minute you’re listening to Sam and Alex and then it changes to Eric and Yasmine).
Because it’s a podcast with two or more hosts, there is a lot of chit chat in the lessons.
For me, this gets annoying quickly.
I just like to get immediately into the meat of the lesson and not have to sit there listening to two people banter.
In some cases this banter sounds very scripted too.
The good news is, if you’re like me and want to jump into the native dialogue immediately, you can select it and ignore the banter. You can do this by selecting the dialogue and vocabulary which enables you to listen to (and repeat) specific parts of French dialogue.
Now, one of the biggest selling points of FrenchPod101 is that you can download everything.
This means that all the lesson notes and audio files are able to be downloaded for offline use.
You’re not restricted to online use and you don’t have to stay on your subscription if you download all the lesson content.
The downloadable lesson notes are very comprehensive too (lots of detail and thorough explanations).
If French pronunciation is something you need help with, FrenchPod101 also offers a correction service as part of their Premium membership or there’s an automated voice recognition feature built in (but this is not 100% accurate).
FrenchPod101 video lessons vary greatly in their quality
I really enjoy the FrenchPod101 videos with Lya which cover a lot of different topics (mostly at Intermediate level).
These are the highest quality videos they seem to offer.
Unfortunately there are a lot of extremely poor quality videos too mostly at the Absolute Beginner and Advanced level.
These videos are more like decade-old slideshows with annoying music backing tracks. I’ve made this same criticism of other Innovative Language editions too in the past.
That’s not to say that they’re useless or won’t be helpful to many learners but for me personally, I don’t see what the point is of having a video slideshow that could just as easily be turned into an audio lesson.
For visual learners who prefer to learn with high quality video material, this is definitely one area where FrenchPod101 could improve.
Curious: If you’ve used FrenchPod101 before, what did you think of their video lessons?
FrenchPod101 addons and extra membership features
In my opinion, you’ll get the majority of value out of the most basic membership tier in FrenchPod101. The bulk of the content and what you really want to sign up for is the audio and video lesson material.
The other tiers come with a whole lot of additional features which, while somewhat useful, are not vitally important.
The grammar section for example is pointless.
It’s a simple text summary of grammar points. You’d find more information on Wikipedia.
But there are other features like the ‘My Teacher Messenger’ (for Premium Plus members) where you can get personalized help from a French speaker.
There’s also a a Word Bank and Phrase List which is quite useful for looking up individual words and sentences.
These can also work together with the in-built flashcard feature where you can send French words and phrases to a flashcard deck for later study.
Does FrenchPod101 add value for money?
A while back, I communicated with the guys over at Innovative Language and ask them a few questions. Here are the responses they gave me.
Regarding FrenchPod101’s approach/method:
Innovative Language believes in practical expressions, aligned to CEFR proficiency levels, in the natural context of native speech. Most lessons, then, begin with a dialogue in which a language skill is introduced in context. The rest of the lessons then go on to talk more about the cultural context in which the dialogue takes place, and the key vocabulary, phrases, morphology, and syntax that allow the learner to carry out the particular language task.
This is what sold me on the Innovative Language approach as it’s something I believe very strongly in (that you don’t need to study grammar to learn to speak a foreign language).
It also explains why they’ve put little effort into developing their grammar section.
The focus of FrenchPod101 is on real, applicable language for the real world.
Another question I asked Innovative was about the freedom that teachers have in determining what content they cover. Here’s the response they gave me:
The native speakers who create the content have a lot of freedom to choose what they teach, though we have a few standard series, such as Survival Phrases, that teach roughly the same kinds of expressions across all of our languages.
Innovative Language lessons are aligned to CEFR levels, and we typically ask that teachers try to teach to a standardized set of internal Can Do statements when preparing the dialogues and the grammar and vocabulary information.
There is indeed consistency in the lower difficulty levels with regard to the topics covered but as you get up to the Intermediate and Advanced levels, the teachers are a lot more flexible and creative.
This is good news for variety but it also leads to a more messy lesson structure.
FrenchPod101 have maintained a good level of consistency with quality however, and the ‘Learning Paths’ addition is an enormous improvement.
Overall I think it’s an excellent resource and one of the better Innovative Language editions available.
If you haven’t already, take a look at FrenchPod101 by making a trial 7 day account right here.
Used FrenchPod101 before? Let us know below! 🙂
Reviewed by Donovan Nagel.