If you’re thinking about learning French, then I’d wager you’ve probably come across Duolingo’s French course.
Now, I won’t lie: I wasn’t that keen on French when I was at school (German was more my thing back then).
But then I played around with it on Duolingo… and I absolutely loved it!
Duolingo’s French course is easily one of its best. Not just because it’s so long, but also because it gets all the latest and greatest Duolingo features before pretty much every other course.
So does that mean Duolingo is good for learning French?
In this article, I’ll give you all the essential details, such as:
- How Duolingo’s French course is structured
- A closer look at the course’s special features
- Other features you need to be aware of
- The pros of Duolingo’s French course
- The cons of Duolingo’s French course
Now then, shall we jump in?
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What you’ll find in Duolingo’s French course
If you’re new to Duolingo, then it’s worth pointing out that all of Duolingo’s courses are structured in pretty much the same way.
They all follow what is commonly referred to as the lesson tree.*
The tree is broken up into a set of units…
Each unit has a set of skills…
Each skill has up to 6 crown levels…
And each crown level has a set of lessons…
The basic goal is to work through the tree by completing every lesson… in every level… in every skill… in every unit.
As of April 2022, Duolingo’s French course has a total of 10 units, broken down into a total of 253 skills. There are 1424 crown levels in Duolingo’s French course (not including the legendary levels).
The French course has a couple of bonus skills you can buy from the Duolingo Shop. These focus on idioms and flirting.
The French course is also the only course to have conversation lessons. These are available across 6 unique skills early in the French tree.
The exercises in the French course are basically the same as in all the other courses. Some of the common exercises you’ll come across include:
- Complete the translation
- Mark the correct meaning
- Picture flashcards
- Select the missing word
- Sentence shuffle
- Speak this sentence
- Speak the correct response
- Tap the pairs (standard and audio)
- Tap what you hear
- Fill in the blanks
- Listen and respond
*Duolingo are switching up their courses to a brand new format known as the Learning Path. It’s only been rolled out to a handful of users so far, so the majority of users will get the traditional lesson tree above. However, if your French course looks different to the above, then you’ve probably got the new lesson path. Check out this post from Duolingo to learn more!
Special features in Duolingo’s French course
Although English speakers can learn nearly 40 different languages on Duolingo, it’s important to point out that not all of the courses are created equally.
Some courses have special features that others don’t.
As of April 2022, Duolingo’s French course has more features than any other. It currently has 288 stories, 18 packs of audio lessons, and a massive library of podcasts.
Duolingo French stories
Duolingo’s French stories are designed to improve your reading, listening and speaking. They’re entirely in French and most of them are only a few minutes long at most.
They’re written for learners of all levels and come with the usual hints you find in the normal lessons. So once you’ve earnt enough crowns to unlock the first set, you can feel free to jump in whenever you feel ready.
Every now and then you’ll have to answer a question to make sure you understand what’s going on, which is a great way to measure where you’re at with your comprehension.
The conversation mode is pretty useful as well, as it gets you to take on the role of one of the characters in the story.
So this is a great opportunity to start speaking some French– regardless of what level you are!
Duolingo French audio lessons
Duolingo’s French audio lessons offer another great opportunity to start speaking some French.
They take on a podcast-style format, with a couple of presenters discussing various aspects of French.
Here you’ll pick up some useful vocabulary for a whole bunch of different scenarios, whether you’re trying to order food, book a doctor’s appointment, or trying to find the bathroom!
Every now and then you’ll be prompted to repeat what you hear or answer questions entirely in French. So not only is this a neat way to practice your speaking, it’s also useful for when you’re multitasking (e.g. walking, driving, washing up etc).
Duolingo French podcasts
Duolingo’s French podcasts also offer a cool way to practice your French when you’ve got your hands full.
Like the audio lessons, you only really need your ears. However, unlike the audio lessons, there’s not really any speaking involved — you just sit back and listen.
They’re described as “Fascinating stories in easy-to-understand French”. They’re split into healthy measures of French and English, so they’re faily easy to follow, even at an early level.
The podcasts are a great complement to the standard Duolingo course and work wonders for your listening comprehension.
If you want to speak French FAST then you should definitely check out this book on Amazon. Benny’s ‘language hacking’ strategy is an absolute game-changer!
Other features in Duolingo’s French course
Duolingo’s French course is built on the same stuff as all of Duolingo’s other language courses.
We won’t go into too much detail here, but some of the features worth knowing about include:
- XP – As you work through the Duolingo French course, you’ll earn experience points, which are more commonly known as XP. You’ll earn XP for pretty much everything you do. Some lessons, tasks and exercises will earn you more XP than others.
- Leagues – Every week you’ll be entered into a league with other Duolingo learners. There are 10 leagues to work through, starting at Bronze and ending at Diamond. The leagues are basically leaderboards — simply earn more XP than others in your league to have a chance of winning.
- Gems – XP and crowns aren’t the only things you’ll earn as you learn French. You’ll also earn gems, which you can spend in the Duolingo Shop. There isn’t really much you can buy here, but you can use your gems to pick up things like Streak Freezes, bonus skills, Timer Boosts for timed challenges, and some costumes for the owl.
- Friends – Duolingo is a social experience, so you’re able to follow other users and compare your progress. The guys at Duolingo reckon you’re 5 times more likely to finish your course if you follow people! To get you started, feel free to give me a follow — my username is DCiiieee!
- Duolingo Plus – This is Duolingo’s premium membership. Pay for Plus and you’ll get access to some useful features, including unlimited hearts, no ads and Practice Hub.
Is Duolingo good for learning French?
Now it’s time for the main event:
Is Duolingo good for learning French?
To answer this, let’s weigh up some of the pros and cons.
Learning a new language can be pretty intimidating, especially if you only speak the one language.
This is why one of the nicest things about Duolingo is just how accessible and welcoming it is.
Regardless of the language you’re learning, Duolingo presents its courses in a really warm, vibrant and inclusive way. So whether this is your second language or your tenth, you can feel at ease straight away!
This is the case for the vast majority of Duolingo’s courses, but it’s particularly true for the French course.
It’s comfortably one of the best supported courses on the app, getting new updates on a regular basis, with loads of support from the start of the tree to the end.
The bespoke tip sections are a big selling point of the French course, as they generally do a good job of unpacking the complicated aspects of a skill. This is super important for helping you understand French grammar, which can be a bit tricky at times.
And as with all of its courses, Duolingo’s French course comes with the usual placement test when you first start, so you can rest easy that you’ll start your tree from a place you find comfortable.
Duolingo’s French course has received a lot of updates over the years, to the point that I’d say it’s now Duolingo’s flagship course.
With a whopping 10 units of French skills and lessons, the French tree is comfortably Duolingo’s biggest.
This will take you A LONG TIME to work through. And that’s a good thing!
Some of Duolingo’s courses are really short, so you can breeze through them pretty quickly but not come away feeling as though you’ve learnt much.
But rest assured, you’re unlikely to experience this with the French course. Not only is it jampacked with vocabulary, each skill comes with a bespoke tip section to help you get your head around the tricky aspects of French grammar.
Duolingo have also totally redone the voices of a lot of their characters, making them sound alive and engaging.
Duolingo’s French course has more special features than any other.
It’s the only course to have conversation lessons; one of only two to have audio lessons and podcasts; and one of only a handful of courses to have stories.
Duolingo’s French stories are among the best on the app. The French course has one of the largest libraries of stories, coming in at a gigantic 288 as of April 2022.
They all have authentic, animated voices, so they sound real and engaging. They’re genuinely hilarious and binge-worthy!
The audio lessons are really neat as well and they’re adding more all the time. They’re currently split into beginner and intermediate categories so there are plenty of opportunities to make progress. It’s one of Duolingo’s best features for practicing your speaking and does a good job of building up your conversational vocabulary.
The same goes for the podcasts. Duolingo roll out new ones on the regular, and the episodes are usually pretty interesting and meaty. You can listen to them in the mobile app to earn XP, or you can tune in on a wide range of other platforms.
This doesn’t just go for Duolingo’s French course, it’s the same for ALL of them!
One of the best things about Duolingo is that it’s more than just a language learning tool.
It’s also a game. And although this isn’t to everyone’s liking, it’s a big part of why so many people show up every day to do their daily lessons.
For everything you do in French, you’ll earn XP, which contributes towards your position in the weekly leagues.
Now this isn’t something you should take too seriously (you can read more about why here) but if you take it lightly it’ll definitely make your French a lot more enjoyable.
Because ultimately, the more you enjoy something, the more likely you are to do it. And given learning French will require you to show up regularly for a very long time, Duolingo could be the perfect solution.
Another great thing about Duolingo is that the French course is 100% free.
There is a premium subscription — Duolingo Plus — but this isn’t something you need in order to complete the course. The whole thing is completely free; Plus just adds a few features that make things a bit smoother.
This is great if you’re just dabbling with French and aren’t ready to commit just yet. But also if you’re keen to get started with the language but don’t want to fork out on special software or tuition.
I take it you’ve seen the owl memes?
Yes, the owl can be *a bit* of a stalker at times, pestering you at all hours to do your daily French lessons!
But relax, contrary to popular belief, he’s not gonna kidnap your family anytime soon!
Jokes aside, Duolingo is brilliant for keeping you motivated.
Learning French takes time. It’s not something you’re going to pick up overnight.
According to the US Foreign Service Institute, it takes roughly 750 “class hours” to reach “Professional Working Proficiency” in French.
So yeah, if you’re going to learn French, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul!
That means creating an unbreakable habit. And Duolingo’s amazing for doing that.
Put it this way — my current streak (i.e. the number of days in a row I’ve used Duolingo) goes all the way back to May 2016.
And that’s not just because I’m a bit obsessive! It’s thanks to Duolingo being such a great way of keeping me motivated!
If you’ve read any of my other articles then you’ll know one of the things I dislike most about Duolingo at the moment is the heart system.
Hearts are basically lives or chances. You start off with 5 then lose one every time you make a mistake.
If you lose all your hearts then you’re not allowed to progress through your course until your hearts replenish.
You can either watch an ad to get one back, do a practice session, spend some gems or wait 5 hours.
It’s far from ideal as it does the unhelpful thing of punishing you for making mistakes.
Which, as far as I’m concerned, is ridiculous as mistakes are absolutely essential and unavoidable when learning a language.
Not great for speaking
French is probably one of Duolingo’s best courses for speaking thanks to features like audio lessons.
However, it still falls short in terms of getting you to a solid conversational level. At least by itself, anyway.
The main problem is that (audio lessons aside) the speaking exercises aren’t conversation exercises. You get a little bit of practice in the conversation mode on the stories (if available), but this just involves reciting what the characters say. You don’t actually come up with your own responses.
And while the conversation lessons, which are exclusive to the French course at the moment, are a step in the right direction, they still fall short of getting you comfortable conversationally.
Speaking is a skill in its own right and to learn it you’ll need to practice it regularly, ideally with a native speaker, or at the very least using a program that has extended conversation scenarios (such as FrenchPod101).
Not a one-stop shop
A common mistake people make with Duolingo is they expect it to take them all the way to fluency.
Of course, fluency is a funny thing to define. Everyone has their own interpretations.
And while Duolingo believe the French course can get you all the way to B2 on the CEFR, this doesn’t tell the whole story.
Learning a language requires more than just an active learning tool (which is what Duolingo is for the most part). You also need to add an equal measure of passive learning to your lingo diet.
Passive learning is the stuff you do away from the classroom (or in this case Duolingo). It’s watching TV shows, listening to music, reading books, and having real-life conversations.
While Duolingo’s French course does a lot more to hit on passive learning than most of Duolingo’s other courses (thanks to things like stories, conversation lessons and podcasts), it’s still not an all-in-one solution for learning French.
Whatever stage you’re at in your French-learning journey, Duolingo’s French course is undoubtedly one of the most well-rounded and polished courses currrently available.
The course is so jampacked and overflowing with cool new features that it’s easy to see why Duolingo believe it can get you to B2 level on the CEFR scale.
You’ll learn the most important aspects of the language, get to grips with the pronunciation and pick up a sizable chunk of useful vocabulary. You’ll also see the language in action in over 280 mini-stories, a massive selection of podcasts, and become comfortable speaking thanks to the growing library of audio lessons.
You’ll also have a blast working through the course as you compete in the weekly leagues and alongside your friends!
By the end of the course, you’ll definitely be more advanced than when you started.
As far as active learning tools go, Duolingo is one of the best for French. And better still — it’s 100% free!
for best results…
However, if you really want to reach a decent level in French, Duolingo is only part of the solution.
A good tool to use — either alongside Duolingo or after you’ve completed the course — is FrenchPod101.
FrenchPod and Duolingo complement each other beautifully, as they both target areas that the other misses. Duolingo is great for reading and typing things out, whereas FrenchPod focuses more on improving your listening and speaking.
It basically keeps the wheels turning once you’ve run out of audio lessons and podcasts on Duolingo, but also helps you get comfortable speaking French right from the beginning.
With FrenchPod, you’ll also get essential resources like grammar packs, cultural insights, and learn the 2,000 most common French words — so by the end of the course, you should be able to understand as much as 80% of all French conversations.
if you’re new to french
I’d highly recommend taking Duolingo’s placement test, figuring out what level you’re at, and then working through the first couple of units of the tree. This will get you familiar with the basics of French.
At the same time, I’d recommend taking advantage of FrenchPod’s free trial to get familiar with how the language sounds, pick up some useful phrases and cultural insights, and practice speaking as soon as possible.
Once you’ve worked your way through the Duolingo course (this could take a while) I’d recommend coming back to it daily to keep the streak alive (habit is SO important when learning a language) and start to move through the intermediate to advanced packs on FrenchPod.
Finally, make sure you’re getting enough passive exposure to French as well. It’s really important to experience the language in an authentic environment — so things like TV shows, music, books, real-life conversations — so you can see how everything you learn on Duolingo and FrenchPod works in the real world.