Pros / It’s free.
Cons / Ads are displayed next to the lessons.
Verdict / This is the best free French learning software available. The learning content is comparable to the best for-pay programs we reviewed.
Duolingo is one of the most engaging French learning programs we tested. The game-style learning platform includes lessons for reading, writing, speaking and comprehension. The animated user interface and multi-level reward system makes learning more fun, much like playing a game seems more fun than attending a French class. Instead of introducing a game amongst other lessons, Duolingo has made the entire curriculum a game.
All the lessons are totally free, but you have to deal with ads next to the lessons. You can also remove the annoying ads and get download access to the lessons with a $10 per month subscription plan. If you want to take lessons without Wi-Fi, such as on a plane ride to a French-speaking country, we recommend the paid subscription rather than the free version because you can download them all beforehand. The Duolingo mobile app looks identical to the desktop application, and both work with the free and paid versions.
Before you start the lessons, Duolingo asks you to identify your learning goals. You can set how many minutes per day you plan to dedicate to learning French, but keep in mind that the developers of this method suggest against spending more than 20 minutes per day for optimal retention. Luckily, the lessons are broken up into small, manageable portions that take around five minutes to complete, and the program tracks your daily streak and displays it next to your username.
This software uses a linear method to help you build a good base for learning more difficult topics in the intermediate and advanced lessons. You have to complete the prescribed lessons before you can move on, so jumping around to other topics isn’t possible like it is in Fluenz. The placement tests in the modules let you skip over topics you may have learned already, and if you test out of a level, you can go back and review the lessons. Once you meet or exceed your learning goals, Duolingo rewards you with its virtual currency, “lingots.” You redeem lingots to unlock additional learning content and features.
One of our favorite learning tools in this program is the Duolingo stories. These short stories are a good way to advance your reading comprehension and add to your French vocabulary once you finish the beginner modules since the vocabulary is at intermediate and advanced levels. The stories cover a range of fun topics, and as you finish them, you unlock more.
Duolingo has a huge customer base so the discussion board is updated frequently and is a good resource to discuss lesson topics and share your learning experiences with other users. We found some interesting threads started by novice French speakers who offer help with English lessons in return for help with a troublesome French language topic. A large learning community has some advantages, including the ability to converse with residents of countries you may be traveling to and picking up cultural vocabulary tips. Duolingo doesn’t offer live tutoring like Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur, but the discussion board is an alternative outlet for questions about troublesome topics.
Duolingo is not only the best free French learning program we tested, it’s one of the best overall products. The game-style learning is fun and includes all the important content we look for. If you don’t mind a few ads accompanying your lessons, we suggest trying this program, and if you don’t like it, invest a little more for the ad-free version with the same excellent learning tools.