You don’t need a French teacher to learn the language. Watching movies in a foreign language is a fantastic way to learn it. Many French learners are eager to do this but don’t know where to find appropriate exercises and approaches. Are you one of them? If so, you have come to the right place. We will share our smartest tips and tricks for using French movies to learn French. Read on to find out:
- which are the best movies for learning French;
- how to improve your French vocabulary, grammar, listening, and speaking with movies;
- what the best resources for online French learning are.
The most popular French movies to learn French
France is the birthplace of cinema. Today, the country’s film industry remains prolific and, as a result, there are many movies out there that you can use to practice French. Below, we will reveal what the best movies to learn French are and where to watch them online with English subtitles:
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- “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain” (also known simply as “Amélie”) is a classic French film and one of the most successful French films of all time. As such, it is a great choice for French beginners. The movie takes place in Paris and the characters have clear Parisian accents.
- “Tanguy” is a comedy about a man in his 30s living at home with his parents, much to their despair. This movie should definitely be on your classic French movies list. French learners will find that its dark humor makes it engaging and, so, they can practice their skills while having fun.
- “Le Dîner de Cons” is not typical of classic French cinema but it is a great film about a group of friends who host regular dinners with a twist: each of them has to bring the stupidest person they can find. Not only is this a hilarious movie, but there is also an English adaptation of it (“Dinner for Schmucks”) that you can use to compare the two.
- “Persepolis” is an animated film, telling the story of a young girl growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran, before moving to France. The slow dialogue makes it easy to follow and perfect for new French students looking to learn French with movies.
- “L’Auberge Espagnole” is another movie that is not so typical of classical French movies, but it is worth watching. It is about a French graduate student’s year abroad in Barcelona as part of the Erasmus program. The movie tackles the theme of language learning directly, so French students will be able to relate to it.
If you aren’t a film fan, you can watch French cartoons instead! Check out this one:
Learning French vocabulary with movies
Movies are an excellent source of new French words to learn. Here’s how to use films to learn French vocabulary.
1. Writing out the new words
Watch the film with subtitles and while doing so, write out all the new words and learn them.
For example, note down that the title of the film “L’Auberge Espagnole” translates to “The Spanish Hostel” when it comes up on the subtitles. Subtitles are a very handy tool, as they essentially serve as a real-time dictionary. You’ll find that this method is a great starting point for learning French vocabulary. For more tips on how to learn new words fast, check out our article.
2. Explaining the meaning
Choose 10 new words and explain what they mean in French.
For example, explain what the word ‘cons’ (which translates to ‘idiots’) means in “Le Dîner de Cons” in French. Using French words for your explanation will expand your vocabulary, help you learn French words fast and, ultimately, break the language barrier.
Find a synonym for each of the new words learned.
Could you say, for example, that another word for ‘fabuleux’ from “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain” (i.e. “The Fabulous Fate of Amélie Poulain”) is ‘merveilleux’ (i.e. ‘marvellous’)? Finding synonyms will really improve your French vocabulary practice.
Find an antonym for each of the new words learned.
Marjane’s father says to her grandmother at some point in the film “C’était chaud, Mamie, c’était chaud” (meaning “It was hot, Mommy, it was hot”). You could use this opportunity to practice the opposite word: froid (cold). Learning French words two at a time will speed things up!
If the film contains idioms and/or colloquial expressions, make sure that you understand their meaning right. Try to explain their meaning using ‘normal’ words.
If you’re wondering how to learn French words, one of the best and most fun ways is through idioms! A great example is the word ‘Tanguy’ which has come to be synonymous with an adult living at home with their parents due to the popularity of the film. Try to explain what that means in your own words!
6. Example situations with idioms
If the film contains idioms and/or colloquial expressions, think of a situation when you would be likely to use this idiom or expression. Talk about this situation orally.
When learning French vocab, make sure you know the right context to use it in. For instance, while ‘Tanguy’ is not an insult, you must use it correctly for people not to take offense. You could say, for example, “Je veux déménager, parce que je ne veux pas devenir un Tanguy” (translating to “I will move out, I don’t want to become a Tanguy”).
7. Retelling episodes
Choose 5 most interesting film scenes and retell them orally using the new words.
Repetition is key for improving your language skills without taking French language classes. Retell an interesting scene from a movie in your own words. You could talk, for instance, about the funny incident when Amélie’s family’s pet fish tried to jump out of its bowl.
Now that you’ve got your new words written down and practiced… make sure to use them with our grammar, listening, and speaking exercises described below! We wish you a happy French practice!
Learning French grammar with films
To practice different tenses, retell the film in present, in the past, and in the future.
For “Le Dîner de Cons”, you could say, for example, that “a man is invited to dinner, was invited to dinner and will be invited to dinner” (which in French would be “un homme est invité à dîner, a été invité à dîner et sera invité à diner”). This simple exercise is excellent for your French verb conjugation practice.
2. Modal verb ‘pouvoir’ (‘to can’)
To practice the modal verb ‘can’, choose 3 heroes and describe their characters like this: this person can/can’t…
You can’t learn French grammar without perfecting the use of the verb ‘pouvoir’ (‘to can’)! An example you could use from “Persepolis” is to say “Marjane cannot go outside without a headscarf”. In French, this would be “Marjane ne peut pas sortir sans foulard”.
3. The Imperative
To practice the Imperative, make up 10 sentences describing what a character wanted other characters to do.
For example, during your French grammar practice for the Imperative, you could pretend to be Tanguy’s mom or dad and tell him: “Live your own life!” or “Buy a flat!”.
To practice conditionals, think about how the heroes could have behaved differently in the situations described in the film. Make up 10 sentences describing their alternative actions.
Can you think of a more fun way to learn French grammar online than making up alternative endings for famous films? Some examples you could use from “Amélie” are:
- If Amélie had not found Nino’s photo album, she would… (Si Amélie n’avait pas trouvé l’album photo de Nino, elle aurait…)
- If Nino had been married, Amélie would… (Si Nino avait été marié, Amélie aurait…)
- If Amélie had siblings, she would… (Si Amélie avait des frères et sœurs, elle…)
5. Singular and plural
To practice plural, make up 10 sentences about one hero (singular) and then make up similar 10 sentences describing how this hero did the same actions together with another hero (plural).
One example you can use for this exercise are the phrases “Tanguy travels to China alone. Then, Tanguy and his wife travel to China together”. (“Tanguy voyage seul en Chine. Ensuite, Tanguy et sa femme voyagent ensemble en Chine”.)
6. Personal pronouns
To practice personal pronouns, take each new word you’ve learned from the film and find the appropriate pronoun to it.
For this exercise that will really help you practice French grammar and particularly, personal pronouns, try this example from “Amélie”. A famous quote from the movie goes “Une femme sans amour fane comme une fleur sans soleil” (meaning “A woman without love wilts like a flower without sun”). Try to replace each noun with a personal pronoun. Remember that ‘fleur’ is feminine (la fleur) and ‘soleil’ (le soleil) is masculine.
7. Possessive pronouns
To practice possessive pronouns, make up 10 sentences describing the things that belong to different heroes.
For this exercise, you could try the example from “Persepolis” of Marjane recalling how her grandmother told her she placed jasmine in her brassiere to smell lovely every day. If you said “Sa grand-mère lui a dit qu’elle mettait du jasmin dans son soutien-gorge pour qu’elle sente bon tous les jours”, you would have the chance to practice the pronouns “sa” and “son”. This is a great exercise for those who want to learn basic French.
8. Interrogative pronouns
To practice interrogative pronouns, make up 10 questions about the film.
You could ask, for example, “Who gives advice to Marjane in Persepolis?” In French, this would be “Qui donne des conseils à Marjane?” This simple method is really effective when it comes to practicing interrogative words.
9. Comparative adjectives
To practice comparative adjective forms, make up 10 sentences where you estimate the heroes’ abilities and compare them with each other.
French grammar lessons don’t have to be boring! Using your imagination to estimate heroes’ characteristics is a creative and fun way to learn. You can practice comparative adjects by saying, for example, “Xavier est plus soigné que ses colocataires” (“Xavier is tidier than his roommates”) about the main character from “L’Auberge Espagnole”. How fun is that idea for a custom French lesson?!
10. Superlative adjectives
To practice superlative adjective forms, characterize the heroes. Who is the strongest? The weakest? The smartest?
You can take the previous exercise a step further and practice superlative forms. For instance, ask “Who is the loudest roommate in L’Auberge Espagnole? Who is the shiest?” (“Qui est le colocataire le plus bruyant de L’Auberge Espagnole? Qui est le plus timide?”)
11. Prepositions of place
To practice French prepositions of place, pause the film when there is a room on the screen, and describe this room in detail.
You could use the dining room from “Le Dîner de Cons” as an example. Describe whether it has chairs, sofas, where the windows are, and so on.
12. Indirect speech
To practice indirect speech, switch on your favorite dialogue from the film, listen to one person speaking, then pause the video and repeat his or her words using indirect speech. Listen to the other person speaking, pause, repeat using indirect speech.
A famous scene from “Amélie” provides the perfect quote for this: “Vous croyez aux miracles mademoiselle? Pas aujourd’hui, non.” (“Do you believe in miracles, miss? Not today, no”).
Now say the same using the indirect speech. Start with the words “Madeleine asked Amelie if she…”. Is there a more fun way of learning French grammar than retelling movies in your own words?
French listening practice with motion pictures
1. Turning away from the screen
Watch an episode first with subtitles, then watch it without them. Then turn away from the screen and listen to the speech without seeing the heroes’ lips.
This method allows you to learn French by listening. For this exercise, you could try some dialogues between Xavier and Wendy from “L’Auberge Espagnole”.
2. Watch and retell
Watch an episode (or the whole film, if you like) and then retell it in your own words.
Using your own words to describe something you have watched is the simplest way to listen and learn French.
3. Giving tips
Watch an episode and give 3 tips to the hero who is in trouble.
To try this, you could pretend to be talking to Tanguy’s parents about getting him to move out of the house. What would you advise them to do? This exercise allows you not only to listen and learn French but makes you think critically about a topic.
4. Pause and repeat
Pause and repeat the heroes’ words while watching.
If you’re wondering how to improve French listening, pausing and repeating is the most effective method. Do this with one of the many famous quotes from “Amélie”, like for example “La chance, c’est comme le Tour de France. On l’attend longtemps et ça passe vite.” (“Luck is like the Tour de France. We wait for it for a long time and it passes quickly”)
6. Consecutive translation (from French into your mother language)
Translate the film consecutively (pause – translate – pause – translate). Record your translation.
Take the previous exercise a step further with consecutive translation. This is great French listening practice, as it gives you time by pausing to think about your words carefully.
7. Consecutive translation (from your mother language into French)
Switch on your recorded translation from the previous task and translate it back into French.
This step of the exercise will solidify new phrases you have learned in your memory.
8. Simultaneous translation
Translate the film simultaneously (i.e. translate it without pausing the video).
Once you’re confident with the above steps, you will be able to take your learning to another level by being able to translate simultaneously.
French conversation practice with movies
1. Retelling an episode on the hero’s behalf
Imagine that you are one of the main heroes. Retell the film on his/her behalf. Let your speech be as emotional and detailed as possible.
For this exercise, forget you’re only just learning French conversation. Imagine you’re the hero. Tell Tanguy’s story from his perspective rather than his parents, for example. You will find this exercise will help you really learn how to speak French.
Imagine that you need to create an advertisement for this film. Describe 5 advantages of the film.
You could say, for example, that “Amélie” is a film with a magical atmosphere. This method works wonders for elevating your French speaking practice.
Imagine that you are a designer. Describe an advertising poster that you would create for this film.
Describing things is key when it comes to how to learn to speak French. Describe how you would recreate “Persepolis’” iconic poster as an exercise to help you practice speaking French.
4. Film critic
Imagine that you are a film critic. Find 5 points to criticize about this film to practice French conversation.
Role-playing is a great method to learn conversational French. Putting yourself in the shoes of a critic, you could say, for instance, that “L’Auberge Espagnole” could benefit from better actors.
5. Native speaker
Discuss the film with a native to practice French conversation.
Find a native speaker on Eurekly and ask them what they think about your favorite French film. Interacting with natives is very important when it comes to how to improve French speaking, as it will help you master an authentic accent.
Online French lessons
If you think movies are not enough and you could use some extra help, why not try French teachers online? The best website to learn French is Eurekly. On Eurekly, French tutors always make their lessons as entertaining as possible and will be happy to discuss with you a French film of your choice. Join the platform to take French classes online with experts like:
- Clement, from France, is passionate about French culture and cinema, as well as French tutoring.
- Sarah, from France, has lived in many countries around the world, including the USA, UK, and the Netherlands, while being a French teacher online.
- Davit, from France, has a master’s degree in teaching French as a foreign language and is a professional French tutor online.
- Natalia teaches French and Spanish and is passionate about e-learning environments.
Watching movies is a great way to learn not only French but any language. Films can help you immerse yourself in a culture, listen to authentic accents, and learn many new words. Using our tips, you will master French in no time. If you want to reach your learning goals even faster, try a free trial lesson with one of Eurekly’s online French tutors!