Reader Question: Are there any free government-approved online French language courses? Do any give a recognised certificate on completion?
There are many different avenues for learning French or improving your level such as in-person classes, online tutoring or language exchange groups.
There are also several options for free online learning, some of which are suggested by the French administration but which may not offer a recognised certificate.
One point to bear in mind with language courses is the level that they are aimed at.
The EU’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) provides a recognised way of grading levels, starting from complete beginner’s at A1 up to fluency at C1 and C2.
Generally, it is more difficult to find free courses and resources for higher levels (B and especially C) as teachers need to be more skilled to provide this level of teaching and learning a language to fluency is much more time consuming than learning the basics.
If you want to take online lessons the downside is that these rarely come with an official certificate for completion or, if they do, they are usually not free.
There are many free online learning apps that you can use on your phone or computer, such as the popular Duolingo application. These tend to have short, ‘game’-style lessons you can complete in a few minutes.
There are also paid-for online applications like Babbel, which provides pre-made online lessons or online classrooms such as Lingoda or iTalki, where you can have real-time lessons with teachers via video software.
In France language classes are usually not run by the government but by universities, associations or private companies.
There are, however, some online resources and websites highlighted by the Interior Minister for those new to France, to help them learn French up to a B1 level, and you can find a list of the recommended applications here.
They include the free MOOC ‘Vivre en France’ courses offered by the France Université Numérique (FUN) website as well as one aimed at those wanting to use their French at work called Travailler en France.
Courses such as this may come with some kind of completion ‘certificate’ but this will probably not be formally recognised.
For example, France Université Numérique states that “the certificate for passing the course is not an official certificate of your language level”.
Sometimes official accreditation of your French level needs to be given, for example if you require language skills for certain jobs or for official purposes such as applying for French nationality or certain residency cards.
This can be provided by having taken a degree at a French university or by sitting a test or completing a course that is accredited by an official body.
You usually have to pay to take these exams or take such courses, however.
Some of these, such as the DELF (Le Diplôme d’Etudes en Langue Française), DALF, and DILF (both higher and lower language equivalents of the DELF), are delivered by the French Education ministry and are therefore ‘government-approved’.
Others, like the TEF (Test d’Evaluation de Français) have certificates validated by the Chamber of Commerce in Paris and are more focused on proving that you have a certain French level for job requirements.
You should always check before signing up to a course whether a valid certificate is provided at the end of the course / if you pass, as some courses may not provide accreditation, or accreditation may not be from an official source.
Coursera, an online learning platform provides some free classes across all levels of French language, but you must pay to receive a certificate. Certificates come from course providers, which are usually run by university departments.
Other sources of free/subsidised lessons
If you work in France, you have access to ‘Compte personnel de formation’ (CPF), which allows you to access professional training in a wide range of sectors, including French language training.
All courses are provided by accredited trainers, meaning you can find a service that provides you with the certification you want. You can access your space at this link, or create an account if you have not done so. You can also search for the most applicable training via the site.
Registered jobseekers may be offered training by Pôle Emploi if it will help them obtain a job.
Meanwhile, non-EU citizens moving to France can also access free courses accredited by Ofii if they are required to improve their French for certain residency cards.