When I started learning French, I could recite grammar rules like a chouchou, but the moment my teacher announced yet another dreaded “listening activity,” my ears and mind spiraled straight into panic mode. How did “Je ne sais pas” become Shaypah when spoken? I truly did not know.
I eventually discovered the beauty of French soap operas, and my listening comprehension improved immensely. Who knew that one of the best tools for language learning involved nothing more than snuggling into bed with Netflix? Unfortunately, due to international intellectual property rights, French shows and films are surprisingly hard to find here in the States without the help of a VPN. Certain sites like TV5Monde have online programming outside of France, but the offerings focus on news and aren’t exactly binge-while-scarfing-down-ice-cream worthy. So I decided to compile a list of the best, most entertaining French media easily accessible chez toi, which are great for language learners:
Older, heavier and perhaps less charming than in his prime, France’s prolific Gérard Depardieu stars in this new political drama, available on Netflix streaming. Marseille invokes all of the standard soap opera tricks—corruption, backstabbing, murder—through the city’s gritty political in-fights. Yes, this eight-part series is overdone with the suspenseful music and plot lines and crime bosses, but it’s a great combination of “street” dialogue and formal French for language learners. Netflix offers a variety of audio options for this show, so you can choose English, French or even no subtitles if you’re feeling ambitious.
This supremely popular series in France delves into the heart of the Parisian crime scene. The plots are varied and complicated, and will leave you with some cool new legal jargon you probably never learned in French class. If you’re looking to truly binge on a French show, this would be the one to pick, as four seasons totaling 40 episodes are available on Netflix streaming from the states.
In a tiny French town, dead friends and family start reappearing, alive and well, as if their deaths had never occurred. Half drama and half supernatural mystery, Les Revenants offers a taste of both genres in an eerie package. It just aired for one season, available on Netflix streaming, but it’s a season worth watching.
Chances are, you’ve already seen this whimsical romantic comedy once or twice or fifty times like most francophiles. Heureusement, Netflix offers this classic on instant streaming, and you can follow the charming Audrey Tautou on her Parisian adventures for the fifty-first time. The movie’s narrator speaks extremely quickly, but don’t worry—there are sous-titres.
Blue is the Warmest Color
Winner of the 2013 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Blue is the Warmest Color is a beautiful sexual coming-of-age story. The plot follows 15-year-old Adèle—played by the enchantingly awkward Adèle Exarchopoulos—who starts to question her sexuality when she meets the blue-haired artist Emma, with whom she eventually shares a passionate love affair. This film, clocking in at nearly three hours, is available on Netflix streaming for a night of French cinema at its finest.
The exceedingly wealthy Marguerite Dumont loves to sing, but has no idea how terrible she is at her passion. Although categorized as a drama, Marguerite is as much a comedy, rife with moments that make you unsure whether to laugh or cringe. The film received a whopping 11 nominations at the 2016 César Awards. Unlike Amélie and Blue, which have been available on Netflix for years, it’s unclear how long this 1920s-era movie will remain accessible, so go check it out while you can.
Norman Fait des Vidéos
29-year-old youtuber Norman went viral in France a few years ago. His comedic videos, only a few minutes each, take ordinary topics—cats, alcohol, moms—and spin them in hilarious directions. Norman speaks quite clearly, so it’s great for intermediate-level French learners who want to brush up on their listening skills while giggling ferociously.
If you’re looking for some witty French youtubes but don’t speak perfect French, try out Cyprien, whose web series all have English subtitles. Cyprien and Norman are actually friends (ah, the cozy world of French youtube stars!), so their humor and style are quite similar.