We're always looking for multiple resources for learning and practicing a foreign language. Different programs teach you different things and will often complement each other.
GamesforLanguage's mission is to find ways of making language learning both fun and effective. We've seen that games and a story will make learners come back again and again. Nothing against traditional methods. It's just that adding fun elements - and context - to language practice makes learning so much more engaging and motivating.
We've been on the lookout for other online programs with some of the above characteristics. In addition, motivated learners - perhaps after completing our free GamesforLanguage's French 1 course - may be ready for a next step: individualized lessons, more explanations, more grammar exercises, and other ways to test their language level.
From that point of view, Frantastique is definitely a winner in our eyes. Here's why this program could lift your French to another plateau.
The idea is unique: The program consists of a regular email (5 times a week), a (somewhat) crazy story or text used as a frame, a number of exercises, detailed explanations, and an immediate email back with corrections.
Frantastique provided my husband Peter and me with a free 4-month Basic subscription.
Lessons are personalized right from the beginning. After seven lessons, Frantastique assigned us a skill level. Frantastique uses the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages:
Mine started at 4.2-4.4 (B1-B2). After 24 lessons, I am now pegged at a straight 4.5 (B2). Peter, who speaks French more fluently than I, but is weaker in spelling and grammar, started with a 3.4 (B1) level. Now (after lesson 24), he has moved up to 3.7 (B1).
The Setup: an Email, a Brief Review, an Ongoing Story, Exercises, Correction
Five times a week early in the morning, you receive an email with your 15-minute lesson. It sits in your inbox, waiting.
Obviously, you can do it any time that's convenient for you. If you skip your lesson, you'll get a reminder after three days.
Your lesson starts with a review. If you made any mistakes in your previous lesson, the Review will cover them again with detailed explanations. To see if you've understood, you'll be asked to do another couple of related questions.
You'll then find a brief review of some grammar points or expressions for which you can get a translation.
After each of these, you have a number of options: You can click on "inutile to reviser" (don't need to review) or “je savais” (I knew), etc. When you do, these particular grammar questions won't be included in a future review. Or if you don't know or are not sure, you'll see them again. This is also a way your lessons become personalized.
Each lesson gives you a small piece of the story, either related to the Extraterrestrials and Victor Hugo or a humorous, made-up story in the form of a newspaper article. (Clicking on the image left will let you play the beginning of the Victor Hugo story.)
The story chunk you get consists of a short article, video, cartoon, or just audio. Typically, you'll see the written dialogue of the audio or video clip when you receive your corrections.
The story itself is a little crazy: A naked, fully-bearded Victor Hugo traipses around Paris together with a couple of aliens from outer space. Hard to believe, but their conversations are eminently practical and fun.
These come in the form of questions about an idiom, expression, grammar point, or cultural topic.
You answer these by typing fill-ins, choosing pull-downs, or writing what you hear. Most of the questions have a small audio with it. This way you can hear French spoken at normal speed by native speakers throughout the lesson.
When you're done, you send off the email with your answers.
Before you can say “Victor Hugo,” your corrected lesson will be in your inbox. If you look at the corrections right away, everything you just wrote will still be fresh in your mind.
For each question you answered, there's a brief explanation of the rule. This is especially helpful for understanding why a guess was correct. If you've made a mistake, you'll also see why your answer is wrong. How better to learn and remember an expression, a way of spelling, or a grammar point.
There are advantages to not receiving corrections the same moment that you write them (as you do with many language programs and apps, including GamesforLanguage). By getting the corrections AFTER completing a lesson, there is no trial-and-error guessing. Also, with the accompanying explanation, you'll better remember both the correct answers as well as the corrected mistakes.
With potentially 340 lessons (at 5 lessons a week), you'll have over 1.5 years of study.
There are a number of settings you can chose in your account tab:
Reception Days: You can only select 5 days, which is ok if you don't want to learn during the weekend.
Vacation Days: Each subscription allows for a certain number of “vacation days” during which you postpone your lessons. (For example, a 6-month subscription allows for 4 weeks of vacation.) These days will be added automatically to the end of your subscription.
Lesson Length: Five (5) Options range from “minimum” (no story) to “maximum.” We have “standard,” which is the default.
Spicy Mode: You can opt out of receiving “spicy” content.
Low Level mode: Activating the “mode bas niveau” will give you the same modules, but they are less difficult.
Pedagogy: The Pedagogy tab lets you view your latest lessons, vocabulary, and grammar to review. It also provides various progress statistics.
Ipad & Android Apps: The iPad and Android apps are well integrated with the online version, but obviously need WiFi access to the email account.
Frantastique has 3 different fee categories: Basic and Premium (for individuals) and Pro (for companies and institutions). Prices for individuals range from $49 - $69 for Basic, and $77 - $111 for Pro subscriptions. For further information: link to the online shop
What We Like
- The lessons are fun and immensely enjoyable because of the humorous context of the Victor Hugo story or the funny, made-up newspaper articles as this one on your right.
- The expressions and grammar points you learn or review are all practical.
- Corrections arrive seconds after you've finished the lesson and reinforce your learning.
- The lessons arrive five days a week, which helps you to build a learning habit.
- The course lessons are indeed tailored to your skill level. Peter's are different from mine.
- There are multiple short audios in the lesson.
- You'll hear various voices and different accents, besides standard French.
- In your “Account” you'll see all your episodes and corrections in the “cahier de cours.”
- The vocab audios have Parisian French and Canadian French versions and let you hear the differences in pronunciation
Other Points to Consider
- The lessons are not for complete beginners (although you can opt for the “low level mode”).
- The playful mode disguises the fact that Frantastique is a serious and effective course.
- To practice your pronunciation you should repeat everything you hear and read.
- The standard lessons are short – it takes me about 15 minutes for each lesson
- In addition to English, Frantastique is currently fully available also for German, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese, with Chinese to be added soon. Other languages are being developed.
- By trying out Frantastique for FREE for a week (or during special promotions even for a month), you can determine whether it works for you.
If you already have same basic knowledge of French, but want to get to a next level and improve your listening, reading, and writing skills, and do so with a fun and engaging course that prompts you with lessons 5 days a week – then Frantastique is your ticket.
The extra video and audio clips of “Le dessert du jour” (as this Jean Belmondo clip on the left) that accompany each lesson often make you smile. And when you are looking forward to the next lesson, it'll motivate you to learn and practice even dry French grammar points.
Frantastique's sister site Gymglish uses a very similar approach for teaching English (e.g to Spanish speakers) with a story set in San Francisco