Have you ever thought about using French TV shows to learn French?
It sounds fantastique – pour yourself a glass of rouge and snuggle up on the sofa while everyone else in your French class drives themselves crazy trying to memorise irregular verbs.
But if you’ve ever tried to watch a TV show in French, you might have come across a few problems. The main one…
They talk really, really fast!
Even if you recognise some words, a lot flies over your head and you might find yourself getting frustrated by the bits you missed.
Another problem – how do you know if you’re actually learning?
So in this article, we won’t just give you a list of TV shows and send you off on your way. At the end, you’ll find a step by step guide that will help you:
- Choose the right series so you can get addicted to French TV – and to learning French!
- Know what to do when you don’t understand (a problem that’s easier to solve than you might think).
- Feel your French improve with study activities to use alongside the shows.
Can I really learn French by watching TV shows?
There are loooads of advantages to watching French TV shows.
The main one is learning how people actually speak. Textbooks and learner materials tend to spoon feed you a simplified version of the language, so when you get out into the real world and hear French people talking to each other, it can be a bit of a shock.
With French TV shows, you can train yourself to understand how French people talk, in the comfort of your own home. No need to worry about looking awkward and saying pardon 18 times – when you don’t understand, you can just rewind! You can also pause and switch on subtitles.
It’s also a great way to pick up common words and grammar structures in a fun and natural way, by hearing them used in context.
So we’ll start by looking at 30 fantastique French TV shows on Netflix and Youtube. Once you’ve chosen your shows, remember to stick around for the guide below on how to use them to boost your French level.
37 French TV shows to learn French
Call my agent (Dix pour cent)
J’adore this series! It’s a deadpan comedy that follows the lives of movie star agents as they try to keep their famous clients happy. Between fierce competition and unexpected romances, they have to band together to steer the agency through a series of crises.
I especially like the cameos from real French movie stars who play themselves. It’s heartening to see these big stars being good sports and poking fun at themselves in the stories. And a great way to learn a little more about French celebrities and culture.
There’s something très relaxing about kicking back and watching cartoons, especially when, like Tintin, they’re loved by adults too.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that they’re simpler than normal series – the characters use advanced vocabulary and speak at a natural speed. In some cases, cartoons are actually trickier to follow because the actors put on voices, which makes the words more difficult to make out. This isn’t meant as a discouragement, but rather to let you know that if you find cartoons difficult, it doesn’t mean that your French isn’t as good as you thought.
At the time of writing this, there are lots of episodes on Youtube. Luckily, many have autogenerated subtitles, which while not perfect, are fairly accurate and can be a big help in understanding.
1. You can turn the subtitles on by clicking the settings cog, clicking on subtitles, then choosing French.
2. A lot of the episodes are available in English and French. If you need a little extra support, try watching the English one first to help you understand the story. This will lighten the load when you come around to watching it in French.
Episode 1: Tintin in America:
Épisode 1: Tintin en Amérique:
3. To find similar series on Youtube, select an episode of Tintin in French, then look over to the left and you should find suggestions for other cool french language cartoons, like Astérix.
Where: Search Youtube for Tintin épisode complet français.
The hookup plan (Plan Coeur)
This series follows a group of twenty somethings as they try to help a friend get over her ex. It has the same feel-good vibe as the 90s sitcom friends, but without being so annoyingly wholesome: to help their friend, they bring in a male prostitute and things start to get interesting.
Great acting, relatable characters and lots of dry humour. It’s a nice way to pick up some modern French slang too.
This series follows the lives of a French Jewish family as they convert their failing kosher butcher shop into the first marijuana coffee shop in Paris.
It’s refreshing to see Netflix continue to break decades of typecasting with with characters from different cultures being explored in all their depth. Like the previous entry on this list, it’s one of those well done comedies that hits the delicate balance of staying light, while addressing poignant topics.
Chef’s table, France
Multi Michelin-starred chefs reveal their secrets. How did they learn to cook and become innovators in their industry? With inspiring food stories, beautiful cinematography and close ups of drool worthy dishes, if you’re a gourmand, you’ll love this series.
Tip: don’t watch while hungry!
7 jour sur la planète
If you’re looking for something a little more educational, check out this series on Youtube. Every week they bring in an expert to talk about current social, cultural or political issues. The interviews are interesting and perfect for learners as they:
- Last around 20 minutes (not too overwhelming).
- Come with subtitles, so you can look up words you don’t know.
If you’re preparing for an exam, this series is ideal as you’ll find lots of formal vocabulary and expressions that you can use to impressionner the examiners.
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Fais pas ci, Fais pas ça
In this mockumentary series, two middle-class families take part in a TV show about how to raise children. One family is straight-laced and conservateur while the other is laidback and hippyish, known as bobo in French.
One of France’s best loved comedies, this series ran for ten years. It’s light and feel good, perfect for vegging-out on the sofa.
I haven’t been able to find a version with subtitles yet, so this series is better for upper-intermediate onwards, when you can pick out enough to get an idea of what’s going on.
Where: At the time of writing, you can find lots of full episodes on the official Youtube channel.
Nailed it, France
In this cookery show with a twist, three contestants compete to recreate complex desserts. The twist? The contestants are all amateurs who have a history of being really bad at baking.
This is actually a stand up comedy episode, rather than a series, but it’s well worth getting on the sofa for. Fary has a warm, self-deprecating sense of humour as he gets into race, politics and other issues of modern society in France and around the globe.
Plus belle la vie
Every evening over 5 million French people sit down to catch the latest episode of this soap opera, set in the Mediterranean port of Marseille.
With over 4000 episodes, you won’t run out of viewing material with this one!
Where: On Youtube, search: Plus belle la vie episodes
Cosita Linda (versión français)
If you’re a soap opera fan, you might also enjoy vegging out to the French version of Cosita Linda. Originally a Spanish-language telenovela, the French dubbed version is available on Youtube.
Warning: this may be the cheesiest thing you’ve ever seen, but it’s actually a pretty good stepping stone to understanding French TV, because the language is simpler compared to grittier, more realistic dramas.
Whatsmore, the hammy acting and over the top dubbing make it a lot easier to follow. For more help following the dialogue, you can also turn on the autogenerated subs which, while not perfect, can be a big help.
Where: On Youtube, search for: Cosita Linda (versión français)
Working mum Elvira feels undervalued by her partner, who she suspects is cheating. After a false alarm, she ends up lying about her condition and pretending to be gravely ill.
The Chalet (Le Chalet)
A group of friends find themselves stuck in a remote village in the French alps after a landslide destroys the only bridge that connects them with the rest of the world. With no phone or internet connection, they are cut off from the rest of the world, together with the last six members of the village. The series gets spooky as strange things start happening, leading the friends to suspect each other.
The Mantis (La Mante)
A number of worrying copycat crimes lead a police department to collaborate with the original killer, The Mantis, who resides in prison decades after her crimes.
Carole Bouquet is great as the icy, cardigan-wearing female serial killer, who agrees to cooperate, as long as she is allowed to work alongside her estranged son and detective, Damien.
My French teacher recommended this one to me – I highly recommend it if you like a good crime drama.
What if you could matchmake people by reading their brain data? In this sci fi series a new app called “Osmosis” helps people find partners with 100% match by doing exactly that. But what happens when customers use technology that can see into their minds?
The returned (Les revenants)
Based on the 2004 French film of the same name, Les revenants follows the lives of residents in a small French town, where previously dead people begin to return alive and normal, as if they had never been away.
This supernatural drama became a global success, winning an International Emmy for Best Drama Series.
Where: Apple store, google play
Caméra café français
Eavesdrop on the conversations of French office workers as they get their daily coffee. A mockumentary of sorts, filmed from the camera of a coffee machine, the characters talk about everything from who stunk out the toilet to their messy divorces.
The scenes are short (usually around 3 minutes), which makes it easy to practice your listening in bursts without getting overwhelmed. They’re also ideal for working with a tutor or language exchange partner: try to watch one of the scenes, take notes, then ask your tutor to explain the things you missed.
Lots of the episodes have auto-generated subtitles which although not perfect, can help you understand a lot on your own.
Where: Search for the Caméra Café (francais) channel on Youtube.
The break (La Trêve)
In this nerve-wracking Belgian series, police investigator Yoann Peeters begins investigating a murder case in his hometown, after suffering a devastating personal loss. Expect edge-of-your seat moments and sharp dialogues.
Set almost entirely in an interrogation room, this 3-part series shows French investigators as they put psychological pressure on their suspects in an attempt to solve their cases.
The bonfire of destiny (Le Bazar de la Charité)
Inspired by real events, this series follows the lives of three women in the aftermath as they try to cope with – and get to the bottom of – what happened in the 1897 Charity Bazaar fire in Paris.
With clear and slow-ish paced speech, this is another great introduction to watching French TV shows, especially if you turn on the French subs.
Confession time: I’m a big fan of watching reality TV to learn foreign languages. It’s nice not to have to worry about complicated storylines, because my mind is already busy enough trying to understand the language. It’s a guilty pleasure without the guilt – you’re learning French, after all.
Another advantage is that they’re perfect for training yourself to understand natural French: there’s no script so you get to hear how people speak spontaneously. And unlike sci fi or police dramas, the participants tend to use words that are useful for everyday conversations.
Les Anges takes a bunch of French reality TV stars and puts them together in a house in a glamorous location, such as LA. Follow them as they try to make it in their chosen careers: becoming actors, models, sports players, chefs etc.
While we’re on the subject of trash TV, if you like reality TV shows, you might enjoy this series too. It’s basically a bunch of French reality TV stars acting in a very low budget soap opera in California – so ridiculous that it’s great fun to watch!
Twice upon a time (Il y était une seconde fois)
In this quirky drama, Vincent tries to drown his deep regret over a break up with parties and short-lived affairs. Until one day, a mysterious parcel appears at his house…
Un gars et une fille
This popular French comedy follows the daily lives of couple Alex and Jean (“Loulou” “Chouchou”) as they fight, make up and find themselves in silly situations. You’ll hear everyday language and casual, fast speech so it’s great for training your listening. Also, the episodes are only around 7 minutes long, perfect for learning French in bite-sized pieces.
Where: It’s quite tricky to find online these days, but at the time of writing you can find a few episodes on vimeo.
A very secret service (Auservicede la France)
In this surreal comedy, a young trainee officer joins the French secret services at the height of the cold-war in 1960s France. The series is well written, with a dry sense of humour and great actors.
Black spot (Zone Blanche)
After a body is found hanging from a strange tree, prosecutor Franck Siriani arrives in a small French mountain town to investigate why the murder-rate is six times higher than the national average, and begins digging up the mysterious past of the local head of police.
Where: Amazon prime, Netflix
A young student and babysitter is contacted by the French secret services to spy on the family that she works for.
One great thing about this series is that it’s really easy to find – at the time of writing, it’s available on Youtube with autogenerated subs, which can make the dialogues easier to understand.
Where: Youtube. Hint – look over to the right and you should see lots of similar Youtube videos that have been uploaded.
Unit 42 (Unité 42)
In this Belgian series, a police investigator and former hacker team up to chase cyber criminals who are wreaking havoc across the country.
Long serving mayor of Marseille finds himself in competition with his young protégé. The story unfolds amongst a backdrop of political corruption, drugs and gang warfare.
It’s a bit over the top, but the beautiful scenes of Marseille make it very watchable. As one viewer said “if you watch it alone, you can wallow in the gorgeousness and shrug at the silliness”.
Two teenagers Sofiane and Victor gain superpowers to help them solve the murder of Sofiane’s brother. They join forces with classmate Luisa as the three attempt to untangle themselves from the grip of the supernatural underworld. If you’re a fan of misfits, you might like this one too.
In this French horror series, best selling author Emma Larsimon discovers that the terrifying characters from her novels exist in the real world.
The Frozen Dead (Glacé)
Adapted from the novel ofthe same name, police officers in the French Pyrenees discover the DNA of a serial killer on the crime scene of a decapitated horse. But this serial killer is already locked up in high security prison.
Hold on a second, there were only 32 shows here – didn’t the title say 37. Oui, you’ll find a few more in the section below: what to do when you don’t understand.
But first some bonus shows…
TV series dubbed in French
As well as French language originals, you can get French listening practice by watching (or rewatching!) your favourite shows dubbed in French.
It’s a good idea to choose a TV seriesor a film you already know and love, as this way you’ll follow the storyline better while you train your listening skills.
Here are some examples:
- Orange is the new black
- Grace and Frankie
- Stranger things
- House of cards
- Disney films
Whatever your favourite shows are, you should be able to find a few dubbed in French. Try opening them up on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sky (or any other platform you use), clicking on the language settings and checking to see whether the audio is available in French.
You can also check the covers of old DVDs you have at home and see what languages are available. If French is on there, change the language settings and you’re ready to go!
How to learn French by watching TV shows
So you find a French TV show that looks good, you start watching but then… je ne comprends pas!
Don’t feel disappointed if you can’t understand much at first – it’s actually quite normal, even at advanced levels. Why? French TV shows are designed for native speakers, that is, people who’ve spent their whole lives – at least 105120 hours for an 18 year old – listening to spoken French.
This means that, even if your level is pretty good, you’ll probably need lots of practice before you can comfortably understand TV shows. Pas de problème, you can still enjoy French TV shows at all levels, you just need a few extra strategies in place.
In the rest of this article, you’ll learn:
- How to choose the right TV shows for your level.
- A plan of action for when you don’t understand.
- Activities to help you make progress as you watch French TV shows.
Which French TV show should I choose?
To choose the ideal French show, keep two things in mind:
- How much do I like the show?
- Is the language useful and appropriate for my level?
The first point is important because if you like the show, you’ll have more motivation to put in the work and try to understand it. You’ll won’t mind pressing pause to look up vocabulary because you’ll really want to know what they’re saying! Also, you’ll probably spend more time doing it, which means more French listening practice for you.
Another thing to keep in mind is the difficulty and kind of vocabulary used in the show. For example, even if you love courtroom dramas in your native language, you might struggle to understand all the legal jargon in French. And if your goal is to chat to people in cafès on vacation, you probably don’t really need to know it.
On the other hand, if you speak advanced French and you’re about to start a degree in law at a French University or take an advanced exam, that vocabulary could be quite useful!
Your ideal show will be depend on your level and goals in French. Take some time to think about those and keep them in mind when choosing.
How to choose a French show at the right level
The best way to find out whether a French TV show is the right level for you is to take it for a spin!
Ideally, look for one which has subtitles in French. These are important, especially in the beginning, because you can read what you’re hearing, which helps you follow the story and learn new vocabulary. Even if you find you need to keep pausing to read the subtitles, that’s not a problem – it’s actually a good learning strategy.
Once you’ve found a show that looks interesting, play an episode.
How did it go? If you managed to get the general gist of what was going on, génial! You can now use this show to learn French. Either relax and watch the series (still great practice!) or if you’re feeling up to it, pause to write down new words or add them to a flashcard app to help you memorise them.
Pro tip: Don’t look up every new word because this will make the show clunky and difficult to watch. Just do it for:
1. Words that you need to understand the plot – without this important word, you have no idea what’s happening.
2. Any word or phrase you feel drawn to, that you think might be useful in your own conversations.
Keep it up over a long period of time and you’ll gradually get faster at understanding, to the point where you don’t need to pause much any more. Eventually, you’ll be able to get rid of the subtitles altogether. However, don’t pressure on yourself to do this too soon – TV shows are super advanced listening, and you can still learn a lot with the subs on.
Je ne comprends pas! What to do when you don’t understand
If you found it really difficult to follow, don’t worry, that’s normal at first. In this section, you’ll learn activities that you can do to help yourself understand.
Use the Language Learning with Netflix extension
There are two main reasons you might not understand French TV shows:
- The words or phrases are new to you.
- They speak so fast!
There’s a brilliant Chrome extension that gives you a solution for both of these things. Language Learning with Netflix has interactive subtitles that you can click on to get the definition in your native language and pauses automatically after every line to help you keep up.
There are loads of other settings designed to help you learn too, for example:
- Press the back key to hear the same line as many times as you need.
- An optional sidebar to quickly compare the sentence with the translation in your native language.
If you only do one thing after reading this article, start using Language Learning with Netflix – if you use it regularly, it will transform your French!
Use French TV shows as a study resource
French shows might be too difficult if you try to watch them on the sofa like normal TV, but that doesn’t mean you can’t watch them at all!
As long as you have subtitles (almost all the Netflix shows do), there are lots of activities you can do with the shows to help you learn. For a list of ideas, check out this post:
5 smart ways to learn a language by watching TV and films
You may not get to put your feet up with this one, but it’s still more fun than sitting in a classroom memorising words for kitchen appliances.
Use French shows designed for learners
If shows for native speakers are too overwhelming at the moment, you can start with simplified ones aimed at learners. They are normally pretty cheesy, but they’re watchable and a great stepping stone to real series. French Extra is a good place to start:
Voilà a few more you might enjoy:
If you prefer something a bit more natural, check out Easy French. On their Youtube channel, you’ll find street interviews with French and English subtitles to help you understand. You can also try their Super Easy Series where they speak more slowly.
Boost your learning with French TV shows
Watching French TV to learn French feels magique. You can cosy up with a glass of vin rouge or some chocolat and learn French at the same time. It’s a win.
But you might start to wonder…
- Am I doing enough?
- Wouldn’t I learn more if I was “studying” harder?
Watching TV on its own is already a great activity to boost your listening skills, and get used to the vocabulary and grammar. But if you want something that feels more focused, there are lots of things you can do to boost your learning.
And the best bit – they still involve watching TV!
Check out the post below for some handy study strategies you can use to learn French with TV shows:
Over to you
Have you tried watching French TV shows to learn French before? Have you got any other good ones to add to the list? Any more tips for learning French from TV? Share them in the comments!
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