No matter how many times you practice saying a sentence, out loud or in your head, any conversation will come to an abrupt end if you can’t understand the response. Have you ever been in a situation where you prepared a perfect French sentence and said it with confidence, only for the person you’re addressing to respond with a long, complex sentence that you simply cannot understand? If this is the case, then you might need some more French listening practice.
Understanding spoken French is without a doubt one of the hardest parts of learning the language. Sometimes it seems like French people speak so quickly they barely pause for breath. Due to “liaison”, words blend together, making it hard to know when one word stops and another word starts. This is something that you can get used to, once your ears learn to pick out certain words. Here are the top five resources and some tips that you can use to improve your French listening skills.
Do you like to listen to music on your commute to work? What about while doing chores at home? Or working out in the gym? If so, you need to switch up your playlist and start listening to some French tunes. While this isn’t a surefire way to understand the spoken language, it’s a good way to introduce your brain to the rhythm of the language as well as new vocabulary words. This technique isn’t recommended for those who don’t already listen to music on a daily basis, as there are other, more active ways to practice your listening skills. However, if you’re a music-lover who already listens to music regularly, then this is the perfect way to get in a little extra practice.
There are French, Belgian, Canadian and African singers whose songs are in French, and they cover all different genres and eras. You can easily find Francophone singers to suit your taste, from classics like Edith Piaf to modern-day pop stars like Angèle. If you don’t know where to start looking for new artists, try a pre-made playlist of French songs on YouTube or Spotify.
The most obvious way to get your ears used to hearing the French language is to listen to people speaking. That said, you might not know any Francophones to listen to. In that case, you can turn to French radio shows or podcasts, where native speakers talk about a range of different subjects. While it may be difficult at first, after a short amount of time you will notice that you start picking up on certain words or phrases.
Radio programs have the advantage of combining conversation among the presenters with music, which may be less intense for intermediate French learners. On the other hand, podcasts are based on specific subjects, which gives you the opportunity to listen to the hosts discussing a topic that you personally are interested in. Nowadays, podcasts cover every topic imaginable, from parenthood to sports, technology to economics. You’ll easily find a French podcast that appeals to you.
Nowadays nearly everybody has a smartphone, most of us are inseparable from them. Instead of wasting time scrolling through social media, put your time to good use by using language learning apps for some French listening practice. Apps are a great way to learn a language while having fun.
Most language students have already heard of Duolingo. Maybe it’s the first app you used when starting out learning French. Duolingo uses games to help you learn different vocabulary and grammar. Its recent updates include podcasts, which are a great way to practice your listening skills. The intermediate French podcasts are true life stories from people that come from various French-speaking countries, allowing you to hear French spoken in different accents. The podcasts are interspersed with some English to help you understand when the language used is more challenging.
The Clozemaster app and website revolve around cloze tests, where you must find the word that has been removed from a sentence. In ordinary game mode, you can listen to all sentences thanks to text-to-speech technology. For some more serious French listening practice, there is also a specific listening option where you hear the sentence before you see it, and are asked to fill in a blank with the word you heard. If you want to challenge yourself further, you can try out the Clozemaster Radio feature, where sentences and their translations are played so that you can continue your learning hands-free, whether you’re at home or on the move.
With a monthly or yearly subscription, FluentU gives you access to all kinds of videos, from movie trailers and music videos to clips of day-to-day conversations. There are also different learning aides to help you, such as subtitles and quizzes.
You can find some other great apps for learning French here.
There are few better techniques for practicing your listening skills, than real-life conversation. If you don’t know any French-speakers to practice with, you can join a language exchange program to find yourself a pen pal. Modern-day pen pals don’t just write to each other; you can speak on the phone or via video call in order to immerse yourself in French conversation. Not only does this allow you to practice your listening skills, you can also ask them to correct your pronunciation.
Despite audiobooks being around for decades, they have become increasingly popular over recent years. While previously the term “audiobook” may have conjured up images of an old Walkman with cassette tapes, nowadays, that’s no longer the case. Thanks to audiobook subscription services such as Audible, there are now millions of audiobooks at our fingertips. If you’re a book-lover, this could be the perfect way to hone your French listening skills. Just download a French book, to get in a few extra minutes or hours of French listening practice every day.
If that sounds difficult, choose a book that you already know and love, but listen to it in French instead. This way, you’re familiar with the storyline and can follow along more easily, but you can pick up some new vocabulary along the way.
In real life, you can usually ask somebody to repeat themselves, so don’t be too strict when practicing at home. Replay sounds such as song choruses, or snippets from a video or podcast until you can pick up on a few more words. This may not be possible with live TV episodes, radio shows, speeches or live performances, but in most other cases you are able to pause and rewind, or simply say to your speaking partner “pouvez-vous vous répéter ?”.
One of the most successful TV shows of 2021 was Squid Game, which wouldn’t have become a worldwide phenomenon without the help of subtitles. But even after watching all 9 episodes, did you learn any Korean? Our brains find subtitles easy to understand, so we don’t have to listen to any of the language at all. This means that language learners should stop using English subtitles altogether. If you’re really struggling to understand without subtitles in your native language, opt for French subtitles instead, so your brain can start to associate sounds with words that you may already recognize written down.
If you’re a visual learner, listening practice may be hard for you. There’s no point spending your precious time listening to French if you’re not going to remember any of it! That’s why it’s a good idea to take notes, the more concise, the better. You might want to note down words you like, unfamiliar words that were repeated several times, or any other things that stand out to you. Take a few minutes after every listening session to read through your notes, giving you more chance to retain the vocabulary and enabling you to research and answer any questions you may have jotted down.
You won’t be able to understand a whole language overnight, but you will gradually understand more and more if you are consistent with your listening practice. Whether you choose to listen to music or podcasts or speak with people in real life, what matters is that you do so regularly. You can even combine several learning methods for the best chance of making fast progress.
There’s no point listening to a podcast about growing vegetables if you have no interest in gardening. Just like it’s pointless listening to an audiobook about true crime if you’re a fan of romance novels. In order for your French listening abilities to improve, it’s vital that you choose subjects that are of interest to you. Focus on your hobbies or passions, or things that you might find useful in your everyday life. This way, the audio material will spark an interest, and you are more likely to try to understand and to be keen to continue your efforts, rather than getting bored and giving up.
Finally, in order to make quick progress with your French listening skills, you should make sure to concentrate on the learning style that suits you. If your preferred way of learning is visual, take notes of things that you listen to, which you can then re-read and visualize. If you prefer kinesthetic learning, try finding actions that correspond to certain words, the action of taking notes will also help you. If your learning style is auditory, then you’re in luck, listening practice will come easily to you. No matter which method you choose to follow or which resources you use, be sure to practice regularly.