Learning a language requires the development of four distinct skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Most language learners wish to master all four skills in their target language, but speaking and listening can require a greater focus. After all, real conversations require quicker thinking and response times.
French can be particularly difficult for the non-native speaker. People who speak consonant-heavy languages like English or German may not understand how or why French speakers drop their consonants in pronunciation. This can affect the understanding of French verb forms, words that sound similar to each other, or an understanding of the spoken word as it relates to the written word. Similarly, nasal vowels can sound particularly strange to the non-native speaker, and may be even harder to produce.
To improve your French listening skills, it’s important to recognize these difficulties. Knowing what sounds to watch out for (or not watch out for) can give you big clues on how to understand the French language. Therefore, a good language learning tool that focuses on listening can be a big service to the French learner. That’s where Clozemaster comes in.
What is Clozemaster?
Clozemaster, in short, is a language learning application that allows you to fill in missing words in a number of ways. In fact, that’s what “cloze” means: as quoted from Wikipedia, “a cloze test… is an exercise, test, or assessment consisting of a portion of the text with certain words removed.” The application collects sentences from the open source project Tatoeba, which offers numerous languages.
It is worth noting that, just like any language learning resource, Clozemaster is best used as a companion to developing your French listening skills and not the end-all source. However, given how comprehensive it is, the only companion resource you may need at first is a good French/English dictionary. You can either find a paperback, or use an application like WordReference to aid in your word comprehension and listening.
Improving French Listening Comprehension for the Beginner Student
For the French student starting from the beginning, it may seem intimidating to dive right into a new language without a basic understanding of structure or pronunciation. You can learn these things beforehand through applications like Duolingo, but language learning professionals also suggest immersion as a good way to learn a language. Clozemaster helps you immerse yourself by introducing relatively advanced sentences right away and requiring you to fill in the blanks.
Before you get started with this or any application, take some time to get to know its functions and the different platforms you can use it on. Of course you can simply access Clozemaster through the web, but there are also apps via iTunes or Google Play. Consider which version you’re most likely to use (and it may be more than one!). Downloading the app on your mobile device will allow you to learn on the go, which can be of great service to the busy language learner. You’ll build an understanding of the application’s functions as you use it of course, but some of the most important functions will be discussed below. Once you have your apps and account set up, you’re ready to start listening!
With Clozemaster’s “Cloze-Listening” function, beginner French students can choose their target language, pair it with their native language, then select to fill in the blanks for complex words by multiple choice or through text input. The beginner will want to start out with multiple choice to develop a basic understanding of the French sounds. As a beginner, you’ll also want to start off with the “100 Most Common” words function to build your vocabulary. From there, you can select the “500 Most Common” words, and progress as such. If you go Pro, you can even select words based on their function, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and more.
By playing the sentence first, then offering the written version of the sentence and a playback option, Clozemaster offers the beginner the ability to listen as many times as they want and understand the sounds they hear through the written word. Notice, in particular, how a word can be spelled differently but sound exactly the same, or when a vowel sounds nasal. If you make mistakes, don’t worry! You can go back and review just the words you missed after you get through an exercise (keep in mind you can only one round per day of listening unless you’re Pro though).
Clozemaster’s listening settings begin with a male voice (named “French Mathieu”) who speaks at a normal conversational speed. However, if you’d prefer to listen to a female voice, a random voice, or have the speech pattern move faster or slower, all of those options are available to you. By clicking the settings button within the game, located at the bottom right next to the flag symbol, users can customize their French listening learning experience. Try customizing it a number of ways as you practice to become fully acquainted with the different ways French people speak.
Improving French Listening Comprehension for the Intermediate or Advanced Student
Once you feel more comfortable with listening to the rhythm and pronunciation of French speech, you can try out the “Text Input” option (make sure you go through the review beforehand in case you missed anything before!). The text option offers bonus points, and with good reason: you’ll have to write the word without any hints, and spelling counts. You’ll hear more clearly how different conjugations of the same French verb, such as “faire” (meaning “to go”) sound the same whether it is “I go” (“fais”) versus “he/she/it goes” (“fait”). In this way, you’re developing your reading and writing skills along with your French listening skills. How great is that?
You can also decide if there are words you feel you need to practice more specifically at this point. After you’ve completed a sentence in either the multiple choice or text input mode, you have the option of selecting that sentence or word as “100% mastered,” or resetting it to “0% mastered” by selecting the check mark or the X respectively. If you find that a certain word gives you extra difficulty, or if you find yourself growing bored with a certain word or phrase, you may want to utilize these buttons.
This is a good time to begin watching short video clips of native French speakers as well. With the power of YouTube, you can watch anything: French newsreels, cartoons, music videos, and so on. Listening to native speakers will help you understand the ebb and flow of the French language, understand the language in context, and give you different voices to listen to. Plus, switching back and forth between listening to native speakers and using an app like Clozemaster will allow you to test the depth of your listening comprehension.
Some French language learners also like to test their understanding of pronunciation at this point by returning to the “Random” option, either through multiple choice or text input. Since the “Random” option doesn’t offer a listening mode to answer the question, users decide how they think the sentence would sound in their head or by speaking it aloud. After selecting the correct answer, they then listen to the playback a few times with the “Play sentence audio” button. This is a good way to develop your reading skills along with your listening skills. It also builds a visual understanding of how French pronunciation and listening works (watch out for those silent consonants!).
On a similar note, you may want to turn off the translations, or at least keep them hidden until you answer the question in the listening mode. That way you can keep your focus on the listening and pronunciation. It also will allow you to develop a better understanding of what the sentence means on its own without the constant aid of a translation.
Once you feel completely confident with the app, you might want to try the “Fluency Fast Track” option for French, either as multiple choice or, ideally, as text input in “Cloze-listening”. It allows you to see how far you’ve really come in your French listening skills, and to see what you still need to work on. If you feel particularly confident that an option you entered in the text input mode could work as an answer, you can always select the + sign next to the “Alternative answers” and input what you believe to be a viable alternative.
If you’re motivated by competition, you should pop over to the “Leaderboard” found under your user tab. You can see high scores, where you stand, and follow users you’d like to keep an eye on. Following users allows you to “compete” against people you’d like to beat, or friends who sign up for Clozemaster with you. You can also see your own ranking under your profile if you’d like to take note of how you’re doing in the grand scheme of things.
As an expansion upon applications like Duolingo, Clozemaster offers anyone who’s interested in improving their French listening skills the opportunity to understand the French language in a greater context. Programs like Clozemaster help bridge the divide between a basic understanding of a language and actual use of that language. The end game, of course, is to hold fluent conversations with native speakers, but free or freemium language learning applications can bridge the divide between the sentence you see before you and the sentence you hear from the native speaker.