The Best Way To Study French For Listening and Understanding

MyfrenchLife™ -Most students – no matter their level – tell me, “I listen to the French radio, or watch movies in French” and this statement is usually followed by “it’s so frustrating”…

If understanding French people speaking full speed is your goal, then by no means is listening to the French radio or watching movies in French the right path to get there. It’s as if you gave a first grader Shakespeare to read. It’s only going to lead to failure, loss of confidence and frustration.

Picking the right audio tool

You need to work with audio material that is adapted to your present level:

  • Beginners need clear recordings, one person talking at a time, slowly but in modern French, using vocabulary and verb tenses you can understand. That is how you will train your ear to get the glidings, liaisons, and intonations that make spoken French pretty much a different language than written French.
  • For intermediates, the recording should be a bit faster, with more challenging vocabulary – you have to learn to ‘guess’ from the context and not freeze when you don’t understand, but skip that part and move on with the rest of the sentence. Intermediate students also need longer (yet manageable) recordings which will train them to keep their concentration up for longer periods of time.
  • Finally, advanced students can work with movies that come with subtitles, or audio magazine with transcripts and translations.

The method

The method to study is the same for all levels.

  • Pick a recording adapted to your level
  • Listen to a couple of sentences at a time
  • MyFrenchLife™ - study french - headphonesIf you do not get them, rewind, and repeat – you will see that most of the time, you will get it at the third or fourth run
  • If you don’t understand a word, write phonetically what you hear. Then read the transcript and see why you didn’t get it; is it a new word for you? If so, could you have guessed it from the context? Was it a gliding or liaison that threw you off?
  • Then, after reading the text (and the translation if need be), listen to it again (without reading) – can you get it all this time?
  • Move on to the next couple of sentences.

If you want to improve your speaking abilities, insert a repeat out loud phase. To see what audio tools I recommend for each level, please refer to my product guide.

Last piece of advice – try to be positive about it. Chances are that some conversations/some speakers will still elude you – I still don’t get some English movies… Nor David Duchovny (he mumbles)… Focus on all that you did achieve instead of letting frustration get to you.

This is a guest post by Camille Chevalier-Karfis, of French Today. French Today is an essential website for people learning French, no matter what their level.

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All images Laura Griffin

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Laura Griffin

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One Comment

  1. Bethany Untied Dec 14, 2011 at 3:42 PM - Reply

    What a great article ! You’re so right- trying to listen to French news as a beginner or intermediate or sometimes even advanced can be ridiculously challenging.

  2. French Please Sep 19, 2013 at 10:00 PM - Reply

    I agree with My experience as an FLE instructor is that working on real material is more interesting than taylor made but it’s tough. To help with that subtitles or a transcript can help. I like the transcript better because the person learning will refer to it only when in need… Anyways I started a website with grammar quizzes and videos with transcript and quiz. It’s young and rough but it’s all for free. Please have a look at
    I hope some will find it interesting.

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