Thanks to French Word-A-Day readers, we have a treasure trove of colorful ideas and tips on how to improve our French listening skills. Merci beaucoup for your helpful responses after Rob wrote in with the following question:
I was wondering if anyone has recommendations for a way for me to build my French listening skills? I am improving in being able to decipher written French, but spoken just moves too fast for me. I'd like something I could listen to that would slowly build my skills. --Rob, in Illinois
Here are some of the ideas that readers submitted. To see more tips--or to add a recommendation or idea of your own, click here.
Try Yabla. Fun and you can slow down the speech. Or French radio, on the internet. And I assume you've found your local Alliance Francaise chapter? They're the best! —Lynn at Southern Fried French
I'm not sure what level learner you are, but there are lots of listening opportunities on the Internet with dialogues (Laura Lawless, etc). Another thing is to rent French movies and listen to them, with or without the subtitles. If you can get up the French subtitles, even better. Also you might be able to get TV5 on your cable or satellite dish. Better yet, go to France! —Carole
Try Fluent French Audio, a subscription audio magazine on two CDs, one slowed down and the other at normal speed. If normal speed isn't understandable, you can start out with the slowed-down version and progress to normal speed. The site is http://www.fluentfrench.com/
Try searching on "French audio magazine" for others. —Passante
If you have an iPod or an iPhone, there are tons of language learning apps, many of them free. Coffee Break French is a good series that has a series of short 12-15 minute listening exercises. Or try Internet radio stations in French. —Elena
I also find that the effort of trying to keep up with spoken French a little dispiriting. What I try to do is congratulate myself if I make out just one complete phrase. From that one can often make out the gist of the meaning and second guess the rest. Often the guess is right - if not just ask to hear it again "plus lentement". Bit by bit we may find ourselves able to cope with whole sentences - even speeches! It will begin to grow without our noticing! —Sue Lamarque
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I recommend an Alliance Francaise if you're in a city big enough to offer one. At my AF we have afternoon "casse croute" classes for conversation. I don't speak much other than answering questions when asked, but our leader just starts the conversation about French culture and it gets my ear very used to hearing the language. This spring we listened to a lot of pop music (Edith Piaf to Johnny H.) and learned a lot of idioms and French cultural history.
Other than that, I'd say try Yabla because you can slow down enough to understand but not enough to distort the speaker. — Julie, at Traveling Through
You may want to try listening to a French radio station whenever you are on the computer. My favorite is Radio Nostalgie, that way I get the best of both worlds, French music and conversation. —AlpillesGal
I don't know how helpful this is but I have a free app called France Inter on my iPod Touch. It delivers French radio shows and podcasts. If you listen to the little news clips, there is also text (not word for word but very close) so you can follow along or brief yourself before you listen. I have a lot of trouble w/ comprehending languages, having a (lazy & spoiled!) American ear, but France Inter comes through clear as a bell every time. The good sound quality makes a HUGE difference for me. I may not understand everything but I can definitely single out many of the words spoken and find that I understand more and more bits and pieces as I go along. It takes time I guess but sound quality makes a remarkable difference for me. —Nan
You might try the language features on Radio French International; go to http://www.rfi.fr and click on Langue Francaise. Le journal en francais facile offers a pretty accurate transcript of everything recorded in the studio (but omits contributions by correspondents). Check out the listening exercises, too! —Mary Rack
Watch Maigret on International Mysteries and replay what you didn't understand over and over.
I subscribe to news in slow french and really like it. i think the basic subscription would be adequate. also, i bought the text and workbook to the french in action series about mireille, robert, and marie-laure, and there are 52 videos, free, that go with it. i LOVE it, but the dialogues can be hard to understand. i'm going to alliance francaise in paris for two weeks soon!! —Barbara Lynch
Champs-Elysees is the best listening tool IMHO. It used to be a monthly CD with a transcript, but it looks as though it has been taken over by The Plan 9 Group as a web app. I don't have any experience with that, but if it is anywhere close to being as good as the CD, it will really augment your understanding of spoken French. —David A. Alexander
Order Champs-Elysees! —Lynda Laun
Rosetta Stone is perfect for enhancing listening skills. The program is expensive but is frequently on sale. Another way is to rent French movies. —Hilary Lange
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For the question about improving listening to French: I watched French tv (in Brittany for 4 months) with closed captioning IN FRENCH. So I could see what I had just heard... or half-heard. It help me immediately, and improvement was noticable (after being stuck and frustrated).
HERE IN THE US, the trick is to get movies in French with French subtitles. Not easy to find. I keep hoping to get some from Francophone Canada, but so far haven't figured out how. (WRITE ME in this space if you can solve this!) BEST LUCK / Bonne chance . —D.O. in Portland Ore.
Here's a couple of tips that I found helpful in learning to "hear" French. First, try the website http://imtranslator.net/translate-and-speak. You can plug in long passages of French text and have it spoken back to you at various speeds. This was tremendously helpful in my last two semesters studying French in college. Also, listen to French music. One CD that I love and is easy to follow is Paris which is a compilation of various French chanson a classic genre with modern twists by different artists. You can find the lyrics to these songs on lyricsmania.com and then translate them to English if you wish. I hope this helps and joyful listening to you! Bonne chance! Robin Everett
Try http://www.nostalgie.fr/ and click on "Nostalgie poetes" (one of 19 choices!)for songs by Georges Brassens, Charles Aznavour, and Serge Gainsbourg. Use Google to find the lyrics and follow along. These men sing slowly enough to be understandable. Not the latest pop, but that tends to be hard to understand even when it's your native language! —Mara in Wisconsin
I recommend Anenberg Media's "French in Action". You can watch the videos here:http://www.learner.org/resources/series83.html Each video is a short vignette completely in French, so you can figure out what is going on even if you don't understand every word. Then the narrator/author comes on and explains everything you just saw and heard, all in French. I have found these videos very helpful and entertaining! —Mollie
Yabla French on line is great, if you have Sirius radio you can listen to Radio Canada. French films are another great way of increasing comprehension. iTunes also has a huge number of French artists from Piaf to Florent Pagny and rappers like Abd Al Malik to download. Télé 5 monde can be suscribed to to with many cable companies. Fluent French Audio ,if it is still around, has interviews with French people in a variety of situations with repition exercises that are slowed down. Good luck! Bon courage! —Ally
I too am trying to improve my listening skills and have the same problem as you-they speak too fast and like we do in English, slur our comments such as ah duh no (I don't know). I watch lots of french movies and I still can't understand but a few words. I need to find my level. I understand that if one were to go to a french-only speaking area of France for three months, one would pick up much more of the language as spoken every day. I can't find any french speaking colonies in Illinois (I am from Evergreen Park Il) and have tried without success to find some groups like that on the south side of Chicago. I have some ideas but I would like more info from anyone who, like your request, can help us learn spoken French. Ron Axium email@example.com
There is a Canadian learning program available called French In Action. It is like watching a weekly story or soap opera, but there is a book with it and it starts out basic, but moves quickly to more complex and it is all in French. It is really good. Also, there is a tutoring program that is inexpensive called MyPLT.com I speak with a French tutor for one hour a week. It's great. —Annie
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I recommend the smartfrench products. Check out www.smartfrench.com. These CDs and downloads specifically concentrate on developing skill in listening and speaking French, pointing out the great differences between written and spoken French (especially what is NOT pronounced). You can work at beginning to intermediate to advanced levels. —Keith McDuffie
Try Radio Suisse Romande on the Internet. In general the Swiss speak more slowly. Journal en français facile (Radio France Internationale) is available as a podcast. I second the other commenter's recommendation of the RFI listening comprehension exercises. There are many spectacular radio podcasts from FranceInter. I was completely in love with the presenter of "2000 Ans d'histoire" because of his beautiful, clear voice, but unfortunately he has left FranceInter (replaced by "La marche d'histoire). These history podcasts seem somewhat easier to understand than cultural programs because the context is sometimes more familiar. Also TV5 Monde now makes some content available as streaming video.
My progression was RFI Journal en français facile (with script!), to Radio Suisse Romande, to 2000 Ans d'histoire, to other FranceInter programs, over a period of several years. By the time I went to France I did pretty well with TV and conversations, as long as the person didn't have a strong accent. —Jane
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