The Best Way To Study French For Listening and Understanding

Most students – no matter their level – tell me “I listen to French radio, or watch movies in French,” and this statement is usually followed by “it’s so frustrating”… There is however a simple method to better your French understanding skills: follow my precise tips.

Understanding French people speaking full speed is your goal, but by no means is watching French movies the right path to get there.

It’s as if you gave Shakespeare to read to a first grader. It’s only going to lead to failure, loss of confidence, and frustration.

Picking the Right French Audio Tool To Study With

To better your French listening skills, you need to work for it. It’s not going to happen over time.

The most important thing is to pick some audio material that is adapted to your present level.

This is crucial if you want to progress and not get frustrated.

  • Beginners
    Beginners need clear recordings, one person talking at a time, slower but in modern French, using vocabulary and verb tenses they 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.
  • Intermediates
    For intermediates, the recording should be a bit faster, a bit longer, 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.
  • Advanced
    Finally, advanced students need longer (yet manageable) recordings which will train them to keep their concentration up for longer periods of time, and prepare them to understand movies.
    Working with a movie that comes with French subtitles is possible for the most advanced students.
    Audio magazine with transcripts and translations are also a good tool for advanced students.

Click the links to access French Today’s French audio method for beginners, lower intermediate French audiobooks and French products for higher intermediates. My French audiobooks feature different speeds of recording and enunciation and focus on today’s modern glided pronunciation.

À Moi Paris series L1 to L6

How to Improve Your French Listening Skills

The method to study is the same for all levels and tools.

It’s simple enough, but there is no magic wand here: if you want to improve your understanding skills, you’re going to have to work at it.

Repetition is the key!

I promise you however that you’ll notice results in a very short time: this is hard work, but it does work.

  1. Pick a recording adapted to your level
  2. Listen to a couple of sentences at a time – hit the pause button, it’s your best friend for this exercise!
  3. If you do not get them, rewind, and repeat – you will see that most of the time, you will get it on the 3rd or 4th run
  4. If you don’t understand a word, write phonetically what you hear. Repeat the whole sentence a couple of times. 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?
  5. Then, after reading the text (and the translation if need be), listen to it again (without reading) – can you get it all this time?
  6. Memorise the new word, sentence, gliding – whatever threw you off the first time around.
  7. Move on to the next couple of sentences.

How To Improve Your French Speaking Skills

If you want to improve your French speaking abilities, insert a repeat out loud phase – make sure to mimic the speaker as if you were an actor :-) For more on the best way to study French for speaking, go to my tips on the best way to study French for speaking.

You may also benefit from my top 12 tips to learn French efficiently, and how to express confusion in French.

The 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 :-)

I post new articles every week, so make sure you subscribe to the French Today newsletter – or follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.