French Learner Interview Series: Seyi on Understanding Spoken French and thinking French

Seyi comes from Nigeria and has been learning French for almost a year.

In this interview, he reveals a few techniques he uses to better understand spoken French and sound more fluent.

Could you tell French Together readers a little bit about yourself ?

My name is Seyi, I’m a recent university graduate from Nigeria. My first language is English. I have a continuous desire to learn and acquire knowledge, any kind of knowledge. I’m an aviation enthusiast and an avid football fan.

Why and for how long have you been learning French? How did you get started?

I’ve been taking classes in French since I was in primary school, but then I was too young to grasp the importance and potential benefits of acquiring a language besides English, and to take it seriously. I only began learning French with a high degree of dedication about 11 months ago.

What’s your current level in French?

I am a beginner-intermediate learner of the language. I can express myself quite competently in the basic tenses of the language (Le Présent, L’imparfait, Le Futur simple, Le futur proche, Le passé composé, Le conditionnel présent etc.). I can read French text, and write fairly well.

How are you learning French?

I took a yearlong course in French last year at a language institute in my country. Right now I am studying it on my own, building upon the basic knowledge which I have.

What are your biggest struggles? How did you overcome them?

My biggest challenge so far has to do with spoken French – the skill required to sustain a meaningful conversation, and the ability to comprehend spoken French.

I sometimes stall during dialogues with fluent speakers, like my French teachers, because I have to recall the words and arrange them correctly into a sentence, while simultaneously organizing my thoughts.

This occurs because I normally think in English, which I have to translate to French and check for grammatical and contextual correctness and coherence of my words before uttering them, and this can be quite stressful in ordinary conversations. However, if I have time to rehearse my words, I usually do well.

To address this problem, I train myself to consciously think in French and Spanish – another language which I am learning.

Oluseyi AdeosunDuring English conversations with friends, I occasionally pause and repeat one or two of the sentences to myself, aloud, in French. I force myself to process my thoughts in a language which I’m not too comfortable speaking in order to achieve confidence and fluency while speaking.

Similarly, when I hear a person speak French, I sometimes find it hard to decode what they are saying, except they repeat it or speak very slowly.

This is one of the difficulties encountered when learning French in an English-speaking country, where most of your exposure to the language is in written form (textbooks, dictionaries, novels, news articles).

I have sought to overcome this by increasing my exposure to spoken French, through watching movies, TV series and listening to news podcasts from French websites, such as I find this helpful as I can pause, replay and focus on the words being said, and how they are said. It helps me to get used to the way words are pronounced, and how accent and vocal inflexions affect these pronunciations. Also, watching French subtitled French movies helps me associate the words being spoken to their specific sounds in native French. I much prefer this to watching French movies subtitled in English.

Over to you

Got a question or a comment! Answer in the comment section below this interview!

Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn the 20% of French that truly matters.

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