How to Use the Mirror Technique to Better Understand Spoken French

3 steps to improve your listening and speaking skills

1

Choose a high-quality recording of a phrase spoken by a native speaker.

2

Close your eyes and listen to the phrase a few times.

3

Imagine you are a French person wearing a beret and imitate what you hear.

Pro tip: imagine you are wearing un beret, une marinière (a striped t-shirt) and carrying a crispy baguette. Don’t be afraid to exagerate and sound overly dramatic, this is what will help you “forget” your native language and fully embrace your identity as a French speaker for a few minutes.

Let’s practice the Mirror Technique!

To show you how to use the Mirror Technique, I have selected a phrase you probably already know but may not recognize if you hear it spoken by a native speaker.

Listen to the phrase spoken in normal French

Listen to the recording a few times, then close your eyes and do your best to repeat what you hear and imitate Gaelle’s pronunciation, intonation and rhythm. At first, you may struggle to remember all the words, if that’s the case, I recommend focusing on a part of the sentence first (the beginning, for example.)

Done? Now let’s try with a more realistic version of this phrase.

Listen to the street French version of the phrase

Again, listen to the recording a few times, then close your eyes and do your best to repeat what you hear and imitate Gaelle’s pronunciation, intonation and rhythm.

Both sentences mean “sorry, I don’t understand” but you may have noticed a few differences. That’s because the first version is a “textbook” version. It’s gramatically correct but not very realistic because French people tend to drop words and letters when they speak.

Here is the first sentence:

Désolée, je ne comprends pas.

And here is the second sentence:

Désolée, je comprends pas.

In the second sentence, Gaelle dropped the “ne” and combined “je” and “comprends” to create a sound closer to “j’comprends” than “je comprends.”

This is very common in spoken French and one of the reasons why it’s essential to learn French by listening. If you don’t learn French by listening, you won’t know how French really sounds and feel lost when you realize how different written and spoken French are.


Voilà, you just practiced the Mirror Technique. You may not have realized it but you did a lot:

  • You learned the sound of the phrase by listening instead of reading which means you learned the correct pronunciation right away since your brain didn’t have time to guess the pronunciation and associate the wrong pronunciation with the phrase.
  • You improved your ability to understand French as it’s spoken in France.
  • Imitating the sounds you heard helped you get used to the sounds of the French language and improve your pronunciation.
  • Repeating the phrase while imagining you are French person means you are much more likely to remember it next time you need it in real life.

Make a habit of practicing the Mirror Technique and you will quickly improve your listening skills, gain confidence and memorize vocabulary faster. You will also avoid the embarrassing mistakes I mentioned in yesterday’s email and get a ton of compliments on your accent.

If you don’t have any good material to practice the Mirror Technique with, keep your eyes peeled for tomorrow’s email :).