You have been learning French for a while, but you still can’t understand what French people say, frustrating, right?
You can change that, and I am going to show you exactly how.
But first, let’s discover why spoken French is so hard to understand!
Why Spoken French Is Hard to Understand
You don’t know enough vocabulary
This one is obvious. If you don’t know the words a person uses, you are unlikely to understand the sentence.
During a typical conversation, a person uses hundreds of different words. If you only know 10 French words, you will have a hard time understanding what a person says.
If you wonder how many French words you need to know to be fluent, here is the surprising answer.
The best way to solve this problem is simply to study with a French course that’ll naturally and gradually introduce you to the most common French words and sentences.
For this, I recommend the French Together course.
Your brain doesn’t recognize French sounds
This is something very few people mention, and something I discovered in Fluent Forever.
When you were born, your brain could recognize the sounds of all languages, but you lost this ability at 11 months old.
This means that there are French sounds your brain can not distinguish properly, no matter how hard you try.
Luckily, you can train your brain to recognize these sounds with a pronunciation training course such as the Flow of French.
Read 7 French Pronunciation Tips to Avoid Sounding Like a Tourist to discover other tips.
You don’t know how to pronounce French words correctly
Many French courses lead you to believe that you can pronounce French words using a simplified writing like “bawnjour”.
As a result, you don’t understand what people say when they pronounce words with the right pronunciation, and people don’t understand you.
If you learnt French with this simplified pronunciation, you could actually hear a word you know but not recognize it because you learnt the wrong pronunciation.
That’s why I recommend you to always listen to the pronunciation of the words you learn and to spend most of your study time listening to French (the second rule of French Together).
French people skip letters and words when they speak
In English you often say “you’re” instead of “you are” or ‘I’m’ instead of “I am”.
The French do the same when they speak.
Often “qu’est-ce que tu fais” will sound more like “qu’est-ce tu fais”, and “je sais pas” will sound more like “ché pas”.
This won’t be the case in formal French usually, but otherwise you will find such reductions everywhere (especially in French slang).
Read the 5 main differences between written and spoken French to learn more about this.
The three steps to improving your French listening skills
Okay so you now know why you don’t understand spoken French as well as you would like. Here are now the three steps to follow to improve your listening skills:
- Learn more vocabulary. (see: what’s best French course and the Ultimate Guide to Learning Vocabulary if you don’t know where to start).
- Train your brain to recognise French sounds with a pronunciation course.
- Spend lots of time hearing French
11 fun ways to improve your understanding of spoken French
1. Watch French TV
If you have a TV at home, you can probably access French TV channels via your cable company, otherwise you can find lots of French TV channels available online.
TV is a great way to better understand spoken French, because you can choose all kinds of programs. You can watch the news and learn rather formal French, or watch TV series and learn more casual French.
Depending on the TV channel, you may even have subtitles available.
Some TV channels can only be watched from France though, so you may need to use a software like Hide My Ass that will provide you with a French ip address so it looks like you are in France.
2. Watch Youtube videos
Okay you probably already know you can watch French videos online.
What you may not know is how to find the perfect videos to improve your understanding of spoken French.
I decided to do all the work for you and to create French Together’s youtube channel. It contains a regularly updated selection of awesome French videos with English subtitles.
Alternatively, you can also check out the 13 best Youtube channels to learn French.
3. Watch French movies and series
You have probably already watched at least one French movie in your life, but did you watch it in French?
You can easily find French movies with English subtitles on internet. And you feel more confident, why not watch it with French subtitles? Or without subtitles at all.
If you don’t find any movie to watch online, you could also go to your local library, they probably have French movies with subtitles available.
Or you could check if there is an institut français near you. There are a lot of them and they offer a wide range of movies, TV series and books in French as well as cultural activities. To find one, simply search for “institut français + city name” or “French institute + city name”.
4. Watch French videos with subtitles with FluentU and Yabla
The difference between the two? Yabla contains videos created specifically for French learners, while FluentU uses content from Youtube and adds subtitles.
With Yabla, you can also slow down the video to make it easier to understand.
5. Watch Ohlala Hollywood Speaks French
Hollywood speaks French is a web series created specifically for French learners like you. It’s full of real spoken French and available with subtitles.
You can even get a workbook with transcripts both in French and in English and advice on how to make the most of the videos.
Here is the first episode. Enjoy.
6. Learn French with Lingq
Lingq is an online community of language learners. It gives you the opportunity to learn French using texts with audio. You read and listen to the audio version of text, select the vocabulary you don’t know, and then review it using a flashcard system.
Reading while listening at the same time is highly effective and you could quickly make progress if you regularly do it.
Oh and check out my list of French reading resources if you’re looking for French reading material!
7. Find a conversation partner
When you speak to a native speaker, you get used to hearing real spoken French, you also have to make the effort to understand what your partner says, and in case you don’t understand, you can always ask him/her to repeat more slowly.
In addition to that, you will greatly improve your pronunciation, your confidence and you could even make friends.
8. Listen to French podcasts
Podcasts are incredibly useful, you can bring them everywhere with you and use them to study French while walking, going to work etc.
9. Use audiobooks
Audiobooks are books read out loud for you. They are not only highly addictive, but can also be awesome language learning tools.
10.Learn with Français Authentique
Français Authentique is a French course specifically designed for people who understand written French, but struggle to understand spoken French and would like to become more confident speakers.
11. Learn from everyday French
If you want to be able to listen to everyday French at both normal and slow speed, I highly recommend you to check out my book Everyday French Idioms. It contains high-quality recordings of all idioms and example sentences at both slow and normal speed which makes it a great way to get used to listening to everyday French.
Over to you
Do you struggle to understand spoken French? What do you do to improve your listening skills? What are your favorite French listening resources?