The Best Way To Study French For Listening and Understanding
by Camille Chevalier-Karfis, French Today
Most students - no matter their level - tell me "I listen to the French radio, or watch movies in French" and this statement is usually followed by "it's so frustrating"...
Understanding French people speaking full speed is your goal: by no means is it 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 audio tool
You need to work with audio material that is adapted to your present level:
Beginners need clear recordings, one person talking at a time, slowly but in modern French, using vocabulary and verb tenses you 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.
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.
Finally, advanced students need longer (yet manageable) recordings which will train them to keep their concentration up for longer periods of time, and prepae them to understand movies. Working with a movie that come with French subtitles is possible for the most advanced students. Audio magazine with transcripts and translations are also a good tool.
To see what audio tools I recommend for each level, please refer to my product guide.
The method to study is the same for all levels and tools.
Pick a recording adapted to your level
Listen to a couple of sentences at a time
If you do not get them, rewind, and repeat - you will see that most of the time, you will get it at the 3rd or 4th run
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?
Then, after reading the text (and the translation if need be), listen to it again (without reading) - can you get it all this time?
Move on to the next couple of sentences.
If you want to improve your 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.
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 :-)
About the writer
Born and raised in Paris, I lived in Boston for 16 years and have been teaching French to adults around the world for 19 years. Returning to France in 2008, I created French Today which offers audiobooks and lessons in grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. All my lessons come from my personal teaching experiences. I developed my method to match the needs of adults who want to learn and interact in real, modern French.