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3 Practical Ways to Improve Your French Listening Skills

3 Practical Ways to Improve Your French Listening Skills

So, you’ve been studying French for a year or two. You feel like you have a pretty good handle on the most romantic of the Romantic languages. So you buy a ticket to a French speaking country. You’re confident about your skills and expect to woo the natives with everything you’ve learned. Then you step off your flight and suddenly reality hits you right between the eyes…

You’ve studied French but you can barely understand native speakers. If they were to write down what they said or simply said it slower you’d probably be fine. You know the vocabulary and grammar they’re using. For some reason when they speak at a faster speed you can’t keep track of what’s going on. You pick out the first word, a few in the middle, and a phrase at the end; but you’re still halfway trying to guess what they’re talking about.

What’s going on? Have you spent all this time learning French in vain?…

This is a common issue that all language learners face at some point or another. The truth is it’s a really good problem to have, because only students with a higher level of French will experience it. When you know a ton of French but have trouble understanding native speakers the problem is almost always with your listening skills.

Learning what French words mean and practicing how to use them in a sentence are both invaluable skills to develop, but people often forget that in addition to speaking, writing, and reading we have to develop our listening skills in a foreign language as well.

In this post we’ll look a 3 practical ways to improve your French listening skills, so you don’t have to show up to a place like Paris French-struck and dumbfounded. You’ve made it this far in your learning, now it’s time to add that tiny missing piece that will take your conversation skills to the next level.

Listening Skills

1) Practice active French Listening

One of the best ways to practice listening to French is to well….listen to French (shocking right?). But this doesn’t mean putting on some French music and listening to it in the background as you bake baguettes or sip wine. You need to practice active listening.

Get your hands on a recording of spoken French. You can use a movie, news broadcast, or podcast. You can even try subscribing to a French Youtube channel Listen to a segment of the audio and do your best to write down what you hear. After a couple tries at this go back and double check what you wrote against the script of what was actually said. If you’re streaming a movie on Netflix or Youtube you can double check yourself by turning on the French subtitles. Just be aware that sometimes Youtube has auto generated subtitles which aren’t always correct.

FrenchPod101 is one of the best tools for developing your listening skills. You can listen to the French conversation in a lesson and then check back against the lesson transcripts. This is simple, easy, and you can be sure that the transcripts are correct.

There is also a free site called Lyrics training which lets you practice your listening skills by listening to a French song and typing in the missing lyrics as the song plays. It’s a bit more fast paced than using a podcast but it’s also effective and can be fun too.

2) Practice pronunciation

Any problems you have pronouncing French words correctly will be reflected back in your listening skills. It’s hard for your brain to decipher and remember a sound (be it a letter or a word), that you don’t know how to make yourself. A good French accent will give you the ability to hear and pick out the otherwise unnatural (to a native English speaker) French sounds.

To develop your accent focus on any sounds or letters that feel difficult or unnatural for you. In the French alphabet there are a total of 26 letters. Of those 26 there are 3 consonant sounds and 6 vowel sounds that each could pose difficulties for native English speakers. Once you get more comfortable with the basic sounds, start to combine them using words and whole sentences.

Listen to native French speakers as much as possible, and take note of how words and sounds can blend, morph, or get dropped in rapid speech. Do your best to listen to this phenomenon and imitate what you hear. Focus more on how the syllables are said together rather than simply saying the words “next to each other”. There is often a significant difference between how words are said individually and how they are said when spoken together in a rapid fire sentence. This is a big part of the reason French learners can know a lot of French but still not understand native speakers.

I should also point out that FrenchPod101’s playback feature is great for pronunciation practice. You can play back the podcast itself or listen to words individually. You can even listen back at a slower speed! I wish I had known about this tool when I first started learning a foreign language!

Listening

3) Make French listening part of your routine

Now that you’ve started practicing active listening and pronunciation, make it a part of of your regular French learning! I recommend that you allot a specific amount of time for each of your listening activities. For example: you might practice 10 minutes of active listening, followed by 10 minutes of practicing French vowels, and then 10 minutes of imitation practice with a French podcast.

Now, you don’t have to use this schedule exactly. Tailor it to your own needs and availability. The point is that you should make a conscious and decisive effort to practice your French listening skills on a regular basis. It could be 30 minutes a day or it might be 10. What matters most is that you practice consistently.

Final thoughts

These 3 tips will help you close any gap that might exist between your knowledge of the French language and your speaking abilities. Understand native speakers may seem daunting at first, but with a little time and perseverance you will see your abilities improve!

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