Practice and improve your French listening comprehension
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Understanding spoken French is harder for some students than others. But unlike speaking, which by definition requires a conversation partner, listening can be done on your own – whenever and wherever you like – thanks to the plethora of audio material available on the internet, TV, and radio.
Even so, the best way to practice isn’t always obvious. Should you listen while reading the transcription, or is it better to concentrate on listening? As is often the case when it comes to language learning and practice, the answer is, "it depends." Both scenarios are fine, but you may find that one is more helpful for you than the other, so just practice in the way that you find most interesting and useful.
How to practice listening
If you struggle with French listening comprehension, it’s important to make time to practice, and to figure out the most effective method for you.
Resources like TV, movies, and radio are great for more advanced speakers who can already understand the majority of what they hear. But if you’re a beginning or intermediate student, it’s essential to have a transcription, and, if possible, a hidden translation (so that you’re not tempted to look at it right away).
There are essentially three different ways to approach listening, and I recommend that you try each one with a different audio file, so that you can consider how you feel after each one and figure out which one is best for you.
1) Listen and read at the same time
Have the transcription available while you listen to the sound file, so that you can see each word as you hear it. Letting your eyes and ears process the same information simultaneously will help make the connection between written and spoken French.
2) Read, then listen
Read the transcription first. This is similar to warming up before playing a musical instrument or sport: it preps your brain with the topic and vocabulary you’re about to hear and will make it easier to understand when you start listening.
3) Listen, then read
If you’re up to the challenge, listen first, more than once if necessary, until you feel like you understand at least half of it. Then you have two options:
- read the transcription before listening again
- listen again while reading the transcription
Either way, make notes about whatever you got wrong or missed completely. Read them over, then try listening again without the transcription. Repeat as many times as you need to until you understand every word without looking at the transcription.
French listening resources
Lawless French listening – Assorted audio files and videos with transcription and hidden translation.
Lawless French Immersion – Videos with interactive subtitles (click any word for translation and examples), flashcard creator, and the option to slow down the audio.
Progress with Lawless French dictées – When you’re ready, dictées are a more active exercise that help make the connection between spoken and written French.
If you have trouble with certain aspects of French pronunciation, they’re likely to negatively affect your listening comprehension. Make a special effort to work on, for example,
- similar sounds that you have trouble distinguishing (ou vs u, nasal vowels …)
- recognizing what seem like new words created by liaisons and contractions
- homophones (different words that are pronounced the same)
For help with these, take a look at my favorite pronunciation tools – despite the name, they’re equally good for developing your ear, which will do wonders for your listening skills.