• The French Ignition Blog

    Published on Tuesday 30th of November 1999 by Valerie

    Beginners listening skills to improve your French conversation

    French conversation is a two-way process whereby receiving the language is as important as producing it. Although the Net is an incredible resource when it comes to hearing spoken French, it can be a bit daunting for French language learners to sieve through hundred of material. To make matters worst, a vast amount of listening material is delivered at normal French speed and this can often be off-putting. So here are a few ideas and websites that might be of help to you if you are a beginner in French.

    Before starting with the more accessible resources, it is worth pointing out that listening to French TV shows or radio programs can be a valuable exercise, even for beginners. The best way to handle it is to have them in the background while doing something else that doesn’t require concentration. Doing the dishes perhaps or the ironing. Let’s be very clear here. The aim is not to understand what is going on but to get your ear attuned to the intonation. Try to pick out the odd word here and there and after a while, you will notice that you are able to recognise more and more words. The key element is to relax and not put undue pressure onto yourself. You’re not trying to understand everything that is being said and understanding nothing but the odd word here and there is exactly what we’re after. Remember that this exact process will occur in French conversation: You may not understand everything your interlocutor is saying to you but you might pick out enough words to make sense of the gist of the message.

    Another technique that can be useful is to watch your favourite series in French. A lot of popular series (Friends, The Simpsons to name but a few) can be seen on Youtube. In France, most popular series shown on TV are dubbed in French. Not great for French people trying to improve their English but a formidable asset for you! Simply type the name of the program followed by ‘en français’ (in French). The likelihood is that you will already know the storyline and this leaves you free to focus on the French conversations between characters.

    Now let’s get on with the easy listening resources that are out there. Youtube provides a lot of listening resources but very few are accessible to beginners. One I am particularly fond of is produced by Alain Le Lait, a French musician who has done an incredible work of producing songs in French designed to develop basic French vocabulary. Although primarily devised with children in mind, his tunes are quite catchy. They are a great help to building up and retaining basic vocabulary (days of the week, numbers, family, etc), the kind of vocabulary you’re bound to use frequently in any French conversation.

    Within the realm of education, Education Scotland has produced some fairly accessible listening material, although it has to be said that the topics are a bit pedestrian. Don’t expect to be wowed by the content but it is good in terms of listening to spoken French. Besides, simple day-to-day vocabulary is often the kind of things you will use in French conversation. You can also access the transcript of what you hear just below the recording. You might want to listen to the recording two or three times before reading the transcript. Remember that it is perfectly normal when listening to something in a foreign language to not get anything on the first hearing, get a bit on the second hearing and quite a lot more on the third…
    Here is the link: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/resources/f/frenchlisteningexercises/introduction.asp

    Here is a slightly more interesting resources called Easy French and has a Youtube channel. There are about fifty videos of French people being interviewed on the streets in various parts of France. Although the French is at normal speed, you have the transcript in French and the subtitles in English to help you follow everything quite easily. The questions asked are quite fun: What is the maddest thing you’ve ever done? What did you get for Christmas? Etc.
    Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA5UIoabheFMYWWnGFFxl8_nvVZWZSykc

    Also, have a look at flevideo.com. The French used is relatively slow but the content varies in quality so you may have to pick and choose on which ones are right for you. The good thing is that each video is accompanied by questions which help you focus on what to listen for.
    Here is the link:

    And finally, a website called news in slow French. It does exactly what it says but with it being real news items, the level of language may be bordering on intermediate level. Having said that, you are provide with a transcript so if you are a true beginner, you might want to study the transcript before listening to the news item. Used in that way, it is perfectly accessible to beginners.
    Here is the link:

    This concludes our round up of easy French listening material for beginners. It goes without saying that developing these listening skills will be crucial to any French conversation you might engage in. Enjoy and have fun with it!

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