Tips for Understanding Spoken French

Use oral exercises to boost your comprehension

French Life
French Life in a pavement cafe. Getty/Leslie West

There are dozens of French phonetics exercises for letters, words and expressions on ThoughtCo.com. Entries on these exercises lead to pages with more and more detailed explanations, so keep on clicking through when prompted. They can be excellent resources for learning the basics of understanding spoken French.

Also highly recommended are the many self-study French audio magazines and audiobooks on the market.

These tools contain extensive longer texts with audio files and English translations that are excellent resources for understanding spoken French.

For either phonetics lessons or French audio magazines and books, will you get better results if you listen first and then read the words, or is it better to listen and read at the same time? In fact, both of these methods are fine; it's just a matter of deciding which one works best for you.

We've thought about how to make this process most effective and offer a few ideas here aimed at helping you make the most of audio exercises.

Each of the site's oral exercises includes at a minimum a sound file and a translation. There are a few possible scenarios for using these to boost your oral comprehension; it's up to you to decide which one to adopt.

1. Listen First

If you want to test your aural comprehension and/or you feel comfortable with your listening skills, listen to the sound file one or more times to see how much you understand.

Then to fill in any gaps, read the words, either before or while listening to the sound file again.

2. Read First

Students who don't feel up to the challenge of listening first might be better off doing just the opposite: Read or skim through the words first to get an idea of what it's about, and then listen to the sound file.

You can listen while reading, or just listen and then go back to the words to see how much you were able to pick up.

3. Listen and Read

This third option is best for students who have a hard time understanding spoken French. Open up the words in a new window, and then start the sound file so that you can follow the words as you listen. This will help your brain make the connection between what you are hearing and what it means. This is similar to watching a French movie while reading the English subtitles. 

You Decide Which Method Works Best for You

The "listen first" technique is the most challenging. If you feel confident that your listening skills are strong or you'd like to test them, this method will be effective for you.

Less advanced students, however, may find that listening first is too difficult and possibly frustrating. Thus, reading the words first will help you connect concept (the meaning) to sounds (the spoken language).

If your listening skills are weak, you will probably find it helpful to see the words before or while you're listening. 

No matter which method you choose, your goal here is to improve your listening comprehension. Just keep listening and checking the words as many times as it takes until you understand the sound file without looking at the words.

With all three techniques, also try speaking the words yourself as you read the words. Why? Because the more senses you engage when you're learning, the deeper the memory pathways you'll be etching in your brain and you'll learn faster and retain longer.

If you do these kinds of exercises regularly, your understanding of spoken French is bound to improve.

Improve Your Comprehension of French

You might decide that you need to improve in one, or more likely, several areas of French comprehension. Learning a language, after all, is a long process strewn with subtleties, one that even native speakers contend with. There's always room for improvement. So decide which area you want to focus on and study a little more to refine your French. Do you want to:

  • Improve your comprehension of spoken French, as we've been discussing here
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Lawless, Laura K. "Tips for Understanding Spoken French." ThoughtCo, Oct. 7, 2017, thoughtco.com/improve-your-french-listening-comprehension-tips-1369395. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, October 7). Tips for Understanding Spoken French. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/improve-your-french-listening-comprehension-tips-1369395 Lawless, Laura K. "Tips for Understanding Spoken French." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/improve-your-french-listening-comprehension-tips-1369395 (accessed December 14, 2017).