A French student is improving his listening skills in French with 5 simple ways

3 Ways To Improve Your Listening Skills in French

Improving your listening skills is key to learning a language. This matters even more in French, as it’s not a phonetic language. For instance, many letters are silent, which makes many beginning French students pretty mad when they first learn it!

I have noticed over the years that students who were exposed to any French listening input (videos, audios or real French conversations) were able to speak French faster and better than students who focused on reading skills. You may think listening is a natural skill that you either have or don’t have, but in reality, you can practise and develop it like any other skill you put your mind to mastering.

That’s why in this article, I’m giving you 3 simple ways to improve your listening skills in French. You’ll become an active listener in no time!

Read this article in French here or listen to it in French and start practising today:

1. Improve your listening skills in French by being focused.

Sounds too easy, right? I agree, but most of the time, we listen to content without paying any attention. Like music in the background, we listen to French audios or radio and think it’ll sink in and that we’ll absorb it by some magic trick. I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.

So the first thing is to be really focused. How can you do this? A very effective practice is to concentrate on the meaning to explain what you have heard. That’s what you normally do in a classroom when the teacher asks you to listen to an audio and then asks you general questions about it or to give a summary.

To help your concentration, I also suggest you take some notes about the content you’re hearing. This will definitely help you focus on the content and learn new words or expressions.

Very often, we understand vocabulary passively. It means we can recognise the word when it’s close to our native language, or we have come across it in the past. However, it doesn’t mean we can use it actively.

If you write down the new expression on paper, it’s more likely that you’ll reread it, memorise it and be able to actively use it in a conversation or text.

Why should you write it on paper, you ask? Many studies show that handwriting activates parts of the brain that enhance retention. Try it for a week and tell me if it works!

2. Read and listen at the same time.

Many students get very frustrated with listening practice at the beginning. The French language is not phonetic (like Spanish, for example) and what they read seems completely different from what they hear.

That’s why at the beginning, from day one actually, I recommend listening and reading at the same time. This will allow you to observe different patterns, silent letters and the pronunciations of some typical letter combinations.

If you’re intermediate or advanced, I recommend you first listen without the transcription. After that, read and listen at the same time.

If you have missed a word or an expression, try to understand why. Was it because there was a ‘liaison’ between two words? You thought there was only one word, but in fact, there were two. Maybe some letters were completely ‘eaten’ by the speaker. For me, this is one of the best exercises to improve your listening skills in French, bridge the gap between listening and reading and improve your pronunciation!

If you’re unsure about what to listen to in French, please take a look at my recommendations of podcasts.

3. Use repeating and shadowing techniques.

Many language learning methods offer the repeating technique. Nowadays, it seems a bit old-school to repeat isolated sentences without any context or odd dialogues between Sophie and Jean-Paul, who meet randomly on the street.

However, I believe listening and being able to reproduce the sounds is key in language learning. I suggest choosing an audio recording you really like, meaning you enjoy both the speaker’s voice and the topic. Listen to it for the first time and try to understand the content. You can also listen and read the transcription at the same time after a few trials.

Then, choose 1 to 5 minutes of the recording and repeat what is said. Try to mimic the speaker (their pronunciation, accent, tone, and rhythm). This exercise is quite intense, so you might do it regularly but only for a short time.

The shadowing technique is an advanced language learning technique that consists of repeating a speaker’s voice right after hearing it. It’s best to already know about pronunciation and understand the meaning of the audio first, so you’ll feel more comfortable and can focus on the shadowing.

So first, listen to a recording at your learning level and try to understand it. Then, listen and proceed to the shadowing. In theory, you shouldn’t need to pause the audio to shadow along while listening to it.

Not sure yet if one of the techniques applies to your level? Here is a great video from Julian Northbrook of the difference between the two.

That’s it for today. Choose one strategy to implement this week and see if it works for you. Write a comment or send me a message to let me know how it goes.