Happy Bastille Day! Joyeux Le Quatorze Juillet !
To celebrate the French national holiday, let's get into a specific aspect of learning this language.
No matter how much you read French, or even practise speaking French, it can still be tricky to listen to French. Native French speakers can seem to speak really quickly to a beginner or intermediate learner, which makes them difficult to understand.
Listening is one of my biggest challenges. I take a Speak from Day One approach to learning languages, and I always encourage language learners to do the same. That means I’m usually stronger at speaking than listening, as I recently learned when I took an advanced French test.
With that in mind, for both you and me to improve our listening comprehension skills, I've put together a huge collection of listening resources to help you listen to French. I’ve organised these into five categories:
- Videos: Watching videos helps you understand body language and provides valuable visual cues for your listening practise.
- Podcasts and Radio: For covering a variety of topics and speaking styles, podcasts and online radio can't be beat.
- Music: Listening to music gives you a look at the creative and poetic side of a language.
- News: This provides you with more formal, standard use of the language, combined with contemporary topics.
- Lessons: It is helpful to listen to French in a structured environment, especially when you are first starting out.
Whatever your French level – beginner, intermediate or advanced – you’ll find a French listening resource that’s useful for you.
C’est parti ! Let’s go!
Videos for French Listening: Your Key To Understanding French Body Language
Most emotional communication is nonverbal. Seeing the facial expressions, hand gestures and body postures of French speakers, you will find it easier to understand them.
Video is the only type of listening practice which allows you to practise this important part of French communication. The following resources will help you listen to French as it is spoken with both words and the body.
French YouTube Channels and Web Shows
Here are some French YouTube series channels to help you look at life in the French speaking world.
- Mission 404: This is a fun web show put on by none other than Orangina France (yes, the company that makes fizzy orange drinks) with a plot detailing the end of the internet.
- Kutaray: This four part sci-fi web series from 2013 follows the adventures of three women searching for the last man on earth.
- Backstage Back Door: This 2010 web series follows the trials and tribulations of an aspiring screenwriter attempting to adapt his novel to film in a world where he is surrounded by femme fatales and extreme feminists.
- IRL?: In Real Life? (IRL?) follows the life of an introverted student as he becomes immersed in unpredictable situations.
- David Archer’s Channel: David Archer has put together an amazing collection of videos in French, many with subtitles and helpful references.
YouTube is also a great place for French lessons, but we’ll get to those in just a moment…
Live Video Chat with Native French Speakers
I've had great success in my language learning missions when video chatting with my tutors and teachers. Watching someone's body language while they are responding to what you say is much more authentic than just watching actors in a movie.
And the best part? Everything you watch is 100% related to you and your life!
It’s worth checking out the following:
- Google Hangouts: You can chat face-to-face using Google’s popular video and voice calling system. To put yourself out on a limb, you can broadcast the call live to the whole world!
- Periscope: If you haven't jumped on the Periscope bandwagon yet, you might not be too familiar with this live streaming video service. Recently I discovered you can search for live streaming video from different countries around the world, including France. This is a direct pipeline to listen to French (or any language) in a very authentic way. (I have my own Periscope profile, so just follow me by searching for “polyglot”.)
- Apple Facetime: If both you and your conversation partner have Apple devices, then you can have a free call on Apple’s video conferencing software. This comes bundled with Apple computers, tablets and phones.
- Tango: While I don’t have direct experience of this software, I’ve heard it is a good way to have face-to-face conversations with people all around the world.
- Skype: The standard for most people when it comes to making video calls online. If you download eCamm’s Skype Call Recorder for Mac, or Pamela on Windows, you can record your conversations to review them later on.
Of course, all this (other than Periscope) assumes you have someone to speak with in French. If you need a language conversation partner, be sure to check out iTalki, where you can find amazing native French speaking teachers and tutors.
How to Watch French Television Online
With so many countries speaking French, you can find a wide variety of television programmes in the French language. French TV channels available online include:
- TV5 Monde: This network is one of the leading 24 hour French language networks in Europe and has a wide variety of programming.
- TV5 Monde Apprendre: TV5 Monde Apprendre has an amazing selection of French for language learners, organised by level of difficulty. These include study resources to help you learn French.
- FranceTV: This website provides a list of series and programs in French from many major networks. You can find news, documentaries, drama and more.
- Streema: Streema is a service that provides links to the websites of many television stations in France. You can also search for programmes from other French speaking countries like Belgium or Switzerland.
- Disney Channel France: Kid’s programming might not be your cup of tea, but it can open up parts of the language that you may never normally hear. The French Disney Channel website regularly releases full length dubbed episodes of their programmes. You can also check the English episodes on the U.S. Disney Channel site to compare the two versions.
Since France is the birthplace of cinema where better to see and listen to French being spoken than with a movie?
- The Vore : This page on the Vore website links to a selection of public domain full-length and short films in the French language. All public-domain and legal.
- XMovies8: This website features movies that have been posted on public sites such as YouTube. Much easier than searching through those video directories on your own!
- SBS: SBS is an Australian company which provides free streaming of movies in many different languages, including French.
- Netflix: Netflix hosts a selection of foreign-language films, including over 30 films in French. Just remember that Netflix is a paid service and you may need a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service to view it outside the U.S.
- Fandor: Fandor, similar to Netflix, is a paid subscription site that provides many films from around the world in a variety of languages.
French Video Lessons
Fortunately for French language learners, there are a lot of video lessons online to choose from. The best part about lessons is that they follow a structured format and are perfect for those new to the language.
The following is a selection of some of my favorites, as well as a few that have come highly recommended:
- FluentU French: FluentU curates videos from all over the web, includes subtitles in French and English and organizes them so you can study them easily.
- Yabla French: Yabla specializes in helping you pick up French through videos in a natural way, with real French spoken by real people. You can check out some of the their sample videos and see what it's all about.
- About.com: About.com has produced some really helpful videos showing different aspects of the French language. From grammar points to travel phrases, you can always find something useful here.
- Easy Languages: This is a series of interviews with native French speakers covering a variety of topics to help you learn French. They also have videos in many other languages too!
- Learn French and Have Fun: This is one of the largest French language learning channels on Youtube, with over 250,000 subscribers and thousands of videos!
- Learn French with Alexa: Alexa teaches French in a fun, unconventional way through her YouTube channel.
Online Radio: Covering All Your Topic Bases
I love listening to online radio because it provides such a wide sampling of topics I am not normally exposed to. Want to hear people talk about video games? There’s a show for that! Need to learn vocabulary related to sports? You can find that too!
What’s more, the way people speak French with online radio is much closer to how you'll hear it spoken in real life. And you will get a wider variety of accents from many different regions and countries.
- Listen Live Europe: This website contains online radio stations for a variety of countries in Europe, including many in French!
- Radio Canada’s Baladodiffusion: For the French Canadian enthusiasts, here are a series of podcasts from Radio Canada.
- Online Radio French: This list of online radio stations from France, Canada and Switzerland has stations dedicated to music, news and talk radio.
- TuneIn French: TuneIn is one of my favorite apps for listening to radio stations from around the world. This is a list of their stations in the French language.
- France Culture: This website contains links to a wide variety of podcasts with topics from politics, religion, science and everything in between
- Jeux Video Gaming: A channel that provides breakdowns and reviews of video games.
- Europe1 French Podcasts: A selection of French language podcasts in a variety of topics.
Music: Exploring the Creative Side of French
We use language differently when we are expressing our creativity. Not only that, but we tend to talk about issues and topics that are closer to our hearts and minds., as opposed to describing the weather or asking for directions to the bakery.
Listening to French music can be a unique and entertaining way to improve your listening skills while immersing yourself in French culture and ways of thinking.
Here are some websites and links where you can find French music online:
- Last.fm French: This popular music recommendation site provides great French music and downloadable mp3 files.
- 8tracks French Playlist: Another music recommendation site where other people create playlists based around various topics.
- Online Radio French: This list of online radio stations from France, Canada and Switzerland has many stations dedicated to music.
- Surf Music: A German online radio station directory with a vast list of stations from all over France.
- TuneIn French: Includes many stations focused on French music.
And for French poetry:
- Easy French Poetry: First the poems are read slowly, then faster and then you get an explanation of the cultural importance and significance of the poem in French history and society.
News: Contemporary Topics In Standard Spoken French
Having a conversation about the economy, politics, the latest movies or sports may prove challenging if you aren't up to date. Listening to the news in French will teach you valuable current vocabulary, and teach you the best way to phrase common expressions on popular topics. Plus, newscasters tend to use very standard pronunciation, so this is a good way to hear things said in a very clear (although somewhat fast) manner.
- France24 News: France24 provides 24 hour access to news about France, including live streaming from their network. You can listen to a tricky segment in French and then may even be able to find the same one in English to fill in the gaps you may have missed. As a news station they are high quality too.
- News in Slow French: If you are not quite up to speed with the rapid nature of a newscaster’s delivery, then this is the resource for you.
- Radio France News: This website streams French news radio straight to your speakers.
- RFI in French: RFI is a service based out of Paris which provides global news coverage in over a dozen languages, including French.
- FranceTV: The FranceTV website provides many programmes in French, including the news.
Podcast Lessons: Structured French to Help You Level Up
If you're just getting started with French, then listening to the news or watching television shows might be overwhelming. Online French language lessons and podcasts are a great way to practise listening to the language in a graded, structured approach.
Here are some links to online lessons and materials that will help you learn French, while providing valuable listening practice:
- FrenchPod101: FrenchPod101 is one of the first resources I recommend to new French language learners. Their lessons and materials are top-notch.
- Coffee Break French: This popular podcast from the Radio Lingua Network provides an introduction to the French language as the host introduces aspects of the language to a beginner learner. This one was a particular recommendation from my French teacher Léa, and what she directs all her students to. I can't wait to try it out!
- Daily French Pod: This is another podcast with structured lessons for various levels of French learners.
- The French Podcast: This podcast aims to bridge the gap between what you learn in a classroom and what you hear on the street. They have natural, authentic French conversations with lesson materials to help you decipher what you hear.
- French Podcasts: The host of this podcast has created a resource that allows you to hear real French spoken about real topics, along with translations a super-helpful audio dictionary with thousands of entries.
- Learn French by Podcast: This website, started by some Irish folk from Cork, is a podcast series providing real-world conversations in French.
- Talk in French Podcast: A podcast for French learners that focuses on culture topics.
- Authentic French: This podcast is great for those who are able to read and write French but have a hard time with pronunciation and listening. It’s not really suitable for beginners, but if you need to brush up with your listening then this is exactly what you need.
- French Tutorial MP3s: IE Languages is a fantastic resource and this list of downloadable audio files of important phrases will prove extremely valuable to beginner learners.
- AiringPods: AiringPods lists dozens of French podcasts you might want to try.
While all of these podcasts are related to French language learners, what if you want to listen to podcasts direct from France? Searching through iTunes is often challenging since they target your search results based on your native language or country of residence. Here’s my hack for finding podcasts in your language of choice which will help you locate the best podcasts in the French language. Be sure to check it out!
Where Do You Listen to French?
Be sure to use these resources to increase your exposure to the French language and soon you’ll be improving both your comprehension and fluency with this wonderful language.
If you have any other suggestions or if I missed your favourite place to listen to French online, let us know in the comments.