Tips for understanding spoken French

Do you find it difficult to have a decent conversation in French?  Is it really hard for you to understand spoken French?  You’re not alone!  Here are 20+ tips for speaking and understanding spoken French from English speaking people living in France.  Read on to discover their tips.  If you have some ideas please add them in the comments.




1.  “In the beginning the radio was fantastic, France Inter especially as they had lots of question and answer phone ins I used to have it on in the background whilst I did the ironing.  I did not understand a lot of it but it’s a sort of osmosis effect.”

2. “It helped me to listen to the radio. Eventually, the words start separating and then as you learn French using other avenues (conversation especially), you’ll start understanding the broadcasts too.”

3.  “Just don’t worry about it. Just keep trying with  local people ( I know the accent does not help) there will be a few giggles from both sides but believe me they will love the fact you are trying.”

4. “Have the radio, music or tv on in the background whilst doing other things (driving, housework etc). Don’t concentrate or try to understand, just let it wash over you. This is how children learn their mother tongue.”

5.  “Watch films in French with English subtitles at first, then when you understand more with French subtitles and eventually with none. Some times you can get subtitles on French TV too.”

6. “Read French newspapers.  Midi Libre is quite simple, and if you look up and note some words each time, it soon sinks in.”

7.  “Change the language on your mobile phone to French. Scary at first but you very soon get used to it. You can even change the language settings on Facebook to French, then everything you see will be in French. Mind you, although on here it uses ‘aimer’ I know a lot of French who use ‘liker’ unbelievably!”

8.  “One friend who is learning French said to me that a lot of words are similar in French and English. It is true. The difference is the pronunciation.”

9.  “The French think we speak too fast, and we think the same of them.  My way of slowing them down, nowadays, is to pick out a word that you have understood – out of the flurry of French – and repeat it and hopefully they will stop the flood of French and explain the word to you.”

10.  “It is hard to be patient when you want to understand so badly, and feel like you should be able to. In my personal experience, it took four months of total immersion before I could overhear random conversations and it didn’t sound like Chinese…and I came with several years of French classes under my belt! So keep listening to as much French as you can and wait for the sunbeam to hit you in a few months!”

11.  “I did 4 months work experience for free, when I first arrived. Went from elementary level to advanced/proficiency level within that time.”

12.  “We did conversation classes in our village with a great French woman. My husband also went to have proper lessons. He joined a tennis club (all French) so his has improved enormously. He also reads the newspaper each day with a dictionary by his side. However, I would say conversation classes are the best way forward ultimately!”

13.  “Le Figaro is also in straightforward French. The Saturday edition is good. With a dictionary beside me, in the early days, it was a great way of upping my vocabulary. It also means that you know the subjects and the vocabulary to discuss current affairs with the French speakers.”

14.  “French TV is good. Our French teacher recommended “Les Racines et les Ailes” on a Wednesday evening. They speak wonderfully clearly and make one think one’s French is improving!”

15.  “So many of us believe the marketing ploy of language CDs and books, telling us we can learn a language as complex as French in 6 months. I’ve yet to meet anyone where this has been the case. It takes years of consistent practice and exposure to the language to be fluent.”

16.  “I feel fluency is probably much more rapid if one is married to a French person and they never ever speak English, or if one works full-time in a French organization. Also probably helps if you never mix with English speakers, but then you would miss making friends with some lovely people.”

17.  “Just try to speak to as many French people as possible starting only on a one to one basis. Also, you MUST ask them to correct you as they are very reluctant to do that.”

18.  “Something that has helped in gathering vocabulary is making friends with French who don’t know a word of English, and writing frequent emails to each other. They delight in throwing weird and wonderful words to us – “poutous” being one of them.”

19.  “By far the most useful thing I have done is to join francophone groups with a common interest (I have joined walking, plant and nature groups). It takes ages to understand a group of French talking together – if we ever will but you can sort of “get your ear in” whilst listening on the sidelines. I find the younger generation very difficult to understand whereas old ladies and small children are pretty easy!”

20. “I studied french at University about 35 years ago and had a basic working knowledge, but I now also have a French teacher AND I teach English to French adult professionals in exchange for their help. It has greatly improved my French.”

21.  “It may sound odd but perhaps you could try watching childrens TV. Things are simplified, the dialogues are slow & clear and the context easy to understand.  It was accidental for me…putting on Peppa Pig and l’Âne Trotro and Petit Ours Brun for my two year old had the unexpected effect of seriously helping my daily comprehension.”

22.  “If you have access to TV5Monde website have a look at the section called ‘Apprendre le français‘ and in there you will find lots of exercises for listening and reading comprehension from current news videos at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.”



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