We are told this again and again in our classes: “I can read French, but I can’t understand it easily. When someone talks to me, I realise I don’t understand all the words and I freeze.” Don’t worry, you are not on your own! Here are a few tips to practise listening to French documents, but first, a bit of advice:

  • Think about this: in your own language, in noisy situations, or on the phone with bad reception, you don’t hear every word spoken to you. Let’s say you hear “Paul” “birthday” “Saturday”, you will take a wild guess and assume you are invited to Paul’s party on Saturday. This is exactly what you need to do with a foreign langage: it is likely the words you will catch will be the most important ones, and you need to go for it and make an assumption. Sure, you might get it wrong, but often you will see you have actually understood the gist.
  • Focus on what you do understand rather than what you don’t. It might seem superfluous to say this, but believe me it isn’t!

Tips when practising on your own (and it is a skill, so practise!):

  1. Prepare yourself for what you are going to listen to: are you going to listen to the radio, an audiobook, a play, a documentary? If you know what it the piece will be about, can you anticipate the vocabulary you might already know? You will be more likely to catch it if it is at the forefront of your mind.
  2. Listen to it at least once, focusing on clues about the document:
    • Can you hear background noises, helping you to know where the piece takes place (Train noises for a station, telephones ringing for an office, etc)?
    • How many different persons are speaking? Can you tell if they are male of female? Can you catch any of their names?
    • Do you get the theme of the discussion or documentary, the problem in the dialogue?
  3. Once you think you have the above answers, listen to it again, this time writing every word you can make out in a long list, in chronological order. Don’t worry about spelling, or not being sure. It is likely that a number of the words will be “keywords”. If needed, you can do this a couple more time.
  4. Look at the (messy!;)) list you are left with, and try to make sense of these keywords and link them together, like above with Paul/birthday/Saturday.
  5. If you have a transcription, check your understanding against it.
  6. Read the transcription while the listening to the document.

If you come to our French group lessons in Bristol and Bath with our experienced and supportive teachers, you will practise listening as well as speaking, reading and writing. We also offer French private tuition and business tuition.

If you would like some advice on how to improve your reading of French, check our blog post.