Do you watch French movies without subtitles?
Can you follow French radio broadcasts without a transcript?
First of all, congrats! That’s a huge accomplishment.
Secondly, as you’ve surely realized, there’s still more work to be done if you want to maintain and grow your vocabulary, listening and speaking skills.
Fortunately, this is when language learning can be really fun.
Once you can follow longer-form authentic audio materials, a whole world of fascinating French culture opens up.
Not only will you be maintaining and improving your French, you’ll be staying up-to-date on current events (from a Francophone perspective!), learning about history and science, or just getting a laugh from French comics and commentators. And you can do this while in transport, house cleaning, waiting, etc.
This post is dedicated to the very best podcasts and other audio sources that I’ve discovered after nearly a decade of life in Paris, listening to whatever I could find (and especially what French friends have recommended) as I walked to work (or just did the dishes) in the most gorgeous city on earth.
The Advantages of Using Authentic French Audio Materials
Listening is an integral part of language learning, and listening to authentic material will only boost this skill faster. Here are some advantages of listening to authentic French audio:
- Current real-world French: The main advantage of authentic audio material is that you’re getting real, current French as it is actually used—not stuffy, academic confabulations that you’d see only in a textbook.
- Increased motivation: Another factor that is relevant here is motivation. If you’re listening to a smart, enlightening French podcast on a topic you love, you’re going to have more fun, be more motivated to continue, and also be more motivated to care for and improve your French. And that’s because you’re genuinely adding something useful to your life.
- Vocabulary retention: Learning French from real-world audio sources enhances retention, both because you’re more likely to remember and reuse vocabulary about things that interest you, and because you’ll have a more accurate understanding of a new word and how it’s actually used.
The Best Strategies for Learning from Authentic French Audio
To learn the most from these resources, you’ve got to actively listen—not just play it in the background and “listen.” So what can you do, exactly? Try following these steps:
1. First Listen: Listen for Understanding
On your first listen to a piece of audio, don’t pause it—but do make sure that you’re listening for something. I recommend just trying to get the gist of the topic being discussed.
2. Listen for Particular Structures
Then, choose a 1-5 minute section of the audio (if it’s a longer clip) and pay attention to the use of particular structures or words (the written episode summary on a podcast might suggest things to look for). Make a list of how and when these words are used, or a short sample from the episode.
Feel free to hit pause whenever you need! If the audio is really too difficult, you can simply listen for and make a list of any words you know and recognize. You can also look for key phrases: How do broadcasters sign on? What phrases do they use to transition between topics? Etc.
3. Second Listen: Look Up New Words
The second time through the whole piece, it’s wise to actually look up the words you don’t know. Again, remember that the pause button is available and handy!
After looking up each word, be sure to add them to your flashcard apps or other spaced repetition systems. As an advanced learner, make sure you’re writing definitions in French rather than the translation in your native language (Larousse is a great French dictionary to use for this). Another tip is to also write the sentence/context in which you heard this word, as that’ll make it easier to remember.
If you’re using FluentU’s app, this can all be done automatically.
4. After Listening: Integration with Lessons
If you take individual lessons, I highly recommend planning them yourself, rather than letting a teacher do it. Make a lesson plan about your latest, favorite podcast episode or audio sample. Explain the audio to your teacher (so that you repeat and use the words in context) and then give the teacher your take on things. This is a high-level use of French!
5. After Listening: Write About What You Hear
After you’re done dissecting an audio sample, write a paragraph or a short essay about the topic. Instead of just reporting what you heard, feel free to add your own opinion. This’ll make your interaction more personal and thus stronger.
Then, correct your writing with a teacher, language exchange partner, or on Lang-8.com.
6. Integrate Audio Sample with Life
You’re actually using French in your life, I hope?! Chat with native speakers/language exchange partners/fellow learners about the audio you’re listening to. If it’s good, tell them why they should listen to it! Then you’ll have more partners to discuss with… You can also certainly tweet at and otherwise interact with those who are producing the audio programs, and let them know your two cents!
Top 16 Native Audio Sources for Advanced Learners
Here’s my list of top podcasts and other audio sources. At the top of the list is more serious programming (mainly from French public broadcasting), then we get into more humorous material, then opinion pieces and finally some audiobook sources. Links are provided, but for most of the podcasts, searching in your podcast app will yield the program’s RSS feed so that you can have these directly downloaded to your portable device.
1. Géopolitique, le débat
Marie-France Chatin of RFI hosts experts; on each episode they discuss a different theme in current geopolitics. It’s not as challenging for a language learner as it might sound since these are conversations, and as such the themes, vocabulary and information are repeated by the various guests.
2. La marche de l’histoire
This famous radio program from France Inter is also available as a podcast. Host Jean Lebrun focuses on particular moments in history and the characters involved. Archived audio and interviews with those who lived through the events are also brought in when appropriate.
This can be a challenging podcast, particularly if you are not familiar with historical events that are assumed to be part of general knowledge for French listeners. Get a quick bit of background on a subject from Wikipedia before listening to help make things go smoother. (And of course, use the French Wikipedia for these searches).
3. La revue de presse de France Inter
A revue de presse is a staple of French radio, and there are a number of good ones out there if you search for the term in your podcast player. A roundup of various opinions on a particular issue from a selection of newspapers are presented, so it’s a good way to take in different perspectives quickly about whatever is being talked about that day.
It can also point you to interesting articles to read if you want to delve in further. France Inter’s revue de presse is my favorite; it’s hosted by Bruno Duvic.
Obviously, I’d be remiss not to mention the home to this blog! FluentU isn’t something you want to put on in the background; the site and app are designed for active, motivated learning.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% personalized experience.
It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
5. RFI Edition Monde 6h
This is how I start my day (though I admit I skip through the sports stuff). Since it’s focused on world news, it can be easier to follow than France-only French news programs, which assume quite a bit of knowledge on your part of the politicians and parties of the day in France. (This concept can be applied more generally; for example, for French news I listen to a podcast in Italian, which tends to cater more to more my ignorance.)
There is no link for the program itself, so search your podcast player for the title or find it streaming each day listed among the other news updates on this page.
6. RFI Afrique Midi 12h30 TU
This program and podcast is a longtime favorite; it introduces you to more types of French accents and provides stories you’re unlikely to get elsewhere. It can also provide balance to your media diet, given the general predilection against reporting news from Africa.
7. Bonjour l’Europe
This is a good one to add to your podcast player if you’re interested in European news. The stories are taken from RFI, and part of the fun is that it transports you with sounds and stories from truly all over the continent.
By the way, it’s not very advanced, but before we leave French public broadcasting, I should mention RFI French lesson, as well as RFI Podcast English News, if you just want news from a “French perspective” in English.
8. Si tu écoutes, j’annule tout
These are humorous, insightful discussions about “cleaning up” the mess of modern news. Sometimes they cover topics just ripped from the headlines, and at others discussions focus on trends or recent books. No matter the subject, things are kept light—but you can also expect to learn something.
9. Le Bidule
Le bidule means thingamajig, and as you’d expect, this is an informal conversation. It’s hosted by Maud and Bouli, and the two of them plus their guests discuss all sorts of facets of the culture—music, movies, etc.—of the moment. Beware that the podcast feed is a bit of a pain as it includes “samplers” for each episode as well as very large full episode files.
10. L’inaudible de Walter
This beloved podcast is a bit of a challenge; it’s a symphony of sound and story that bounces around. It is theatrical, fascinating and odd. It should certainly not be your first choice for a French-language podcast, but do dive in if you can handle swimming in some surreal associations.
11. La voix dans la tête
These are rather rambling but interesting conversations between a few friends about everything from technology to concerts. The emphasis is on current culture, and to me it’s not worth careful, dedicated study, but it can be fun to put on in the background as there are occasional gems.
12. Nicole Ferroni
France Inter’s chroniquers (brief opinion podcasts) can sometimes require an understanding of the day’s French politics. Nicole Ferroni is entertaining and sarcastic, but beware that she speaks fast.
Other favorites to look for are François Morel and François Rolin.
13. Rendez-vous avec X
For you Americans, think a French version of “Fresh Air,” though it can sound a bit more didactic. Patrick Pesnot interviews an expert, and all kinds of subjects are covered. One of my favorite things about this podcast is that it can transport you to absolutely any little point in the world, and turn you into an expert on overlooked lands. Recently it’s taken me to Ukraine, Zaire, Iran and Kazakhstan.
Librivox is a site that offers the audiobook format of over 400 classic French works that are available for free, including:
- This great collection of 25 classic French poems.
- This “children’s alphabet” of vocabulary concerning World War I is quite accessible.
- Many works by Victor Hugo, read in both French and English.
Audiocité also has free recordings of both classic and contemporary literature, often made by amateurs and book-lovers, but still of high quality. To get started with something accessible, start with this collection of funny monologues.
16. Audible.fr | Amazon.fr
If you want new, professional audiobooks, you’ll of course have to pay for them. Two good sources are the French versions of Audible and Amazon. Some language learners like to listen to translations of novels that they’ve already read, which can be comforting, but don’t be afraid to look for French authors’ writing in whatever genre suits you most.
All of this, of course, is just a starting point. Dip in and explore, and these paths will lead to others. There’s a wide and crazy world of French audio to explore; just by itself that’s more than enough reason to keep learning the language.
Mose Hayward is a polyglot and has lived in Paris for more than a decade. He blogs about “20-minute fluency,” dancing and romantic adventures for travelers at TipsyPilgrim.com.
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