It’s time to bring out the big guns.
But with a secret weapon, we can kill two birds with one stone.
Enter French podcasts.
Immersion is the key not only to understanding French, but also to sounding French.
So how exactly can podcasts help advanced French learners?
How Advanced French Learners Can Benefit from Podcasts
- Fine-tune listening skills. Listening to a debate in a foreign language requires more effort and skill than reading a written or transcribed one. Keeping up with oral arguments requires close attention to transitions and tense, both of which can be easy to miss when spoken.
- Improve cadence and intonation. Being able to understand Francophones talking to each other in real French is a sure sign that you’re on the way to achieving fluency. Being able to reproduce their cadence and intonation means you’ve truly arrived in Fluentland.
- Gain exposure to different accents. For more advanced learners, it’s challenging to move beyond the “standard French” accent; after all, the French spoken by Parisian newscasters and radio hosts isn’t the only French out there. By listening to French language podcasts you’ll expose yourself to the diverse array of accents of the Francophone world, from Bamako and Québec to Toulouse and Tunis.
- Learn topic-specific vocabulary. Are you a budding political scientist? Interested in literary criticism? Or maybe biology is more your thing? Fluency is less about knowing every word that exists, and more about knowing a wide range of vocabulary to express yourself in the domains most relevant to your life and your surroundings.
- Embrace immersive learning. So often, language learning is dominated by grammar lessons and vocab lists. While it’s essential to get a good foundation in grammar and functional French vocabulary, every French learner also needs sources of native, natural French. This is especially true when you reach an advanced phase of learning.
Podcasts can give you that exposure. And, if you’d like to tap into an immersive French experience that includes curated, real-world videos with adaptive exercises, consider FluentU.
You’ll have access to a library filled with French videos from native speakers, on all kinds of topics. You can use the interactive captions to get an instant definition of any unfamiliar French word. FluentU tracks your progress and personalizes its suggestions, so your entertaining video “lessons” will keep you moving forward with more intriguing topics. Use the multimedia flashcards to reinforce the French words and phrases you’ve learned.
Plus, you can take the videos anywhere on the FluentU mobile app. If you love learning French the way native speakers actually use it, be sure to mix FluentU videos into your practice alongside the great podcasts below.
How to Actively Listen to French Podcasts and Deliberately Practice
- Translate. Start off with an oral translation (French to English) to get yourself warmed up, and then move on to a written translation, working as literally as possible. I recommend working with a 30-second clip.
- Transcribe. This exercise is similar to translation but it requires more than just comprehension; you also have to pay attention to spelling and the relationship between sounds/pronunciation. Again, unless you can type at lightning speed, this exercise also works best with 30-second clips. After you’ve completed a written transcription, read it aloud in your best newscaster voice. This is a great way to practice speaking clearly, quickly and precisely, essential for oral fluency.
- Outline. While listening to an episode, outline the argument (Who is speaking? What is their point of view?). This works best with interviews. Afterwards, try to condense your outline into a single paragraph, paying close attention to transitions. Is the word you’re looking for néanmoins (nonetheless) or cependant (however)?
- Reformulate. At the end of each podcast, try to reconstruct the argument orally, as if you were explaining the podcast’s content to a friend. Make an audio recording and play it back to yourself. How can you improve your intonation? Does your -é sound too much like your –ais?
- Express yourself. Once you have reconstructed the argument, insert yourself into the debate. Where do you stand? What flaws did you notice in the argument? Do this orally (again, try recording yourself). If you’re feeling extra ambitious, express your opinion in the régistre soutenu (formal register).
Podcasts are perfect for your morning commute, working out at the gym, washing the dishes or walking the dog. I’ve included some recommendations of my favorite episodes in the following list of 15 to get you started.
15 Eclectic French Podcasts That Advanced Learners Will Love
1. Grand reportage, Radio France International
During the week, Grand Reportage consistently provides in-depth, sensitive, on-the-ground audio documentaries, drawing attention to the diversity of lived experience in the face of political conflict and environmental issues.
- Vanuatu: la reconstruction après le cyclone (Vanuatu: The Reconstruction After the Cyclone). On March 14, 2015 the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu was hit by a cyclone and was largely destroyed. Recorded one month later, this episode investigates the relief efforts and the current living situation of Vanuatu’s inhabitants.
- Demandeurs d’asile Football Club (Asylum Seeker Soccer Club). In France’s Rhône department, nearly two thousand people have applied for asylum since 2014. This episode profiles a soccer team comprised of asylum seekers from Ivory Coast, Congo and Kosovo. The team’s Ivorian coach hopes to organize a tournament among other teams of asylum seekers in the region.
2. Géopolitique, France Inter
This is a short and snappy podcast, with each episode clocking in at a maximum of four minutes. Bernard Guetta gives you the rundown on international relations, focussing on one topic at a time, in the form of a rhythmic monologue.
- Le drame des réfugiés et les questions à nous poser (The Refugee Crisis and the Questions to Ask Ourselves). In light of the series of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, Guetta shares what he believes to be the political changes necessary to end the crisis.
- La seconde vie d’Obama (The Second Life of Obama). In this episode, Guetta discusses Barack Obama and the advantages and disadvantages of the incredibly high standards to which he has been held since being elected.
3. Affaires étrangères, France Culture
Through conversations with researchers and political scientists, Christine Ockren provides in-depth coverage of foreign affairs and currents events in this podcast ranging from 30-60 minutes.
- La guerre contre Ebola (The War Against Ebola). This episode was recorded in September 2014 during the height of the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and explores the relationship between international development and public health.
- Hong Kong: le sursaut démocratique (Hong Kong: The Democratic Jolt). This episode is an in-depth analysis of “The Umbrella Movement,” the series of protests in Hong Kong that began in September 2014 in response to possible election reform.
4. Autour de la question, Radio France International
Hosted by Caroline Lachowsky, each episode of this playful podcast revolves around a pertinent question. To get answers, Lachowksy interviews experts from the hard sciences and the social sciences: psychologists, biologists, geologists, chemists and astronomers, to name a few!
- Existe-t-il une intelligence collective? (Does a Collective Intelligence Exist?). Ever wonder how it is that in crowded cities people manage to walk in (relatively) straight lines without ever talking to each other? Lachowsky explores the question of collective intelligence with two specialists in the field.
- Pourquoi les zèbres ont des rayures? (Why Do Zebras Have Stripes?). With the help of a biologist, Lachowsky explores questions of evolutionary adaptive traits ranging from a zebra’s stripes to a giraffe’s long neck.
5. Les femmes, toute une histoire, France Inter
Stéphanie Duncan’s show is a mix of book reviews, interviews, history lessons and news reports that are devoted to women’s diversity, creativity and their role in shaping our world.
- Marie Curie et sa sœur Bronia, l’Association Caméléon et la physicienne Rajaa Cherkaoui El Moursli (Marie Curie and Her Sister Bronia, The Chameleon Association, and the Physicist Rajaa Cherkaoui El Moursli). Did you know Marie Curie had a sister? Well, it was largely thanks to her that Marie Curie could pursue her studies (and discover radioactivity). This episode also profiles the Chameleon Association in the Philippines that works to help abused children and their families, along with an interview with Moroccan physicist Dr. El Moursli.
- À l’occasion de la journée international des droits des femmes: les nouvelles voies du féminisme (In Honor of International Women’s Rights Day: The New Paths of Feminism). This episode celebrates the advances of feminist movements all over the world, and then profiles works by the new voices of feminism.
6. Sur les docks, France Culture
Produced by Irène Omélianenko, Sur les docks is an hour-long audio documentary show that features immersive portraits of people, places and experiences from the French countryside to the Himalayas.
- Journée spéciale « Parler contre la terreur » (Special: Speaking Against Terror). This special episode discusses the impact of the events at Charlie Hebdo of January 7, 2015 on French society and the global media.
- Dans les bras d’Amma (In Amma’s Arms). This episode is devoted to Amma, the Indian spiritual leader who travels around the world giving hugs, in the spirit of compassion and love.
7. Sur la route, France Culture
Julien Gacon’s Sur la route is like going on an aural road trip; through interviews and conversations with locals, historians, researchers and writers, listeners are exposed to the rhythms of different walks of life.
- Sur la route…de la Grande Normandie (On the Road…of Great Normandy”). This episode centers around the crossing of the Pont de Normandie (Normandy Bridge), which separates upper and lower Normandy, and contemplates the upcoming merge of the hitherto separate administrative regions.
- Sur la route…de la solidarité privée, à Calais ( On the Road…of Private Solidarity in Calais). This episode portrays the individual acts of kindness of residents of Calais, a port town in the north of France, towards migrants on the way to England.
8. Sur les épaules de Darwin, France Culture
Sur les épaules de Darwin, hosted by Jean-Claude Amelson, is an eclectic show that features interviews with researchers and readings of texts by scientists and poets alike, all centered around the marvels of the natural world.
- Voyage avec Oliver Sacks (A Journey with Oliver Sacks). This hour is devoted to a discussion with the prolific writer and British neurologist Oliver Sacks.
- Le lien qui nous rattache aux autres (The Bond That Ties Us to Others). This episode explores the scientific roots of empathy, the emotional bond that ties us to others.
9. La Marche des sciences, France Culture
Aurélie Luneau skillfully combines storytelling and science as she visits schools, museums, factories and even the homes of scientists!
- Santé et alimentation: une histoire au goût du jour (Health and Food: A History of Today’s Taste). This episode explores dietary trends and the evolving public attitudes towards food through a discussion with Eric Birlou, a food scientist and sociologist.
- Histoire des mathématiques: un nouvel outil à l’école (The History of Mathematics: A New Tool at School). This episode centers around France’s education system, which tends to separate those who are more math-oriented from the “literary types.” It explores the ways in which new ways of teaching math can be used to bridge this gap.
10. Soft Power: Le magazine des Internets, France Culture
This one-hour podcast hosted by Frédéric Martel revolves around the creative industry (film, music, literature), with a special emphasis on mass media and the internet. Each week Martel interviews journalists and researchers who discuss the stakes of living in “The Information Age.”
- Internet et les bouleversements du travail salarié (The Internet and the Disruptions to Salaried Work). What does it mean to work in the Information Age? What counts as being “on the clock”? These are just a couple of the questions raised in this episode of Soft Power.
- Fin de la culture à la télévision/nouveaux modes de diffusion: où va la télé? (The End of Television Culture/New Modes of Broadcasting: Where Is TV Going?). This episode explores ways in which traditional television broadcasting is being replaced by streaming services and sites like YouTube.
11. Révolutions médicales, France Culture
Hosted by René Fryman, Révolutions médicales is an hour-long show devoted to current debates and discussions with top researchers and doctors about innovations in medical research/practice and their effects on everyday life.
- La médecine régénérative est-elle enfin en marche? (Regenerative Medecine: Is It Finally Working?). In this episode a heart surgeon and a cellular biologist discuss the future of regenerative procedures, not just in animals but in humans as well.
- Les sans logis face à la maladie (The Homeless Facing Sickness). This episode sensitively discusses the trials and tribulations that homeless and impoverished populations face when they are in need of healthcare.
12. L’heure des rêveurs, France Inter
Zoé Varier’s podcast is perfect for you bookworms out there. L’heure des rêveurs is in its eighth season and it’s still going strong. Its portraits, readings and travelogues are a perfect combination of the poetic and the political.
- Un livre culte, précieux et populaire: Dominique Blanc lit “Les Années” (A Bestseller— Precious and Popular: Dominique Blanc Reads “The Years”). In this episode, actor Dominique Blanc reads passages from Annie Ernaux’s extremely successful book “Les Années“ (“The Years”), described by critics as an autobiographie collective (collective autobiography) of France.
- Lewis Carroll: mathématicien et photographe (Lewis Carroll: Mathematician and Photographer). This episode is a portrait of Lewis Carroll, known primarily as the author of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” who was also a mathematician and a photographer.
13. Carnet nomade, France Culture
A book, a river, a recipe, a song, a dress. These are just a few starting points of Collette Fellous’s Carnet nomade, a carefully-curated and beautifully-produced series of interviews, stories and memories—for all the free spirits out there.
- Exils, avant après (Exiles, Before After). This episode of Carnet nomade, especially poignant in light of the recent migrant shipwrecks, explores exile and migration as literary themes but also as lived experience, through three literary works.
- Dans l’intimité de la Ville (In the Privacy of the City). Through the lens of works that focus on Paris, Barcelona and Berlin, this episode asks what it means to be at home in a big city, where a sense of community is often hard to come by.
14. Voyage, mode d’emploi, Radio France
This show, hosted by Ingrid Pohu, is great for those of us who love to travel but are on a budget. She provides advice and travel itineraries for memorable trips that won’t break the bank.
- À table chez l’habitant (At the Resident’s (Dining) Table). In this episode of Voyage, mode d’emploi, Pohu takes us into the world of foodsurfing where fine dining and home cooking collide.
- Balades “archi” bien dans Paris (“Hyper” Good Walking Tours in Paris). Walking tours are a great way to see a city and get some exercise at the same time. This episodes profiles a Parisian company that offers walking tours to explore Paris’ architecture.
15. Tout un monde, France Culture
This show has a more poetic, philosophical slant than Voyage, mode d’emploi. Hosted by Marie-Hélène Fraïssé, Tout un monde offers the listener an opportunity to travel the world and experience different cultures by way of poetry, fiction, literature and history.
- Lieux d’être (Places of Being). This meditative, contemplative episode of Tout un monde is devoted to geographer and philosopher Augustin Berque’s musings on sense of place and belonging in relation to Corsica.
- Arménie: un aussi long silence (Armenia: A Terribly Long Silence). This important episode commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide through interviews with novelists, historians and social scientists.
Fill up your iPod and pop in your earbuds. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself taking Snoopy for extra long walks and vacuuming the floors in your apartment twice.
Added bonus: You’ll be fluent in no time. Another bonus: Not only will people think you’re French, they’ll think you’re très cultivé(e) (very cultivated). Don’t say I didn’t warn you: Podcasts are seriously addictive.
And One More Thing…
If you like learning French with podcasts, then you won’t want to miss FluentU. FluentU makes it possible to learn French from music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks. With FluentU, you learn real French—the same way that people speak it in real life. FluentU has a wide variety of videos like movie trailers, funny commercials, and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach.
For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then you see the following::
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “learn mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending you videos and examples. Start using FluentU on the website or practice anytime, anywhere with the iOS and Android apps.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.