Reading and audio are a match made in French language heaven.
And audiobooks are their love children.
If you’re like a lot of French learners, you might not think audiobooks have anything to do with you.
Your favorite way to combine reading and audio is probably to curl up with a good book and a bangin’ French playlist.
Well, audiobooks can be just as great for leisure time, as well as supercharged French language learning.
They’re not just for long-distance drivers, the visually-impaired or quirky readers with severe phobias of serifed fonts.
For a French learner, they can be extremely valuable!
Get the Most Out of Listening and Learning with French Audiobooks
Still wondering why audiobooks are so darn special? You already have all the information you need to understand exactly why.
You know firsthand how beneficial reading in French has been for your vocabulary. You also know that listening to French language audio is an absolute essential for learning the language.
With French audiobooks, you’ll get the best of both worlds, along with the convenience of being able to listen anywhere and anytime you want! Despite this, audiobooks aren’t really marketed to language learners, so it might not be obvious exactly how to use them or where to find them.
Not to worry, though, we’re about to cover all of this and more.
If you’ve never used French audiobooks before, you may be surprised at what you’ve been missing!
Benefits of Listening to French Audiobooks
Aside from what they have to offer as a learning tool, audiobooks are pretty great all around! They’re convenient, environmentally-friendly and totally not-annoying for anyone around you — as long as you keep those earbuds plugged in. Let’s take a closer look at everything French audiobooks have to offer.
You can listen to audiobooks wherever you want.
You can use them while out for a run or on a crowded bus, and nobody’s going to get mad at you. They’re not even going to know what you’re doing. All they’ll be aware of is that whatever you’re listening to is a heck of a lot quieter than that car radio blasting classic rock down the street!
Also, since audiobooks are portable, you can start and stop them whenever. It’s easy to make time for them, no matter how busy your schedule. A few minutes here and there make for a painless way to study, and they add up quickly!
Unlike a lot of other language learning tools, you don’t have to let audiobooks play just one role in your progression with French. A lot of books are available in both audio and text versions, which opens up your studying options like wow.
An audiobook is the Bowflex of language learning tools. You can use it to exercise multiple skills.
You can already get a lot out of simply listening to audiobooks passively.
The speech is more organized and structured than what you may hear on the radio, which gives you an opportunity to pick out grammar and sentence structure.
Getting used to the spontaneous mishmash of native-speak is also important, but the audiobook format provides a different angle to try out your listening skills. Following a continuing narrative will also help hold your attention as your comprehension muscles get a nice, even workout.
Audio and Text
Having access to a text version of what you’re listening to is an invaluable learning opportunity, and text versions of audio material will prove highly beneficial to your language acquisition.
If you enjoy learning this way, take it a step farther with FluentU.
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.
In a minute, we’ll talk about some specific exercises you can do to take advantage of audio with text. However, even just reading along with audio has numerous benefits. It makes the process more interactive, keeps your pronunciation fresh, and may even help to increase your reading speed!
Because audiobooks aren’t heavily marketed, it’s easy to consider them somewhat outdated. You might be thinking of those plastic cases in the library containing multiple tapes and CDs. But audiobooks, like everything else, have become digitized.
Not only are they easy to find and widely available online, but they often have clear advantages over their textual counterparts.
Get an Instant Access Pass to the Latest French Books
The biggest challenge to finding native language material is regional restrictions.
Thanks to awesome volunteer projects, there are a ton of French public domain ebooks available to anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world.
But if you want to get a recent work (even by a big shot writer like French Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano) and you’re not in a French-speaking country, good luck! If you try to download it on your Kindle, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with this buzzkill of a message: Ce titre n’est pas disponible pour votre pays. (This title isn’t available for your country.)
And you don’t need that.
As human beings, we experience enough rejection in life. But in this case, you have options!
The MP3 format is basically universal. It’s more regulated than it used to be due to copyright issues but still changes hands easily on the international market.
Download French Audiobooks for Free
I can’t stress this enough: there are a ton of public domain books available in French. This includes audiobooks. You should be glad they’re in digital form. If the physical books were this easy to get hold of, French bookworms would be in serious trouble! Let’s just say I might not make it out of my front door in the morning.
Using Audiobooks to Learn French
Here are a couple learning methods you can try, using French audiobooks along with text.
DIY Dictation Exercises
Dictation is an old school teaching method that’s actually really effective. With text and audio versions of a book, you can do it by yourself in a simple, 2-step process:
1. Play a short clip of audio for yourself (about a minute or so), and try to transcribe as much of it as you can. Pause and replay as needed.
2. When you’re done, check the text to see how much of it you got right.
Dictation is a good way to train your ear to the subtleties of the language, and will help demystify spoken French for those still struggling with it. You’ll likely find it easier to listen to French radio programs after just a few weeks of doing this exercise regularly.
Listening Comprehension Practice
If you’ve worked on improving your French with TV or radio, you know what it’s like to actually get tired of listening, funny as that might sound. This exercise will help increase your stamina so you can pay attention to French audio for longer periods of time:
1. Play a slightly longer audio clip (3-5 minutes) without stopping. If you have trouble understanding something, just keep listening and see if you can get a general idea of what’s happening.
2. When you’re finished, read the text version to verify how much of it you understood. If you like, you can then replay the audio while you follow along with the text. This will solidify your understanding of what’s being said.
Both of these exercises will help prepare you for listening to more unstructured audio (such as in TV and movies). Again, impromptu native speech is a great resource for learning, but the more kinds of audio you listen to, the better!
Audiobooks are great for loading up on vocabulary. In addition, they provide a middle-ground between reading and having a full-blown conversation with a French speaker.
By creating an opportunity for exercises that are both structured and time-sensitive, French audiobooks fill an oft-neglected area in the language-learning process.
Even if you don’t use text or either of these exercises above, though, simply listening to audiobooks will result in some of the same benefits!
Online Resources for Downloading French Audiobooks, Now!
So by now you’re probably just itching to get your hands on some French audiobooks, figuratively speaking, am I right?
To keep it simple, here are few sites that are specifically devoted to French language audiobooks. You can always branch out later, but here you won’t have to worry about wading through a bunch of excess material or accidentally buying something in English (or Portuguese, as the case may be).
This is a site put together by a team of volunteers reading from public domain texts. All the audio is free and can be downloaded or played directly on the site.
The readers tend to speak slowly and clearly, and some of the audiobooks come along with a pleasant, relaxing soundtrack or appropriate background noise to enhance the listening experience.
The selection is somewhat limited, but the site is reliable, user-friendly and a great place to get comfortable with the audiobook format. Bibliboom also offers a link to the text version of each work underneath the audio player.
“Frritt Flacc” by Jules Verne
For Verne fans, there are a couple of full novels featured on Bibliboom. If you’re not quite feeling up to the challenge of reading a novel yet, you can try out this short piece first.
The story of a doctor who only treats people who have sums of money to suit his taste, “Frritt Flacc” unrolls into a delicious moral horror tale.
It all takes place during a violent storm, and frritt refers to the sound of the wind, flacc that of the rain. Both words are repeated several times, which adds to the story’s creepy atmospherics and makes it fun to read or listen to.
“Le coucher de soleil romantique” by Charles Baudelaire
Here’s a short one to learn, memorize or simply read along with.
For those who don’t have the patience to sit and listen to a 10-hour book on headphones, poetry is your friend. Baudelaire is a good poet for listening comprehension because he wrote in a comprehensible prose style that still adhered to rhyming forms.
2. Litterature audio
This is another free site that includes a lot of classics but also some modern work and unique finds you might not expect.
You can search by category or popularity and read comments others have left about various audiobooks. As with Bibliboom, this site allows you to download files or simply play the books on the site, and provides access to text versions when available.
1. “Culture et Confiture” by Émilie Salamin-Amar
This is one work in a series of short dramatic pieces. The title of each piece corresponds to a letter of the alphabet (in this case, C).
“Culture et Confiture” is a playful discussion between a man and a woman that touches on literature, philosophy, culture and how they all relate to one another. The crackling sounds of a fire in the background lend a cozy feel to the audio.
2. “Écrits divers et (a?-) variés” by Érik Satie
Érik Satie is primarily known for his music, but he also had a way with words.
Here you can listen to his letters, articles and various writings. Many of them are quite opinionated and caustic, but all in all they’re easily digestible due to Satie’s sense of humor and the short length of the texts, which are separated out in this audiobook with musical interludes.
3. Book d’Oreille
This is a site where the primary idea is for people to buy their audiobooks.
That being said, it offers access to new French language books that many of us simply can’t get in text form without paying a fortune in shipping costs.
It also offers a variety of classics.
There are even a few complete books on there for free, and plenty of the rest should be affordable for most. You’ll have to create an account before downloading anything, but this is relatively quick and easy if you’ve taken time to familiarize yourself with online shopping and browsing in French.
You can listen to samples before buying. Once you find what you want, pay with a credit card or through PayPal and keep track of all your purchases right on the site.
1. “VOX: Salon du livre audio 2014”
This is a varied collection of short readings that can be downloaded for free once you’ve registered. It features both classic and modern stories (from Proust to Daniel Pennac), with some of the texts being read by their authors. It’s definitely good deal, and a risk-free way to see how purchasing works before reaching for your credit card.
2. “Six fables de La Fontaine”
La Fontaine’s “Fables” are considered French classics, and this modern reading of six in audio format is only 99 euro cents. You get 13 minutes of high-quality audio with added piano music that highlights the drama of the stories, as well as some fun, cheesy sound effects.
Between the speaker’s expressive intonation and the rhythm and rhyming of the text, this makes for some great French audio for beginners, and should be fun and beneficial for any level.
Aside from these sources, you can also look for French audiobooks most places you would find regular books, such as Amazon and other online retailers. However you find them, they’re a learning tool nearly unequaled in possibilities, and certainly the most versatile tool when it comes to learning with both new and old French language literature.
So take heart in knowing that French audiobooks are there for you!
Give them a few minutes of your time, and they’ll give you a serious leg up.
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