Ever seen a French movie that just seems to last for hours?
Wish you could watch your favorite American film classics but still be improving your French?
Francophone filmophiles, this post is for you!
Award-winning French cinema is a beautiful art, don’t get us wrong, but we know how you feel. Sometimes the movies can be hard to understand, obscure, or let’s face it—just plain boring. As beautiful as it might be, a film noir or art house film might not be what you want to watch after a day at the office to unwind.
But never fear—you can watch your favorite Hollywood chick flicks, action films and horror classics, and still advance your French!
Dubbed movies, of course!
Even in France, Hollywood is the top dog when it comes to movie production, at least if we’re judging by volume. All of your favorites have likely made their way across the pond, and because the French want to relax after a day at work too, they’ve all been dubbed into their native language. Which means that you can get these versions of your favorite movies at home to help you brush up on your French.
Why French Dubbed Movies Are Right for You
We’re really not trying to minimize the wonder of French movies. French film can be a great way to improve your French and pick up some French culture to boot. Not to mention that the stereotype of French movies being hard to understand isn’t really all that true anymore. There are great French comedies and action films that coexist quite peacefully with all of those auteur films that you see in indie movie theaters.
But however you feel about French movies, dubbed movies are a great item to add to your repertoire.
Because it’s easier to follow the story, and therefore easier to understand what’s being said.
Think about it: When you’re watching a movie in French, you’re probably spending half the time trying to figure out what’s going on. You’re not catching the nuance of the dialogue, that offensive switch from vous to tu or the way that a character describes his childhood effortlessly using the imperfect. You’re trying to figure out if the two characters on screen are brother and sister or husband and wife.
With dubbed movies, this step gets erased. You can watch favorites that you’ve already seen a hundred times, and the storyline is clear. You might even remember a few favorite lines, which means that when you hear them uttered in French, you’re listening to—and understanding—a professional translation. Since you already know the story, you’re free to concentrate on the words, and are therefore way more likely to improve your French.
Where to Find French Dubbed Movies
Okay! You’re convinced. You’re ready to track down some French dubbed movies. Only… you can’t for the life of you figure out where to start your search!
First, let’s take one idea off the table: Don’t order movies from France. Not only will you pay a pretty penny in shipping and handling, but you won’t be able to watch DVDs from your DVD player, since the DVD zones are not the same between France and the States. So unless you’re a tech wiz and know how to make French zone DVDs work at home, don’t go ordering from Amazon.fr any time soon.
And while we’re sure you’ve been taking full advantage of platforms like Netflix and iTunes to watch French movies, you won’t be finding dubbed movies there at all. Think about it—why would Netflix and iTunes offer American movies dubbed into French to Americans? No reason, no luck. These movies are hard to find in the States, we admit it. But you might have better luck at your local library, especially if you live in a big city. Check the DVD rack and see if you can get a French dubbed movie there. Some DVDs have all languages built in, or at the very least Spanish and possibly French. When at your local store, check the back of the DVD where the sound information is given to see if dubbing and subtitles are an option.
But have you forgotten about that French-speaking nation to the north? Quebec sells DVDs with both French and English options, so you can easily switch the language to watch your favorite French dubbed movies with ease! Amazon.ca has a whole section of their site entirely devoted to films and television shows available with French dubbing.
The only thing to bear in mind should you source your DVDs from the Great White North is that many of them are dubbed using Canadian French. And the differences between French from France and French from Quebec are much larger than a few “ehs.”
If you want to learn what’s essentially a whole new accent and language, go ahead, but if you’re just looking to perfect your standard French, be sure that the DVDs you’re purchasing are dubbed into European French and not Canadian French.
How to Choose Your French Dubbed Movies
Dubbing is an art form in countries where it’s used often, like throughout Europe and the Americas. Because Hollywood releases such an astounding volume of films, dubbing has become an industry in and of itself in places like France, where “the voice of Jon Hamm” dubs Jon Hamm’s car commercials and “the voice of George Clooney” voices over Nespresso commercials.
As you get more experience watching dubbed movies, you’ll grow to recognize the voices of dubbing professionals, just as you would the voices of the actors on the screen.
When you’re picking a movie you want to watch dubbed into French, consider your French level. If you’re a beginner, you might feel most at ease with a movie you’ve seen before, and maybe even a childhood favorite. All of the Disney films have been dubbed into French, so you can say your favorite repliques (lines) along with the Disney princesses, and even break into song en français!
Intermediate learners may wish to pick more recent favorites, but don’t be fooled. While comedies are a great way to unwind in your native language, they can actually be harder to understand when dubbed. The jokes will be adapted for a French audience, and you might find yourself saying “Huh?” more than “Haha!” Choose dramas first (all those pregnant pauses will give you time to catch up), and work your way up to comedies when your level of French is more advanced.
Activities to Improve Your French with Dubbed French Movies
While watching a movie in French can be a fantastic learning technique all on its own, if you want to take it to the next level, here are a few ideas to make the most of your dubbed French film experience.
Turn on the French Subtitles
It might seem counterintuitive, but turning on the subtitles can actually help you pay closer attention, not only to what is being said but to how it’s being said. Subtitles in any language never reflect exactly what’s being said onscreen, so by turning them on, you’ll be forcing your brain to catch nuances between what’s written and what’s said, and that keeps you tuned in to the language.
Of course, they’re also helpful when you don’t catch a word or two, particularly proper names that can be hard to sort out when you’re still learning to recognize spoken French.
If you’re not used to listening to native French speakers while reading at the same time, try warming up or practicing with FluentU!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
If you stay tuned, we promise we’ll tell you all about learning French with FluentU later.
When you have a bilingual DVD, you can watch a movie in both languages. Try listening to the French version and attempting to translate it back to English.
Choose a passage of the film, either a bit of dialogue or a long monologue by one character. Write down your guess for a translation, and check your answer by listening to the original. Try to see why your translation was different from the original version.
Do a Dubbed Dictée
Dictées (dictations) are a fantastic French exercise, particularly for improving your spelling. Pick a passage of the French film and use it to do your very own dictée by copying down, word for word, exactly what is said. While, as we mentioned, subtitles don’t always quite match up with what’s being said, they can be a good indicator to help you correct your dictée—or you could invite a French friend to watch with you and correct afterwards!
Dubbed French movies may seem like a strange concept at first, but once you’ve learned to use them to your advantage, you’ll see they’re a fantastic tool for improving your French!
And one more thing...
If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
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 learn mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning, and play the mini-games found in our dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
All throughout, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a totally 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.
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