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French Listening Practice That Works: Top Exercises and Tips to Improve Comprehension

You’re picking up a few items at a grocery store in France.

You were able to find your way around, read ingredient labels and even mentally keep track of how euros compare to dollars.

But then it’s time to check out and the cashier asks you a question that you don’t understand.

Discouraged, you timidly ask, pardon? (Excuse me?)

After repeating herself two or three times, the cashier finally gives up—or perhaps even worse, resorts to English.

And she was just trying to find out if you needed any bags!

It can happen to the best of us, but there’s hope. Revving up your French listening practice will restore your confidence and make such encounters rare.

Even if you don’t have a trip to France on the horizon soon, French listening exercises are the best way to actively improve your comprehension and help you take active steps toward fluency.

In this article, we’ll recommend several opportunities to polish your French listening comprehension online.

Whether you’re just starting your French adventure and need some easy French listening tools, or you’re a seasoned student of la langue de Molière (the language of Molière), you’ll find valuable audio resources and exercises here.
 


 

French Listening Practice That Works: Top Exercises and Tips to Improve Comprehension

Learn a foreign language with videos

French Listening Practice Tips for Beginners

Bienvenue! Welcome to learning French. As a beginner, you may be excited to start actually understanding a language that previously sounded like gibberish.

At the same time, you’re probably intimidated and perhaps discouraged. It seems like French people talk so quickly and all the words sound the same to you.

Have no fear. All these emotions are part of the language learning experience. Here’s what to focus on during your French listening practice so that gibberish clears right up.

Listen for Stress and Intonation

When you’re just starting out, one of the key benefits of listening to native French speakers is simply becoming familiar with what French sounds like.

That probably sounds vague. What I mean is that even if you don’t know many French words, you can pay attention to the speaker’s intonation.

When does their voice rise and fall? What letters or sounds are stressed? How does the pronunciation differ from English pronunciation?

In short, take some time to just expose yourself to the rhythms and sounds of the French language.

This practice may seem peculiar or inefficient, but paying attention to these elements will quickly pay off. You’ll start to notice repeated sounds and will be able to distinguish words and phrases faster.

Plus, it’ll help you avoid bad habits and sound more natural sooner in your own spoken French.

Use Vocal Cues to Discern Meaning

When you haven’t yet learned very many words, listening to a French story or dialogue can seem utterly out-of-reach. However, don’t forget tools that you had even before you began studying the language: tone of voice.

We just discussed how French intonation and stress will take some getting used to. By contrast, you can probably tell when a French speaker is bored, excited, angry, etc. by their tone, even if you’re not picking up all the words.

So don’t be afraid to take advantage of those vocal cues to help you understand the gist of an audio clip. If you’re watching a video, you have the even greater advantage of facial expressions and body language.

Again, different cultures often do have unique gestures and hand motions, but there’s still quite a difference between the face of someone bursting with good news and that of someone discussing a serious philosophical question.

Actively Listen for Familiar Words

Now you know the benefits you can get from French listening exercises even without a big French vocabulary—but by all means, listen for any words that you do know, too!

Even if most of these familiar words are as basic as bonjour (hello), merci (thank you) and je (I), don’t be discouraged! A learner needs to start somewhere and even small accomplishments such as these are commendable.

And of course, the French listening practice resources below will help you quickly grow your vocabulary and listening comprehension skills while you follow along.

French Listening Practice Resources for Beginners

Duolingo Stories

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Nothing captures a person’s imagination like a good story. From beloved children’s books to novels that haunt you years later, stories can be intensely powerful.

Most of Duolingo’s stories won’t change your life, but they’ll change your French proficiency in a very positive way. Duolingo is well-known as a free online resource for language learning, including French. Their bite-size lessons and organization make them a good starting resource.

Nevertheless, I want to highlight one of their newer features for French listening practice: “Duolingo Stories.” Here, Duolingo has sets of audio stories that become increasingly longer and more advanced as you go. There are several dozen stories that you could work through.

The audio of each story (or part of a story—the upper-level sets are made up of two or even five parts) only takes a few minutes to listen to, but every few lines, you’ll be prompted to answer a question about what’s going on or what a particular word means.

These brief exercises add an interactive element to the learning experience and reinforce the key points of the story.

Although there are certainly intermediate stories, this tool is perfect for beginners because the audio track is accompanied by a clear script and you can easily stop after each line or replay a specific line in the story.

You can also hover over a word or phrase for a quick definition, meaning you don’t need to leave the page to look up every new word you come across.

The user-friendly formatting and interactive transcript make Duolingo Stories an ideal introduction to French listening practice.

1 Hour of Daily French Conversation

There are many French dialogue videos on YouTube, but this one is a good start for beginners and definitely carries a lot of helpful listening content in one video.

As the title implies, this hour-long video contains many brief French dialogues between two characters.

Each conversation lasts about a minute or less and covers basic daily situations, meaning you’ll review how to introduce yourself, talk about plans for the week and ask simple questions.

These conversations are accompanied by an on-screen script in both English and French, giving you a chance to see exactly what’s being said and read the English version if necessary.

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If you find this resource helpful, feel free to check out FrenchPod101’s stockpile of more than 1,000 video and audio French lessons. They’re designed to be both informative and entertaining, with fun hosts who give you the lowdown on French language skills and cultural knowledge.

Plus, there are lots of supplementary materials to help train your ear, like PDF lesson notes and vocabulary lists.

FluentU French

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Although FluentU has content suitable for learners at any level, it’s a great option to learn through authentic French videos from the beginning.

FluentU’s uses a variety of real-world French video clips (movie trailers, commercials, inspiring speeches, etc.) as a foundation for learning from native speakers. However, you’re not left defenseless against an intimidating mile-a-minute French speaker.

That’s because FluentU’s interactive subtitles allow you to follow along more easily and quickly see information about new words. Just click any word for an instant definition, memorable picture, grammar info and useful examples. There are also professionally translated English captions when you’re having trouble understanding something.

Try watching and listening with both subtitles, just French or none at all! You’ll also get full transcripts for every video so you can gauge how much you understood. (Plus, FluentU automatically tracks your learning and suggests new videos that’ll match your needs.)

Other features such as in-app flashcards and quizzes allow you to review and reinforce the material without switching to another resource.

The interface allows you to easily find videos best suited to your level and specific interests. Learning won’t be dull!

C CUBE Academy DELF Playlist

This YouTube playlist is primarily designed as preparation for the DELF (a type of French proficiency test). However, this beginner-level collection of videos may be helpful to a wide range of learners.

These videos cover a variety of contexts for listening practice, including brief dialogues, a description of the weather, taking down someone’s phone number and more. Most of the audio clips have a couple quiz questions or an activity on-screen, allowing you to listen more actively and respond.

The playlist also includes different exercise formats, such as a question-and-answer format designed with the DELF speaking section in mind.

Others are more like a listening test where you listen to a clip and have multiple-choice questions.

Feel free to try a few different videos to see what you find most helpful. In any case, the myriad topics covered are very practical and well-suited for beginning learners. 

French Listening Practice Tips for Intermediate Learners

Félicitations! (Congratulations!) If you’re moving on to intermediate French, well done!

Listen to Audio on a Variety of Topics

One of the best things about being an intermediate learner is that you have many more options for authentic French audio resources.

Once you’ve gone beyond small talk and the weather, you can branch out and try listening practice that covers topics you’re interested in. And that’s exactly what you should do as you reach higher levels of French.

Keep in mind why you’re learning French. If you’re learning for work-related reasons, find news clips that relate to your field.

Think about your personal interests and hobbies. You can find videos and podcasts about sports, gardening, ecology and almost anything that makes you passionate.

We’ll give you some starting points to find such tools.

Rewind and Repeat to Catch More Than Just the Gist

Listening to authentic French content is still challenging, but as an intermediate learner, push yourself to understand more details of an excerpt.

For example, imagine you’re listening to a news clip about the rate of crime. Instead of just hearing that the rate is decreasing (hopefully), see if you can hear specific statistics or explanations for the change.

You don’t need to strain yourself to get every single word, but try listening to a clip multiple times to get as many details as you can.

Pay Attention to Sentence Structure

Similarly, intermediate French learners should listen for more than just the words. Having a large vocabulary is only one component of knowing a language well.

Without syntax (how words are ordered in a sentence) and grammar to hold words together, the language would be in disorder.

Pay attention to how the speakers put their thoughts together. Are their sentences long or short? What verb forms are they using? What prepositions do they use and in what context? What forms of negation are used?

Again, don’t put pressure on yourself to do a full grammar analysis of every French phrase you hear, but grammar and syntax are definitely things to keep in mind. Having a transcript is also extremely helpful for this!

French Listening Practice Resources for Intermediate Learners

RFI: Journal en français facile

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Radio France Internationale (RFI) is a major French radio outlet that offers virtually endless content for intermediate and advanced students of French.

Their site RFI Savoirs is specifically designed for learners and includes hundreds of French audio samples.

We’re mainly going to focus on their Journal en français facile (News in Easy French). This program offers a daily 10-minute news report in French.

Each clip in the series briefly covers several news topics, giving you a good variety within the same resource. The daily episodes furthermore offer consistency, making Journal en français facile an ideal starting point for listening to French radio.

And, just to put the icing on the cake, every episode has a clear transcription and the audio portions are downloadable for offline listening.

TV5Monde

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If you’re looking for a more customized learning experience, be sure to try TV5Monde, a French TV company that offers hundreds of free clips and exercises intended for French learners.

Once you choose a clip, they offer a few different accompanying listening comprehension exercises, such as matching, ordering and more. Going through each activity and watching the clip a few times gives you a solid understanding of the content and helps you see details you may’ve missed if you were just listening on your own.

I mentioned customization. What I mean is that, whereas Journal en Français Facile contains a fixed 10-minute excerpt each day, TV5Monde easily allows you to search clips by theme, such as histoire (history) and nouvelles technologies (new technologies).

Furthermore, if you’re a bit in-between levels or are trying to determine where you are, TV5Monde also offers similar resources for upper beginner and upper intermediate/advanced learners.

French Listening Practice Tips for Advanced Learners

Pick Up Synonyms for Your Most-used Words

One of the main differences (hopefully) between elementary school writing and high school writing is the level of vocabulary. With several additional years of experience, high school and college students have a far richer repertoire of words to employ.

This principle is also true when learning a language.

Think of the word dire (to say). It’s highly common and usually gets the job done, but if you want to be more specific, especially in writing, consider other options such as expliquer (to explain), insister (to insist) or even plaisanter (to joke).

Pay attention to how French speakers in these exercises—especially in scripted examples like news reports—employ specific words instead of repeating the basic, run-of-the-mill terms you learned early on in your French journey.

Use Transition Words as Landmarks

Similarly, be attentive to how the speakers structure their ideas and transition between them. Learning key transition words such as donc (therefore) will help make your own speaking and writing more smooth and polished.

Listen for these words to better keep track of advanced audio, even when the speech gets fast or the conversation topics shift.

This type of listening practice can also make your own speech sound more fluent. I myself sometimes find that I’m equipped with the vocabulary and grammar to talk about something in French, but it still sounds choppy or unsure, like a nervous student giving an oral presentation.

Transition phrases, however, will empower you to clearly express what you wish to say, instead of stumbling your way through a conversation.

Repeat What You Hear to Improve Your Accent

Finally, as an advanced learner, you can use French listening practice as a bonus tool to perfect your pronunciation and accent.

Ideally, you’ll have paid careful attention to the sounds of French throughout your learning experience. Nevertheless, even if you have a large treasury of vocabulary and a solid grasp of grammar, your ability to speak French will be inhibited if your execution sounds like a middle schooler in his first French class.

So don’t be afraid to speak out loud, either by pausing and repeating what you heard or by shadowing (speaking along with the audio simultaneously).

You may never be mistaken for a native French speaker, but you can be intentional about what your French sounds like. Even if you’re still an obvious American, accurate pronunciation and intonation will help make you more easily understood.

French Listening Practice Resources for Advanced Learners

Ladictée

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La dictée means dictation, and it’s not just for the 1960s-era office! This site (all in French) offers hundreds of dictation exercises primarily designed for native French speakers to improve writing and spelling skills.

Your options are organized by grade level (check out this handy sheet if you need to review the differences between French and American grade levels).

This system may not be as convenient for learners of French, but, as a general rule, the lower grade levels will offer simpler and shorter exercises than the higher levels.

This may seem like an unusual and tedious language learning method, but copying out a whole short story or description forces you to interact with every individual word that you hear.

While there are times to just listen to a clip and get what you can, making the effort to reinforce the mental connection between the spoken word and what it looks like written out is a powerful way to review what you’ve learned and easily pick out new words.

It’ll also quickly, clearly show you your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to listening comprehension.

On Ladictée, the narrator reads the script all the way through, then reads again, breaking the text into small parts and allowing you time to write.

And feel free to pause or play a portion again if necessary! A transcript is provided so you can readily check your answers.

One more piece of advice: try writing out the text by hand. It may seem like busywork, but there’s strong evidence to suggest that we master material more readily when we physically copy it.

Français avec Pierre

At this point, something you may’ve noticed is that translating from English to French in your head when you’re in a conversation is tiring and inefficient.

It’s best to think in French.

That might sound hopelessly abstract. What I’m talking about is becoming comfortable in French such that you connect ideas directly to their French expression instead of having to go through English.

As an illustration, instead of thinking of the English word “dog” and translating it to French chien, actually picture a dog and attach that image to chien.

That’s where resources such as Français avec Pierre (French with Pierre) come in. This YouTube channel has several videos explaining French grammar concepts in French, as well as practical tips for making your French more authentic.

It’s also a wonderful example of killing two birds with one stone: you get authentic French listening practice right along with grammar explanations and practical tips.

TF1 Reportages

TF1 is a French news outlet. This site, while not affiliated with the company, features dozens of their news clips with exercises geared toward language learners.

The graphic design may not be the most trendy, but multiple activities (including matching and fill-in-the-blank) for each video help effectively reinforce the listening content.

Transcriptions are available for each video. However, since you should always try to listen first, you may be obligated to do an exercise before accessing the script.

Although news is a wonderful opportunity for French learners, if you’re looking for a change of pace, check out their ads section, which has a similar layout, but with commercials as the medium.

I’m sure you probably try to avoid ads in your daily life, but they’re a good example of authentic French content—and you might even learn about French companies.

 

So go load your playlist with these French listening practice tools! Once you get in the habit of improving French comprehension with these exercises and tips, your future, more fluent French self with thank you!


Rachel Larsen is a lifelong francophile and freelance writer who dreams of living in France one day. She’s currently a student at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

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