Are you totally head over heels for the French language?
What if I told you that French likes you back?
With the soft crooning of French singers in your ears, you’ll finally start to feel that your love of French is being reciprocated.
However, what came to mind when I first uttered the phrase “French music?” It’s likely that you can count the French musicians you know by name on one hand.
There are many diverse musical albums out there which are just lovely to listen to—and there’s something out there to suit your personal tastes, I promise. These albums aren’t just for fun, thought. They can also help you improve your French language skills!
Why Learn French with Music?
Using music as a learning tool is a perfect way to shake up your learning routine and get fully committed. You can also learn many useful things if you shift your attention a little whilst you’re listening.
It’s a fun learning challenge
Learning French through French music might initially seem very difficult, but as soon as you get acclimated to the slightly different pronunciations, it can actually be very fruitful for your learning routine.
As with albums in your mother tongue, the first time that you hear any French singer you may not totally understand the meaning of their words.
Words adapted around music often sound very different. If you’re struggling to make heads or tails of it, you’re not alone! As you would with any piece of music, give yourself time to learn the words. Listen to the songs over and over. Follow along with the lyrics. Sing bits and pieces while you play each track for the umpteenth time. When things start to click it’ll be incredibly rewarding!
It’s a great way to learn about French culture
French albums often tell stories. Listening to entire stretches of music will tell you things about the musician and, more often than not, things that were/are going on in the country at the time. Albums from the ‘60s and ‘70s are particularly good for this because political and social changes were on the minds of most French people and, naturally, people dedicated entire albums to their opinions and perspectives.
They’re great alternatives to podcasts
An album and a podcast run for about the same amount of time. If you’ve got a car journey or a commute to make, why not switch out your podcast for a French album instead?
Even if you think you’re only passively enjoying the music, you’ll start to pick up words here and there and give meaning to the songs. Hearing lots of different people talk, rap and sing is always good idea, anyway. After all, French people all speak with different accents, idioms and word usage.
They’re repetitive and quick to learn
Themes in songs and albums tend to repeat themselves. If there’s something that you’re struggling to understand, your best bet is to listen to the particular song on repeat until it makes sense to you. Choruses in individual songs are repeated regularly, so listening to music helps to really drive language points home.
Songs are easier to remember
Words stung together with music are easier to remember than isolated language points and grammar. Putting words to music makes sentences much more catchy and easily remembered. You might even find yourself singing in French without realizing it!
Songs within albums are even easier to remember. You’ll get really familiar with that particular artist and grow to understand their vocal stylings, vocabulary and word usage very well.
Learn French with Music: 10 Albums Essential to French Culture
Quelqu’un m’a dit — Carla Bruni
Carla Bruni is something of a national treasure in France and her album Quelqu’un m’a dit is truly lovely to listen to. The album’s title track, “Quelqu’un m’a dit,” is a classic in French culture and, if you’ve ever spent any time with a French family, it’s likely that you’ll have heard this particular song. The rest of the album fares similarly well and if you like songs about love and broken hearts, this album is certainly for you.
It’s more than likely that you’ll have heard music from the album from other sources, too. A number of the tracks were used in international film and television in the years since the album’s release. If you want a slice of true French culture from one of the country’s best loved figures, Bruni’s album is more than worth a listen.
Raconte-moi — Stacey Kent
Although it might seem hard to believe, Stacey Kent is actually an American singer-songwriter. When you listen to her jazz album Raconte-moi, you wouldn’t be alone in believing that it had been taken directly from the boulevards of the French capital. The songs in the album are surprisingly easy to follow and Kent sings with a clear and authentic French accent.
Raconte-moi is dedicated to Kent’s grandfather and is an incredibly personal album. Due to the intimate nature of the songs, they’re very useful for gaining an insight into French colloquialisms and terms of address. The entire album tells a story of sorts and if you want to really get to know a singer, this is a wonderful piece of music to consider.
Racine Carrée — Stromae
If you’re looking for something a little bit more contemporary, Belgian musician Stromae is a hugely popular choice. Racine Carrée is a dance album with African and Caribbean influences which talks about themes as diverse as social networks, cancer, AIDS and relationship problems. If you want to hear about it, it’s probably in there.
The songs are based around dance beats and therefore tend to be very easy to understand. Most of the album was a huge hit in France and, even if you’re not familiar with Stromae’s name, the chances are that you’ll have already heard at least a few of the songs.
Je t’aime….moi non plus — Serge Gainsbourg
The album is also known as Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg.
If there were ever a father of French music, then surely it was Serge Gainsbourg. The singer released countless great albums over the course of his career. Whilst it’s really impossible to pick between them all, the album that Gainsbourg released with his then-girlfriend, Jane Birkin, is a good place to start.
As well as containing the now infamous track “Je t’aime….moi non plus,” the album is packed to the rafters with songs about love and relationships, all sung by the couple at the height of their romance. Despite its sometimes controversial nature, the album is a great way to learn more about the nature of ‘60s French society and brush up on your romantic vocabulary, too.
Le Fil — Camille
French singer Camille might not be particularly well known outside of French territories, but her 2005 album Le Fil is really worth listening to. The album is a little bit more experimental than the other music listed here and had been likened to Bjork’s Medúlla in tone, largely for the way in which Camille uses her voice as an instrument.
The album contains a drone note which appears on every track, so don’t be alarmed when you hear the low buzzing against the music. Camille described the sound as “her note” and uses it to thread together all of the songs on the record.
Zaz — Zaz
Zaz is another name which you might not have heard before and which you’ll wish that you’d learned about sooner. This contemporary musician dabbles in jazz, soul and French acoustic, producing a sound which is as unique as it is wonderful to hear. Zaz’s self-titled album was a huge success in Francophone countries, reaching the tops of the charts and producing a number of hit records.
While the sound might not be to everyone’s tastes, the album is worth listening to for the lyrics alone. Zaz sings upbeat tunes with a clear voice and neutral tone. After a few listens, it’s very easy to follow the words in the songs. You might find yourself tapping along to the beat, too.
On ne change pas — Celine Dion
Celine Dion is undoubtedly an artist with which you’re already familiar, most likely through her string of international English language hits. While the singer is best known internationally for her English lyrics, she has released a whole batch of albums in her native Canadian-French, targeted at Francophone countries.
The singer uses her signature “diva” tone in the songs, and they’re remarkably easy to follow and understand. As with the other albums, themes and lyrics are repeated from time to time, making it much easier to understand songs as you go.
The French albums offer a nice alternative to her English language body of work, targeting an entirely different audience in their content and style. And who doesn’t want an excuse to further explore the musical career of Celine Dion?
Variations sur le même t’aime — Vanessa Paradis
Vanessa Paradis is a name with which you might be more familiar thanks to her relationship with Johnny Depp. Paradis has also had a vast and successful career as a singer and remains hugely popular in French-speaking countries. Variations sur le même t’aime was the second album that Paradis released and is often named as her most coherent work.
For the track “Tandem,” Paradis employed music stalwart Serge Gainsbourg to help her with the lyrics and, as a result, the song is the most popular song from the entire album. The name of the album was also coined by Gainsbourg, who wanted to use it as an allusion to his track Je t’aime.
Live Paris — Ben L’Oncle Soul
Of course, there’s much more out there than pop music. If soul is your bag, you might want to consider Ben L’Oncle Soul, a hugely successful Francophone musician.
The Live Paris album was recorded over the course of one night and contains all of the hit songs from the singer’s career, accompanied by a contemporary soul band. As well as being a great way to improve your language, the music is irresistibly upbeat and will put a smile on your face in no time at all!
Mister Mystère — -M-
French musician Matthieu Chedid came up with the -M- persona as a way of combating his shyness on stage and, ever since then, it just stuck. His album Mister Mystère was his first hit after a 6-year musical hiatus and received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and fans alike.
Blending musical styles to create an innovative mix, the album is great to listen to in order to wind down and top off your French learning at the same time.
So, now you’ve got some great music waiting for you in your YouTube and Amazon queues—go get started listening!
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