Get yourself a croissant or tartine for breakfast, and don’t skip the café au lait.
We’re going to wake you up with a dose of French news.
The news is an important part of French society and culture, and one of the best ways to keep your French current is with current events.
Using the news as a resource for learning French is cheap, easy and super effective for improving your French language skills.
It doesn’t matter which way you lean politically—keeping an eye on different types of news helps you understand how other people think, whether you agree or disagree.
So, while you’re learning French with the news, you’ll also be learning about the perspectives and attitudes of French citizens.
Current Events, Current French: How to Learn French with the Latest News
French newspapers are excellent resources for learning French, particularly because one newspaper can afford you hours of French learning practice. Not to mention, you can break out all your favorite study techniques.
How to Learn French with Newspapers
Choose an article
Beginners should start with straightforward news stories. With their predictable sentence structure and clear, inverted pyramid organization, they’ll be the easiest to understand.
More advanced learners may want to venture the way of op-eds or satirical newspapers such as Le Canard Enchaîné and Charlie Hebdo. These come with more layers of opinion, humor, satire and nuance to peel back, which will let you get a deeper understanding of how French is used by creative minds.
Whichever French newspaper you choose to improve your French, every study session must first begin with you choosing an article. Ideally, you should pick an article with a subject matter that interests you and challenges you. Even better if you’ve read extensively about the topic in your native language beforehand—knowing the details of the story will give you a foundation to stand on when picking up new vocabulary and grammar.
Looking at a physical newspaper, in print, is highly recommended. If you’re finding articles online, print out anything that you’d like to study more closely.
Highlight lessons in the article
Begin by reading the newspaper article just for pleasure, scan through it once and see what you can glean from it.
Then, take another closer read and aim for full comprehension. Grab a highlighter and mark any words that you don’t understand. Mark words that you think you understand from context and want to look up later, just to be sure.
Highlighting these words and coming back to them ensures that you won’t be distracted by them. You’ll keep cruising through the article, trying to understand as much as possible from knowledge and context alone. This is an important skill to master whenever you’re learning a new language, as you don’t want to become reliant on dictionaries or translation apps.
Next, look up any words that you weren’t able to understand. Jot these down in a notebook or make flashcards so that you’ll remember their definitions. Once that’s completed, go back and read the article again, writing in the margins when there’s something that you still don’t fully understand.
Pause on the grammar
Newspaper articles are invaluable when it comes to learning French sentence structure. Pick up an article and make it a challenge to point out instances of one grammar pattern (or two) that you’ve been studying lately.
For example, let’s say that you’re studying the difference between the imperfect and the passé composé. Grab two different highlighters, then highlight the imperfect in one color and the passé composé in another. Then go back through and try to justify the use of each tense in each sentence to yourself, so that you understand why the writer used it.
This exercise can be used for any French grammar topic, including:
- Proper pronoun placement
- Comparative and superlative adjectives
- Subject-verb agreement
- Noun-adjective agreement
Mix it up
Choose a current events story in news media and find it being discussed by several different resources, ideally ones with different biases and perspectives.
Synthesize that information and write a news story covering the event, all while attempting to use the same inverted pyramid structure as a French news story. Start with a short paragraph covering the who, what, where, when, why and how, and then delve further into the story from there. Using a newspaper as your guide can help you imitate some of the common sentence structures used by French print journalists.
Write an op-ed
Advanced learners might like to choose a news story covered in French news media and then write an op-ed response to it. For this, you can take a stand or perspective and argue in favor of one interpretation of the story or another.
Just be sure that when you’re done, you find a native French speaker to help correct the writing exercise with you! There are plenty of places online where you can receive writing feedback, like italki.
Resources for Written French News
France has a wide variety of newspapers to choose from, most of which are available online.
- There’s also a strong tradition of satirical papers in France, including Le Canard Enchaîné and Charlie Hebdo. While these might be slightly more difficult to understand, they’re also key to understanding French perspective and humor.
Of course, you can always find these news sources online, but you may also be able to find physical copies at your local library. Take a look! When in doubt, ask at a local, international large hotel. They often stock international papers for their guests, and you may even be able to source some older copies.
French radio is a great way to practice your listening comprehension. Everything from reports and discussions to commercials and musical interludes can inform your French knowledge. It may be a bit tricky to follow at first, especially because many broadcasters speak quite quickly, but the key is to get into the flow of things.
How to Learn French with Radio
Make radio a habit
Try to choose a station or program you like and listen to it regularly. You’ll start to get accustomed to the cadence of one journalist in particular, thus making it easier for you to understand their French.
Start with recorded programs, not live ones
When listening to French radio for comprehension, it’s always easier to choose pre-recorded programs as opposed to live radio. This makes it possible for you to pause and rewind as needed.
Locate a transcript
Another reason why those recorded broadcasts rock is that the network will usually publish an associated article or transcript—either of which is pure gold for a student of French. They’ll help you be sure that you’ve understood.
Ask the big questions
When listening to French radio for comprehension, ask yourself the six basic questions of any news story: Who, what, where, when, why and how? Once you’ve answered all of these questions just from listening—as many times as you’d like!—check your answers against the transcript and make sure you’ve got everything right.
You can also use the radio to learn expressions that might be primarily spoken attributes of French—yes, those exist.
When you’re listening to a segment, you’ll start to take note of things that journalists say frequently, for example “enfin,” “ben” and “puis.” These words are often used to transition from one idea to another or to fill space (kind of like “like” or “so” in English). Write them down when you hear them, parrot them back out loud every time they’re spoken, and try to discern how the journalist is using them.
This will help your own spoken French sound more colloquial.
Go for small comprehension victories
If you’d rather listen to live radio, know that you probably won’t be able to understand everything—and that’s okay! Listen for words like proper nouns and verbs, and try not to get bogged down in details, particularly if you think you aren’t understanding what’s being said.
Bearing in mind a few unique attributes of French can make this live listening experience easier on the brain:
- Remember that, in French, sentences have a rising cadence when they’re not yet over and a falling cadence when they end. Try to pay special attention to the beginnings of sentences, right after the falling cadence, to ensure that you’re getting the key information.
- When journalists are quoting someone, they’ll often say, “Je cite” (I quote) before continuing with the quote.
- Know that French journalists don’t always speak in full sentences on the radio, so don’t be surprised if a sentence seems to be lacking a conjugated verb. For example, one France Inter story began, “Bernard Cazeneuve nommé Premier ministre.” (Bernard Cazeneuve named Prime Minister.) While this sentence is technically grammatically incorrect, it’s acceptable on the radio.
Resources for French News Radio
There are tons of online resources for listening to French news radio:
- France Inter offers both live programs (en direct) and shorter segments with full transcripts.
- France Culture is a culture-oriented radio station that offers both live programs and longer segments that are fully transcribed. They often cover different cultural themes, for example, the German presidential campaign in an international context or the work of Henry James and the art of the secret.
- France Info is a news-based radio station that offers both live programs and longer transcribed segments in a variety of categories including politics, cooking, international culture, the history of news, economics and more. Each of the hosts has a very distinctive style, and it’s easy to pick a favorite and keep coming back for more.
Television is a great way to learn French. Unlike radio, television has the added bonus of giving the learner some visual context clues, often making it easier to understand. Add to this the fact that you can often get subtitles to help you understand, and television is an excellent way to keep abreast of the news in French.
How to Learn French with Television
Ask the big questions
When watching the news in French, like when listening to the radio, try to ask yourself the six basic questions of any news story: Who, what, where, when, why and how? Take notes and check your answers later, for example against press coverage of the same story.
Make friends with subtitles
Subtitles are an added resource in television, but they can also be a hindrance. Try watching without subtitles whenever you can to keep yourself from reading when you should be listening.
That said, you can also use subtitles for an added bonus exercise. Subtitles will very rarely match up perfectly with what the journalist is saying, so listen very closely and try to note all of the times when the subtitles are different from the words being spoken. What’s the journalist actually saying? What’s written down? Compare the two sentences, which should have the same meaning, to glean different ways of saying the same thing in French.
Resources for French News Videos
You can watch French news television either on your actual TV or online.
TV5MONDE is one news channel that’s widely available via American cable providers, if you’d like to watch the live news.
Online, your options are far more varied:
- France24 is a French news station that you can watch live online. (Subtitles not available).
- Le Quotidien is a satirical French news program that you can watch entirely online. (Subtitles not available).
- France2 offers news segments with subtitles (you just have to turn them on).
All of these different resources can help you improve your French comprehension while keeping you informed of what’s going on in France!
And all in all, that’ll bring you closer to understanding the ins and outs of the modern French language.
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