Everything changed when I started to learn French with songs.
But let me back up.
It was my first French class, and I broke out in a cold sweat.
Everyone in the class knew some French, except for me—I didn’t speak a single word.
It was hard to stay interested in a class where I could barely understand anything!
It was a bleak situation, but luckily there was a turning point.
I finally started paying attention and actually taking an interest in the language—when our teacher started playing music in French.
Back then, we were learning about emotions. You know, words like surprised, happy, sad, etc. And I still remember these words quite well, because our teacher taught us these words with a French song.
While I don’t remember all the lyrics now (they started out with these two unforgettable phrases: Je suis content, je suis surpris — I am happy, I am surprised), I do remember the melody, and after that exercise, words like content (happy/pleased), triste (sad), surpris (surprised) and fâché (angry) stuck with me.
From then on, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I became a lifelong fan of the language, and I grew to love all aspects of French, from the linguistic to the cultural aspect of it. And I built up a nice playlist of songs in French to learn with, too!
Below, I’ll share my favorite tunes to help you learn French with songs. These are hits that native speakers know and love—from ’90s pop, to modern French songs and raps, to movie soundtrack gems—so you’re not just learning the language through music, but culture too.
Why Learn French with Songs and Music?
I’ve got a question for you—how are you currently learning French? Are you learning French grammar through textbooks? Are you reading French books?
If so, you should definitely start to learn French with songs. In my opinion, getting to know French music helps you get more comfortable with the French language, not to mention being loads of fun, especially if you’re a music lover.
And I always believe that if you can incorporate an element of fun into learning something, you’ll be happier and more successful at doing it—and that’s learning French with music in this case.
To top that off, while approaches based on studying grammar, vocabulary and phrases are great, an important component in learning French well is to be able to listen to it. This is perhaps the largest barrier to learning a new language.
Learning French with songs will help you strengthen your ability to capture these words that you learn using the above approaches, and better your understanding in the language.
And if it seems a bit daunting, don’t worry! Sometimes, even native speakers have a hard time understanding the exact lyrics—that’s normal! Do the best you can to try and follow along as you listen to the music and you will reap good benefits from it.
Having said all this, in this blog post, I want to talk a little about three important aspects in learning French through music, and also recommend seven French songs to try out.
So, let’s get started!
How to Learn French with Songs and Music
In the past when I was listening to songs in French, I tried to stick to three learning principles:
Learn French with Songs That Match Your Level
Studies show that learning language with music can be very effective—but first of all, I think it’s important to choose French songs that suit your current ability.
For instance, I had about three years of experience learning French when I tried to listen to French rap, but I could barely make out individual words that were rapped. Instead, when I changed to some easier to understand classics, I could make out more words and phrases in the piece.
This doesn’t have to be an exhaustive exercise. All you have to do is to compile a list of 10 to 20 songs (you’ll find loads of song recommendations in places like WordReference and Yahoo Answers), then hit them up on YouTube and do a quick gut check if these songs are suitable for you.
The litmus test can be pretty simple—if everything you hear sounds like gibberish to you, that’s a good indicator it’s a definite no-no for you. But if you can start catching a few French words here and there, then go for it! It’ll be a good listening exercise for you.
Another great place to find music videos is FluentU, which has a collection of the web’s best videos for learning French.
You can hover over any word in the interactive subtitles for in-context definitions and multiple examples.
Listen to French Songs Every Day
Without sounding all cheesy, I’d like to recommend a simple strategy before you start to learn French with songs and music.
- Commit to listening to two French songs a day for at least an entire month.
- Every day, listen to each song three times, and proceed as follows:
The first time, just listen to the song from start to end.
The second time, you want to do some deep listening and try and jot down as many words and phrases as you can make out (or, better yet, if you can jot down words that you might not know but try to make out anyway, that’s fantastic). Feel free to pause as many times to get enough time to take notes.
The third time, go back and listen again to see if there are any changes you need to make or any additional words you can hear the second round.
- After you finish jotting down French lyrics, you can then look up the official lyrics on the internet and see how much you got right. LyricsTranslate is a great resource for this. Give yourself a big pat on the back, too!
If this sounds like it requires too much discipline, an alternative is to use FluentU, which helps you learn lyrics through questions which use video context, and also reminds you when to review words through spaced repetition.
Learn French with Songs You Actually Like!
This is a pretty important part of learning French with songs and music—there’s nothing worse than listening to a song that you hate over and over!
Like any language, music in French has a wide variety of genres. Take your pick at songs that you like best, and I can almost guarantee you’ll listen better. Another great thing about picking French songs you actually like is the fact that if you like a song, you’ll be okay with adding it to a playlist of some sort.
And after hearing a song for so many times, you’ll start to remember the lyrics from the song. And if you do that, you’ll probably soon want to pick up the dictionary and look up phrases you don’t know. After that, guess what—you’ve just effortlessly picked up new French words and phrases that you can probably remember for a long time to come!
So, what sorts of French songs might you like? Here are seven to peruse:
Trankillement! Learn French with Songs That French People Actually Listen To
1. “La Tribu de Dana” (“The Tribe of Dana”) by Manau
Lyrics (French and English): LyricsTranslate
This is one of my favorite French songs by far. It’s a song about a war fought between the Dana tribe and the Celtic warriors. Without going into a lot of detail, the lyrics are beautifully written, and the song reads like a story—it starts off with a prelude to hail the beginning of the war, then progresses to when the battle started and finally ends on a victorious note, with the singer/narrator becoming the king of Dana.
The riff is very catchy, and it’s one of the most popular French songs of all times—highly recommended.
2. “Ma Soeur” (“My Sister”) by Vitaa
Lyrics (French and English): LyricsTranslate
This song is primarily about betrayal between two friends. One friend, who was treated like a close sister by the other, betrayed the other when she slept with the other’s boyfriend.
The lyrics are written with feelings of both anger and sadness, anger because of the betrayal, but sadness also because she could not believe outright that her own sister would commit such an act of betrayal.
Torn between wanting to wanting to forgive her, reminiscing the past, and basking in the fury of the unforgivable act, the melancholic melody serves as a beautiful complement to the woeful words.
3. “Je Lui Dirai” (I Will Tell Him) by Céline Dion
Lyrics (French and English): Muzikum
Light and jolly, with touches of a countryside feel to it, “Je Lui Dirai” is a delightful song, a tune sung by a mother to her son about what he ought to know about life, in the past, present and future. A truly beautiful piece matched with a relaxing melody sung by Célion Dion’s powerful voice.
It’s a very soothing choice to learn French with songs on a sunny weekend day.
4. “Con j’pense” by Manau
Lyrics (French and English): LyricsTranslate
Rapid and clever, Manau delivers yet another hit song with “Con j’pense.” In your song choice, this is probably the most difficult to listen to, and also the most difficult to understand, because it contains a lot of slang, but it’s one of those modern French songs that shows you a more colloquial side of French.
By the way, a quick comment about the title. Con is a common word that roughly means “idiot,” although it’s quite a bit more rude. Don’t say this word in front of your boss or your in-laws. In this song’s title, it’s a play on the word quand (when) which sounds like con when spoken in a Southern French accent, which the main rappers in this song use.
5. “Trankillement” (“Quietly”) by Fatal Bazooka
(The English translation is included there, but be aware that this song is hard to translate directly due to the amount of slang.)
This rap from Fatal Bazooka is yet another challenging piece of music in French. With lots of cultural references and colloquial terms, it’ll take a while to figure out.
If you’re on a slightly more advanced level, I highly recommend this as piece to deepen your understanding of French “street” culture.
The title is a play on French word Tranquillement, (quietly/calmly) and where the k replaces qu, probably to make it sound cooler.
6. “Vois sur ton Chemin” (“Look on Your Path”) from the film “Les Choristes”
Lyrics (French and English): LyricWiki
“Vois sur ton Chemin” is one of the theme songs in the soundtrack album of the internationally acclaimed film, “Les Choristes” (“The Choir”), a story about a music teacher who found a job in a school for troubled boys, the tense atmosphere between the students and the teachers and how he attempts to change this status quo through music. It’s an excellent film if you haven’t seen it yet.
The song speaks of the fragility of childhood, which is a befitting song that complements the theme of the movie quite nicely. Sung by a French choir, it’s a great song with a great tune and meaningful lyrics.
7. “Il est temps” (“It’s Time”) by Kyo
Lyrics (French and English): Musixmatch
Light and upbeat, “Il est temps” speaks about the separation of a couple and the impact it has for the male partner. The song is a piece that expresses the insecurities, the nostalgia and the longing felt by him.
With an atypical melody that doesn’t sound overly doleful, it’s a cool and relaxing song to listen to for all occasions.
When people learn a new language like French, they often pay attention to the written aspects of the language, when forgetting that verbal communication plays an important part of language usage.
But with the advent of platforms like YouTube and FluentU, it’s now easy to find loads of songs in French to listen to and practice.
Should you decide to learn French with songs and music, you won’t have this problem! With a small time investment every day, you’ll be miles further in your ability to listen to and understand 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. You'll receive video recommendations that suit your interests and current level of progress.
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.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.