Learn French with radio, and suddenly you’re surrounded by the real language.
I’m talking French hits that native speakers rock out to.
And chatty talk show hosts that don’t sound anything like your textbook.
It’s an incredibly fun and useful way to learn French, and you just have to tune in to get started.
We’ll show you the best French radio stations for learners—whether you’re looking for music or on-air talk—plus some useful tips to make sure it doesn’t all just go in one ear and out the other.
Why Learn French with the Radio?
Sure, the radio may seem like an out-of-date technology, especially since you’ve already been integrating French podcasts, movies and smartphone apps like FluentU into your language learning routine.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Given all the aforementioned resources, what do French radio stations have to offer that, say, a podcast or YouTube channel can’t provide?
There is a great diversity of French music available on the radio.
For every taste in French music, there is a radio channel that can be streamed internationally. Have you explored all the diverse sounds and rhythms of traditional and modern French music?
This could be a great opportunity for you to listen to mixes of music you might otherwise have never listened to—giving you fantastic lessons in both French language and culture.
The DJ will take care of everything.
The only thing you have to do is ask your friends, “Comment elle s’appelle déjà, cette chanson ?“ (“What’s the name of that song again?”) before that awesome tune stops playing and you lose it forever. If you are streaming French radio on your computer, you can usually just check out the en direct (live) line and jot down the name of the song.
Either way, the DJ’s got you taken care of. A professional in France is creating mixes of music that they think people will enjoy. You’ll probably find out about tons of songs that you may never have been exposed to on YouTube. You may discover you really love a whole new type of French music!
The radio is hands-off and continuous.
The radio is fantastic for playing background music. Since you don’t have to keep going back to YouTube to line up more French songs on your playlist, the radio will let you go on with your activities, uninterrupted.
Ride the French Radio Waves! Learn French Radio-style with These Stations and Listening Tips
French radio is an excellent way to make your French language learning easier and more fun. Songs can help you learn new French words and expressions, and the catchy rhythms will help you have them committed to memory before you know it.
But just listening isn’t nearly enough to effectively learn French with the radio! Here are five techniques to make sure listening to French radio is as educational for you as it is enjoyable.
1. Choose Your Favorite Station
First things first: pick a station! There are loads of French radio stations available via streaming sites online, all featuring different genres of music.
RTL + RTL2
RTL and RTL2 are sister stations that are great for uncovering your favorite French pop and rock songs. The stations are some of the most popular in France, and they play a lot of good mainstream music.
The only disadvantage with these stations is the popularity of American music in France! For every French song you hear, you’ll hear an American one as well.
But the quick-talking announcers are sure to keep you on your toes, and you’ll discover a lot of French classic rock like Jean-Jacques Goldman and Serge Gainsbourg, as well as some more modern singers. With these stations, you’re sure to be at the forefront of what’s popular in French music.
To discover the music your parents’ French pen pals may have listened to, Nostalgie is the way to go. Nostalgie, much like RTL, plays a mix of French and English classics that were popular way back when—with the classic Nostalgie station, you’re likely to hear just as much English as French.
But Nostalgie has a further advantage: the station offers a host of web radios, including a special station devoted entirely to the best of French music.
If you’re into the oldies, Nostalgie is absolutely the station for you.
Speaking of old-school French music, Chante France offers a host of French classics, both old and new. Pop, top 40’s and hip hop all feature, with a special emphasis on including only French language music. If you don’t want to be bothered by familiar American songs, you may benefit from listening to Chante France.
Be aware that you’ll be hearing a lot of the same songs over and over again, but that will only help you get to know them!
If you’d rather that your music be interspersed with news stories and other talk radio, try France Inter.
France Inter offers a host of podcasts in addition to its web radio station, which intermingles classic and modern music as well as talk stories, often intertwining news and culture. This can help you better your listening comprehension, particularly when it comes to complex topics.
Rire et Chansons
If you’d rather your music be interspersed with jokes as you learn French with radio, try Rire et Chansons. Humor is famously one of the toughest things to integrate in a foreign language, so don’t worry if you feel a bit lost at the beginning.
Soon enough, you’ll be picking up on some of the jokes that the comedians on this station tell. Bear in mind that much of French humor is based on references to general culture and word play, so listening to France Inter may help you understand this station even better!
2. Make It Your Soundtrack
Once you’ve picked your favorite station to learn French with radio, make it the backdrop to your life!
Shopping for groceries? Do it with French radio streaming on your smartphone! Feeling down at work? Plug in your headphones au bureau (at the office) and rock out, à la française. Doing laundry? Making dinner? Any chore is made better with French music in the background.
The added benefit of making French music a constant presence in your home and workspace is that the lyrics will soon become second nature. The more you hear the lyrics, the more likely you are to understand them and even find hidden nuances in the words and phrases. Context clues will help you identify unfamiliar words, which will become familiar the more you hear them. Not to mention the help your ear will be getting for the language after listening to it for hours on end!
3. Don’t Skip the Commercials!
If there’s one thing that most people can’t stand about the radio, it’s the commercials. But when you’re listening to French radio stations, commercials become an added benefit.
Jingles help you introduce new words and phrases into your vocabulary with the same rhythm and rhyme as songs. Better yet, the rapid-fire “small print” will help your listening comprehension much better than any classroom exercise. It may seem tough to understand at first, but once you’ve heard the same commercials over and over and over… (as you’re wont to do on the radio!) you’ll understand easily.
If you grow frustrated not understanding commercials, try this trick: the first time you hear a commercial, try just to guess what sort of product is being advertised (is it a car? A food product? A vacation?) The next time you hear the same commercial, try to uncover the brand name. From there, your ear will be at the ready to seek out the rest of the words and make sense of them.
4. Record Your Favorites
Radio does lack instant gratification. It can be frustrating that you can’t always hear your favorite song when listening to the radio. But this can be an advantage! You may be familiar with some more famous French artists like Edith Piaf and Yves Montand, but listening to French radio will help you discover new favorites.
And once you do, do as you did when you were younger and record them. Of course, nowadays you don’t need to sit with your finger on the record button of your cassette boom box. Most French songs you’d like to have on your MP3 player can be easily purchased from iTunes or a similar site. If not, you can always order the CD online from Amazon and have it delivered to your door.
Once you have your favorites on tape, even more fun can be had. Games to help you ensure that you’re really learning – and not just listening – take many shapes and forms.
When you find a song you like, for example, find the lyrics online and have a friend blank out words or whole phrases. Try to fill in the blanks, listening to the song if you need it to help you. When you’ve finished, check against the official lyrics to make sure that you haven’t made any mistakes.
Paroles.net is a good place to start for this, but be aware that many sets of lyrics have been entered by people at home and may have errors in them. If you have a doubt, check against a second set, just to be sure, or check the official site of the artist in question.
When you’re comfortable with this, try writing out the whole song, in the same spirit as a dictée. Dictées are written French exercises used in elementary schools to teach kids to recognize and correctly use homophones. They can also be an excellent tool for listening comprehension. Listen to your favorite song as many times as you like, pausing it as needed. When you’ve written out the entirety of the lyrics, be sure to check them against the real version!
5. Record a Cover
When you’ve gotten to truly love your newly discovered French classics, it may open up your creativity, and that’s a good thing! Consider writing a new stanza for one of your favorite songs or even recording a cover. You don’t have to be a talented musician to enjoy this technique. Without ever recording, you can submit lyrics to memory and belt them out in the shower, while cooking or whenever you get a chance. Singing helps to reinforce what you’ve learned.
Once you’ve built up confidence singing your favorite French songs, give recording a chance. Play back your voice and listen to your pronunciation compared to the original. Which lyrics cause you to hesitate? Which parts of the song give you the most trouble? Go back and work on those problem areas specifically until your song sounds perfect!
For even more listening comprehension work, consider subtitling your cover version in English to help other French language learners like yourself understand the words. Keep playing French radio, use your FluentU resources to help you, and you’ll be well on your way to improved French fluency!
Ready to tune in and learn French radio-style? Your ears will thank you!
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.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.