French Comprehension and Listening

What are some good strategies or ways to improve my French listening comprehension? I have studied Spanish in the past and have never had this much trouble understanding basic sentences and texts, but alas, French is giving me so much trouble in terms of listening. I listen a lot on LingQ and Teach Yourself dialogues, and other material, but I don’t feel like it’s helping. Even basic sentences in Teach Yourself courses require me to listen to certain sentences a good seven times before I can even hear half of it. It’s quite frustrating…granted, I’ve only been learning French for almost 3 months now, but I have been listening to French since day 1 since I knew listening was always my weakest aspect of language learning.

I know people always say to listen to French radio…but if you don’t understand anything, I don’t see how that helps.

Does anyone have any good tips for improving? I can’t even recognize some of the words that I know sometimes, especially when spoken fast…words just go through one ear and out the other…

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Yes, the oral comprehesion, listening and speaking in French is quite difficult.
I have been learning French for 3 years (not very regularly) and can read long texts and the articles without a lot of difficulties, but I have still a lot of difficulties by listening and quick comprehension.
And one more thing irritates me and discourages by learning French- allmost all French people don’t like if someone mangles words, mispronounced them. And that’s why you try making your best and speaking French in Paris, but they answer you in English or just say ‘Je vous ne comprend pas’!..
In Russia, in Germany, in Great Britain the local people understand that the foreigners make some mistakes, they are patient and try to understand you and to speak to you gently and slowly - but not in France!..

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3 months ? That is only 90 days. If you listen to french for 10 hours a day that only makes 900 hours of listening. You need many thousands of hours.

A few strategies.
Don’t count your loop-listening by the number of times (7 is not that many and not enough) but by the amount of time.
Now and then listen at slow pace.
Now and then listen at faster pace than normal one.
If you don’t feel like you are getting better listen to some other language exotic to you - mandarin, russian - arabic - japanese anything.

Don’t worry about understanding each and every word - go for the genral meaning first.

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Many thousands of hours? The FSI says it only takes 600 hours for a native English speaker to learn French. Steve even referenced the FSI stats in one of his videos. Now I’m not saying it’s exact, but it seems like a good estimate.

I’ve studied French way less than 900 hours and my listening has improved a lot. Probably no more than 200 hours really. First I used Assimil and Michel Thomas. Now I’m using Linq. Between the three methods, my listening comprehension has definitely made a lot of progress. The real issue for me now seems to be lack of vocabulary.

OP, what have you been doing in those three months? Try listening to slow French at first. Are there any podcasts read slowly? I’d also suggest Assimil French for a solid foundation. There’s also this series “French in Action” that you can watch online through Annenberg Media. It’s a classic series used to teach French at Yale.

Assimil, French in Action, and Linq. Then supplement with native material (French films, music, etc.)

I have been studying French for 3-4 years now and have a degree in it. Listening was the last thing that came. I aquired reading, then writing, then speaking, and then listening. I would say I still don’t understand but maybe 85-90% of the language in most subjects.

Can I watch movies without subtitles? Yes
Can I listen to radio? Yes
Can I listen to song lyrics? Yes

But none of these came quick. It was super frustrating, and still is sometimes, because I also have the same level in Spanish, but I understand everything.

I also listened to LingQ and Assimil/Teach Yourself/Colloquial/you name it. I probably went through both the French books at least 10 times, listen to each lesson 15-30 times.

I’ve had several eureka moments in French while using LingQ. The first one was around 6 months after using it, maybe had 2000 words, but something clicked and I could read/listen to the basic sentences and understand almost. At that point, I started only reading once or twice and listening only 3 times.

Some tips people gave me were to listen to French radio/TV/work on pronunciation. Truth is, I did all of these, but didn’t notice anything.

I see that you only have around 1000 words on LingQ, not sure if you’re currently using it everyday, but my advice would to be just keep going. If you feel you are frustrated that you can’t understand a lesson even after listening/reading it dozens of times, just go to the next. But if you get to the point where you feel like you might give up, don’t. When I was still actively learning it, I used LingQ as well as other programs. I didn’t use LingQ and listen to a lesson on there 30 times, that’s what I had assimil for. I used LingQ for overall mass exposure.

Also I am having the same problem you are currently with Korean. Not sure if it will improve, I just know that I have to keep going and eventually I will be able to understand something.

The main point is it just takes time. And with enough input, you will be able to understand. But it sure as heck didn’t hit me in the face quickly.


I somewhat agree with this, but that is part of the French culture that you have to get used to. It’s not that they don’t like someone who mangles words, it’s just they are trying to help and don’t understand enough of foreigner’s cultures to really understand that it is considered “rude” to do so.

I built a flashcard deck with the words/sounds by the author of Fluent Forever and learned the first 625 (with the sounds!). Then I used the “Who is she?” basic course on Lingq and listened to them 30-50 times. Three months is a short period of time - it’s not you, it’s us humans!. Don’t lose heart!

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Total and utter bollocks i’m afraid. Maybe in Paris, but not in France as a whole. People are very welcoming and patient. They won’t speak slowly to you but then that’s just how they are, it’s not because of some hidden agenda to punish you for not speaking French properly.

I live in France, btw.

FSI and DLI are teaching individuals much more intelligent than the average person. Their course is a lot more intensive.

A regular self learner needs way more than 600 hours.

With French, you need to listen a lot.

And don’t listen to these manufactured, slowed down, artificial conversations like Teach Yourself or ‘Who is She’ or whatever. Real French isn’t like that and as soon as you get into a conversation with a real person they won’t speak like that.

What i do:

Go on youtube, download the audio for all the Easy French videos and listen, listen, listen. Take one episode at a time, and listen INTENTLY. There’s no point listening in the background etc you need to be focussed.

Do the same for Français Authentique, Frencheezee, Hèlene et les garçons, and any other material with subtitles in French that you can find.

Get the LingQ podcast on here where the dialogue is between Serge and Marianne or two native speakers and listen to it.

Go watch cartoons such as Caillou or Dora if those are your thing.

Save down phrases and try to imagine yourself doing them. Even better, get up and act them out. If you hear someone saying ‘give it to me’ in French then the next time you need something from someone, say it in French and hold out your hand. This gets the language in your head.

To understand French spoken in real time by real people you need to let go of words and concentrate on phrases and concepts, and key words. You need to be able to get context.

Supplement the listening with lots of reading and you will find you will improve listening if you try to use or repeat phrases that you hear.

Listen first, and listen a lot. Try to get the phrases into your head. Then read whilst listening to see if you can match what you’re hearing to what is written. It also helps to try and transcribe out what you’re hearing. It really makes you listen for the individual words which are hard in French - much harder than Spanish which is very easy to listen to because of the phonetics.

I’ve had maybe 200 hours of concentrated listening and about 1000 hours of ‘background’ listening - the background listening does nothing except occasionally you pick out a few words - but it’s not good for actually improving. To improve you need concentrated listening.

Oh, and the amount of time you’ve put in is tiny. It will take you many many many months to become comfortable with the sound of the language.

I’m so pleased to hear someone say that, I keep hearing how after 6-9 months of solid study you could/should be pretty fluent in Spanish, I’m nowhere close. I do feel like there’s still a lot of unrealistic information out there which will discourage your average learner.

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Well i don’t know about FSI but i know with DLI you can’t even get on the course unless you are a highly intelligent, adaptable learner with huge drive and personal motivation and you have to pass a myriad of tests to even be accepted. As far as i know, the ‘X hours to fluency’ stuff is based on things like DLI and FSI. Not comparable to normal people not living in the country and who have jobs etc.

I had a friend who moved to Spain at 14 and was fluent in 6 months - but she went to school in the language and hung out with friends until 10pm at night every day.

Total listening time, around 12 hours a day, for 6 months. That’s over 2100 hours of do-or-die, survival listening, speaking and interacting.

Her brother who was 16 when they moved there is completely and totally native-like fluent, with a fantastic accent and he’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the box if you get my drift.

A lot of people claiming fluency from self study are not really fluent at all, they can just ‘get by’. A lot of the youtube polyglots are outright frauds, reading from scripts.

For me, after a year of concentrated study i would expect to be able to function in basic conversations about everyday basic things.

I’ve currently done around 6 months of concentrated study and feel nowhere close yet. Although i know a lot of words and phrases and can basically read French i didn’t start listening properly until the last few weeks. It’s really hindered me.

Okay, I agree with you about some of those youtube polygots. People generally waver on their self-estimation of ability.

But if Spanish takes 2100 hours for an English speaker, that means at a rate of an hour study time per day it takes six years. I don’t believe it takes six years for an English speaker to learn Spanish. Or French for that matter. Maybe with bad teachers in high schools or something, but not if using the right methods.

If Spanish/French takes that long, how about Chinese? Something like five years full immersion? Twenty years at an hour a day? If that were the case, no English speaker would ever learn Mandarin.

There is incubation time though that you’re forgetting. Also cumulative knowledge.

And i said full, native like fluency.

She was conversational in 2 months. ~600 hours. But that was total survival French. You’re not going to be at that level in 2 months sat in your room on your own whether or not you put in the same amount of hours she did.

It doesn’t take 6 years, but it will almost certainly (save for some autodidactic outliers) take longer than the ‘official’ estimates for your average person, especially one on their very first language or someone learning a language that isn’t similar to their native one.

There also needs to be a differenciation in output and input. What do they mean by ‘learn’? You can almost certainly be able to read and understand a language to an ok level before 600 hours but that doesn’t indicate fluency and it doesn’t indicate whether or not you can produce proper output in real situations.

I’ve actually heard people say one will never reach true fluency from just an hour/day of study. I don’t know if that’s true or not but an hour really doesn’t seem enough to get anywhere. I think Steve said in one of his videos that the most progress he’s ever made was through intense study, which I imagine means 6+ hours/day. He said there’s something extra going on when you really go at it.

I think there’s something about letting your brain know that this is how things are now and it needs to learn or you won’t survive. A bit extreme maybe, but I think the principle is sound. A similar thing happens with something like weight training, you have to let your body know that it needs to Improve (get stronger), and quick if it’s going to survive in this new world you’ve thrust upon it. It’s like shocking your body, or in this case your brain, into adapting and making actual physical changes to improve in these new skills demanded of it.

Maybe that’s wrong and there are people that do 1 hour a day to fluency but for something as complex and - quite frankly - massive as a language it doesn’t seem doable in terms of real fluency.

Perhaps the absolute minimum you need to do to get there in a relatively short time is do more in your target language than in your native language on a daily basis, otherwise your brain will just think “oh well, we’re still functioning for the majority of the time as we always have done” and will be reluctant to adapt to survive. 1 hour/day of target language with a further 13+ hours in your native language isn’t really a cause for change Imo. I’m perhaps starting to sound like a mentalist now but I think there might be something in that.

Unfortunately most of us don’t have that kind of time, so we just have to do the most we can and hope to reach some degree of adequacy.

In response to your other message about 1 hours a day - not all hours are created equally either. Chatting to someone in school about their day isn’t the same as an hour studying a declension table or idly listening to the radio where maybe you tune in sometimes and are not really listening at others.

True fluency takes years of input and output. There are people who have become very very good at languages without ever living in the country though, but they probably made their environment as immersive as possible. I doubt anybody did it before the internet came along either.

Take Steve. He’s only truly fluent in the three languages where he lived and survived in the country - French, Chinese and Japanese. His other languages aren’t great as he admits himself.

platyphylla, I agree in theory, but the numbers seem way off. I started learning Mandarin through two months full immersion in China. It was my first time studying foreign language. That was about 600 hours and I got to survival/conversational. When I started with French, I got to an equal level as my Chinese with maybe a quarter the time and effort.

My roommate was from Colombia, but spoke perfect English. It was his first time living in an English speaking country, so he was insecure about his ability. He had an accent, but his grammar had no mistakes and he had a large vocabulary. He said he learned it from translating video games. I’m not sure why an English speaker couldn’t do the same with Spanish.

Hi dkwok_94,

Being only 3 months in, it is completellllly normal not to understand the radio, and to struggle to make sense of connected speech.
I personally don’t stress about trying to get every single word in a dialogue or text. 70% understanding whilst listening AND reading, and Im pretty happy and i move on, it will all slot in at some point by itself (it doesnt feel like it will, but it does :slight_smile: ).

I would move on from Teach yourself dialogues onto text and audio of real native content. A few good places for material:

Shove it in LingQ or however you enjoy learning, make sure you understand generally what each article/page discusses, read and listen once, and then simply move on.
But its not only the material you use, but also how you use it. Don’t stress about understanding every single word, or that you can’t understand the radio. Dont stress about needing to repeat any article or book again. Work in a progressive and consistent way, choose material you enjoy that has both audio and text, and (without putting a date on it), within a few months you will notice marked improvements when you look down at the material you are using that seemed impossible at one point.

I would also question whether you enjoy radio. I hate listening to the radio, and I hate reading newspapers, yet I absolutely love reading novels, and watching documentaries in German. So just follow your interests in a progressive fashion, and you will get there!! :slight_smile:

People say you need to listen alot, which is true, but there are different stages in language learning. Right now, your aim is to move onto authentic content as fast as possible by listening and reading to comprehensible input. Once you can start to make out what the radio is saying, THEN you can start listening to that more.

Dont worry about remembering words, or reproducing anything that u read or hear. The brain does so much by itself.