The transition to fluent spoken comprehension

Thanks to LingQ, my comprehension of spoken French is progressing nicely. A year ago I struggled with podcasts for intermediate learners, whereas now I can understand podcasts for native speakers, albeit from the likes of France Inter i.e. proper non casual French. A few months ago films were impenetrable, now I can grasp a large proportion of the dialogue in a film. It’s hard, I have to concentrate very carefully, and sometimes a sentence is meaningless no matter how many times I listen. I currently do two hours a day listening, of which one hour is in LingQ.

So, for those learning a second language, especially French, do you ever get to a stage where you can follow a film as easily as in your native tongue? And if so, how long does that take once you get to my stage i.e. understanding clearly spoken native podcasts? 1,000 more hours? 2,000 more hours? Or does it always remain as something where you have to concentrate, unlike in your native tongue?

Currently it feels like a fog is slowly lifting, it’s as if my brain is gradually learning to recognise the sounds and break them down into words and other sounds. Thus it is usually not a case of decoding the words, but recognising them. Obviously there are some contractions and accents to learn too.


We’re not too far apart in French but you’re outpacing me by putting in more time daily.

One perspective I’ll offer is that I’m not really pursuing the ability to understand films. While that has been a benchmark, I wonder about other issues such as these two pieces identify. Given that I don’t have great hearing, it makes it even more complex.


That is a good point. I sometimes struggle to understand American films, in part because the accent is non British, and in part because they seem to mumble. Of course Americans have it worse because they don’t often hear our regional accents e.g. What’s tha on wi lad?

Perhaps films need a mumble rating to help language learners? :slightly_smiling_face:


I use Netflix films a lot in various languages to learn and practise and I wholeheartedly agree about the mumbling. I’ve noticed I can understand native speakers a lot more easily in unscripted interviews than in scripted dialogues in films and TV. My theory is that they are harder to understand for two reasons. One is that it is not genuinely spoken language. Scripts are written so tend to be more complex than real life conversations. The art of the actor is to make them not sound like written language. Secondly, in an effort to achieve this many actors overcompensate and speak more quickly and less distinctly than people really do! This is partly why more and more people are switching subtitles on even in their own language.


Both in my native language (German) as well as in English which I am more or less fluent in I have noticed that it makes a huge difference whether it is the language the movie or series was actually recorded in or synchronized later on. Even in my mother tongue I often have a hard time understanding everything that’s beeing said if it is a german production. Synchronized it never caused an issue to me, though. This is pretty similar in English.

I always assumed that the main reason is that an actor has to concentrate on a variety of things during shooting, whereas when you are in a studio recording the voice alongside the video or when creating a podcast, you are mainly focused on your speaking. (I would assume that when holding a presentation one sounds differently then usually, too).


Now you mention it, I have noticed the same phenomenon in French. American films dubbed into French are usually easier to understand than native French films. As you say, the voice actors only have to do the voices, not act. Also, they are professional voice over artists, speaking is their core and only skill, and they had better be good at it. Whereas actors are hired on looks, ability to act and lastly speaking skills. The days of British cinema employing Shakespearean actors, enunciating perfectly in RP are long gone. Sylvestor Stallone has a slight speech disability which is why he speaks oddly. Bruce Willis is known for slurring. In fact poor speech seems to be part of the hard man character. I’ve also noticed a difference in register, native French films use more colloquial or casual language, and more complexity than dubbed ones, or at least that is my impression.

I guess the moral is not to worry if a few words now and then are missed.

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My perspective on this topic, I’m French, and I recently watched a French movie from the early 60s. The sound was so bad that for the first 20 minutes. I barely understood half of the dialogue. At the same time I was thinking, “a student of French watching this movie would probably think he needs to dramatically improve his listening skills !” So, sometimes, it’s not you who need to improve, it’s the guy in front of you… Btw, the movie was Le doulos, a pretty good pic from director Jean-Pierre Melville, with Jean-Paul Belmondo.


I fully agree that since actors learn the dialogue, the speech is hardly ever natural. Even children often speak above their age.
In real life people need to think what they want to say and it gives the listener more time to absorb it.
I have issues with understanding movies in all of my foreign languages, while I can talk to natives or listen to podcasts or radio. Additionally, I noticed that if subtitles are on, I start to read even in my native language:) So turning off subtitles is a must for me.