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Tips To Improve Your Understanding of Spoken French
Whether you have studied French for a few weeks or several months, understanding French people when they speak can be challenging. The pace can get fast, the pronunciation seems confusing. How do you navigate it all, and eventually understand and interact? Here are a few things you can do to train your ears.
1. How YOU pronounce things affects your understanding
The first way of improving your understanding is to work on your own pronunciation. As you learn French and repeat sentences over and over, you are going to hear yourself speak a lot! A distorted perception of your pronunciation will reduce your understanding of what others are saying. For example, if you mispronounce certain sounds (en, oi, un) or letters (r, u), you will be less likely to spot them when you hear them. And that's bound to distort your understanding of words. Practicing pronunciation will then allow you to sharpen your own ear to better identify the sounds, and therefore the words.
2. Use films as a resource
An exercise to do regularly would be to take a scene from a movie or series that you have not yet seen. Find a two or three minute clip and watch it several times. First without the images, just to hear it without being distracted by the footage. Then with the images, to identify elements from the context. As you go along, you will detect some vocabulary and become familiar with sentence structures. This work should become faster: by the fifth time you do this exercise, you will certainly feel more comfortable. You can then turn on the English subtitles to measure how your understanding matches with what is actually said.
An alternative is to watch a clip from a movie you already know. You will then have a knowledge of the circumstances of the scene, which will help you detect the context and focus on the vocab.
3. It's all about context
In life, some of our conversations are part of a specific context. When speaking a foreign language, this allows us to anticipate the vocabulary and easily participate in the conversation. For example, when at a restaurant with friends, it is likely that you will discuss your food preferences while ordering. If someone comments on the style of a passerby walking in front of your patio (because people watching is so much fun), you will also have visual elements to relate to. But sometimes, in a free conversation, the context is not defined. In that case, you need to relate to the vocabulary to determine the context. A way to widen your vocabulary is to read short texts for learners about the widest variety of topics.You can also listen to French songs and podcasts and pay a great deal of attention to themes and topics.
4. The art of informal French
There are many exercises that will help you become familiar with the differences between formal French and casual French. French speakers don't pronounce all the letters, they don't always make negations correctly, nor do they ask questions in a formal way at all times. Knowing these differences is fundamental. A common problem is that the French people learn in school is closer to formal French. This is why at Learn French Brooklyn, we train our students to distinguish between the different forms of French, so that you can improve the way you understand and use them.