French Listening Practice

March 03, 2016 Sarah W

What can you do to develop your listening skills at home?

Listening exams can be one of the most feared of all the many language exams, simply because you only get one chance to hear and understand what is being said (well, two chances, as each segment is repeated). If you haven’t understood what is being said after hearing the recording twice, you pretty much have to guess the answer, and that can be frightening.

Having a conversation in your foreign language is a great way to improve your listening skills, as you must understand what is being said to you in order to respond appropriately. A teacher will try to encourage conversation as much as possible in a classroom setting; however it is impossible for them to converse with each student individually on a regular basis and for a significant length of time, and some students will need more practice than others.

A tutor is able to give their undivided attention to a student and great strides can be made in terms of progress and confidence. Self-study is also vital however, and here are a few ideas that students can do on their own.

Past papers

Many of the different exam boards’ past papers are available online, with not only the question papers, but also the mark schemes, the transcripts from the listening papers, and the sound recording itself.

Forget about the question paper for now, and play the sound recording whilst reading the transcript. This can help with pronunciation, and can help establish the link between the written word which a student may understand, and the sound of the spoken word, which will hopefully help the student to recognise that same word without having the script in front of them.

They can stop and restart the recording as they wish, translate the text for themselves, and maybe even close their eyes for the repeat playing and try to understand or ‘see’ the words as they are spoken.


Much research has gone into the link between music and memory, particularly and more recently into the link between music and learning a second language. If you think about it, not many of us remember poems from our childhood but we can certainly remember the words to many nursery rhymes we used to sing.

I learnt a lot of vocab and set phrases from listening to French music artists, though you must select them with care. Choose a music style that you are happy to listen to over and over, and it helps if the artist sings clearly and articulates properly, as you need to be able to understand what they are saying/singing.

Favourites of mine include Francis Cabrel, Christophe Maé, and Stromae. Another great artist is MC Solaar, an award-winning hip hop and rap artist who has quite a poetic style to his lyrics. It’s always worth a listen just to see what rapping in French sounds like!

Download the lyrics online and listen to the song whilst reading the lyrics. Then play the song(s) over and over in the background, whilst on the bus, whilst walking to school, etc. and you will find the melody sticks in your mind. You may even remember a few lyrics and include them as you sing along in your head. Bit by bit you will memorise more and more of the song’s lyrics, and will be able to use them in your speaking and written work.


You may not realise it, but watching a French film can be homework! Don’t beat yourself up about putting the English subtitles on - you will be able to keep track of the storyline as well as see instant translations of French conversations. If you enjoyed the film and don’t mind watching it again, change the subtitles into French, and so you can hear the words while reading the script. This helps develop listening, translation and pronunciation skills. The whole family can get involved too – movie night, with a French twist!

Some of my favourites include:

La Gloire de mon Père – Marcel Pagnol.

Le Château de ma Mère – Marcel Pagnol

The two films should be seen one after the other as the story unfolds over both films.

Jean de Florette – Marcel Pagnol

Manon des Sources – Marcel Pagnol

The two films should be seen one after the other as the story unfolds over both films.

It’s looking very Pagnol-heavy, I know ! The above are all set at the turn of the 20th century in the south of France.

La Haine - Mathieu Kassovitz. A gritty urban drama which won Best Director at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. It has a 15 rating, so it’s not for younger viewers. Here’s a link to IMDB’s parental guide for the film:

Intouchables - Olivier Nakache, Éric Toledano.

Ne Le Dis à Personne [sometimes sold/advertised as ‘Tell No One’ even though the film is in French – my copy has the English title on the DVD cover] – Guillaume Canet, Philippe LeFebvre, based on Tell No One by Harlan Coben. It’s a superb suspenseful thriller; it will keep you on the edge of your seat! It has a 15 rating, so it’s not for younger viewers. Here’s a link to IMDB’s parental guide for the film:

So, the information listed above should give you a lot to be going on with. If you feel you would benefit from individual practice with a private tutor please feel free to get in touch.

Happy Listening!


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