5 tips to improve your French listening

Updated: April 24, 2021 by Mylene in Guides and Tips

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The more you understand how French people speak, and how to imitate this way of speaking, the better you’ll be at speaking and understanding conversational French.

Better Fench Listening

In this article, I’ll give several tips to improve your French listening skills. Here are the 5 steps that you need to take in order to improve your oral comprehension in French. 

Each step is detailed in the following sections.

  1. Learn the rules around the letter e
  2. Master the liaisons in French
  3. Start linking words and sounds in French (les enchaînements)
  4. Do a short exercise to improve your French listening
  5. Choose the right French audio and video

Related to this post, you can check my article on how to learn French better or these guides on Master Your French to get more tips on how to learn French faster and better.

Tips to improve Your French listening (a video)

Would you like to improve your French listening skills? In this video, I’ll give you 5 tips to improve your listening skills in French. To learn about this click to watch Improve your French listening skills with these 5 Tips.

YouTube video

Watch this video to get tips to improve your French listening skills. To follow more updates, subscribe to the YouTube channel and follow me on Instagram.

1. Learn the rules around the letter E

Spelling words with silent letters is one of the biggest challenges when learning the French language. For instance, do you know that the letter -e is pronounced in the word mercredi (pronounced: /mɛʀkʀədi/) but it isn’t pronounced in the word samedi (pronounced:  /samdi/)?

It’s one of the many rules that you must understand. In some French words, only a few of the letters are actually pronounced! The most common unpronounced letter in French is the letter -e. Here are two of the many rules of the pronunciation of the letter -e:

  1. Within a group, the letter -e generally is pronounced if it’s preceded by two or more pronounced consonants. Otherwise, the statement would not be articulated properly in a good French pronunciation. For instance you cannot say “mercrdi”. 
  2. Another example: at the end of a group, the letter -e is usually not pronounced in standard French. For example, “une table” is pronounced /yn.tabl/.

You need to learn the rules of the pronunciation of the letter -e (here is a video lesson on the pronunciation of the letter e in French).

My advice is:

  • First, learn the rules of the pronunciation of the letter -e;
  • Then, practice the pronunciation of words and sentences;
  • Soon, you’ll be able to better understand sentences when someone pronounces (or not) the letter -e.

2. Master liaisons in French

The second tip to improve your French listening skills is to understand when French speakers link words together.

When a word ends with a consonant that is normally not pronounced, a liaison is made by pronouncing the consonant if the word that follows begins with a vowel or silent -h. In making the liaison, the consonant that is pronounced becomes part of the syllable at the beginning of the word that follows.

There are specific cases and rules. There are times when a liaison is required, recommended, or when it’s forbidden. Let’s see some examples:

  1. Liaison with the S consonant: when you’re linking a subject pronoun that ends in the S consonant with a word that begins with a vowel, you have to pronounce the liaisons. In this case the liaison is pronounced /z/. French speakers do this liaison without thinking about it. For instance: vous avez. It sounds like /vu.zave/.
  2. Liaison with the preposition “en”: here is another situation where the liaison is made when speaking French. You have to pronounce the liaison between the preposition “en” and the following vowel. For instance: “en avance” is pronounced /ɑ̃.navɑ̃s/. The liaison is pronounced as the French sound /n/.

Here is my second tip to improve your French listening:

  • Learn the rules when you have to link the ending consonant of a word with the following vowel or silent -h;
  • Be aware of the sound of the liaison (ex: the liaison form of words ending in S or in X ends in /z/…)

3. Start linking words in French

Linking words together, or enchaînements in French is another way that French speakers are able to articulate so quickly but still be clear.

When you study linking and the ways French link words and sounds, it makes it easier to understand native speakers.

When a word ends with a consonant or a vowel that is normally pronounced, an enchaînement is made by linking the consonant to form a syllable with the word that follows if it begins with the vowel or silent h. Here is a video about the pronunciation of the letter h in French.

Let’s see an example:

  1. Pour elle: The consonant R in “pour” is always pronounced. The word that follows begins with the vowel -e. In this group, pronounce the letter “r” of “pour” not as part of the word pour, but rather with the “e” in “elle”. It sounds like “pou.relle”.
  2. Tu as écouté: Here is another example that shows linking words in French. In the sentence “tu as écouté”, you have an enchaînement between three vowels: u, a, é. This means that “tu as écouté” is pronounced like “tuaé.couté”.

My advice that will help you improve your French oral comprehension is that:

  • You must be aware that the enchaînements exist within a group;
  • You need to practice the pronunciation of groups and sentences with the next exercise.

You can practice the pronunciation of linking words with my YouTube videos. Here is a video specially made to practice the pronunciation of enchaînements in French.

4. Exercise to perfect your Listening

You learned the rules of the pronunciation of the letter -e, the liaisons, and the enchaînements. Now you’re ready to improve your listening with a specific listening exercise. Here are the steps for a French listening practice:

  1. Find a short audio or video clip of a native speaker that has a transcript. You need to keep it short. 10 or 20 seconds of video or audio is perfect.
  2. Listen several times to the audio/video in French. First, you need to listen without the transcript.
  3. Do your best to write down exactly what’s being said. 
  4. Compare it with the transcript. What are the words and phrases you missed? What liaison or enchaînement did you miss?
  5. Listen again and try to figure out why you missed them. When you figure out why you didn’t understand it, it’s going to help you get it next time.
  6. Repeat this exercise regularly and you’ll start making big progress with your French listening comprehension.

5. Choose the right audio or video

In the previous tip to improve your French listening skills, I asked you to listen to a video or audio as part of an exercise. However, you must be careful when you choose the audio or video. Here is why:

  • First, any audio or video must match your French listening level. Are you an intermediate or an advanced French listener? 
  • Second, you have to choose something you like, something you’re passionate about. Do you like watching French movies? Do you like cooking? Do you prefer to listen to French culture? If so you can listen to a recipe in French or a documentary about French culture. If you’re interested in the topic you’ll be fully motivated.

To sum up, this additional French listening tip is about choosing the right audio or video according to:

  • Your French level
  • Your interests
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Become a better French listener

Now that you have a better picture of what helps when working to improve your French listening skills, it’s time to provide you with the various ways that Master Your French could support your journey toward a better French listening.

If you’d like to learn how to overcome listening challenges in French you can join this online course: Better French Listening. Accessing a program that is made to help you learn French will give you the right push to take a further step to boost your French learning better and faster.

Let’s connect

These tips are simply starting points — different tips for you to start improving your French listening skills. Beyond these tips to learn French, you can watch Master Your French YouTube videos, or also follow me on Instagram for daily French practice.

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