6 Developing listening skills
As you progress through your learning, you will become more and more familiar with the general sound of the French language, and with some pronunciation rules. This will progressively help you improve your listening skills. As part of a beginners’ French course, you will also engage in activities specifically designed to help develop your listening skills.
The key difference between listening and reading is the time you have available to process the material. When you are deciphering a written text you usually have time to re-read it, or go over sections to check that you fully understand. When you listen, however, you are more likely to be in a situation where you need to recognise words and phrases instantly so that you don’t miss what is coming next. Consider, too, that the kind of language you listen to will probably be different from the language that you read. For example, in casual conversations people use a different, less formal level of language. They will pause or repeat themselves, you will hear ‘filler’ sounds (like ‘umm’ in English or ‘euh’ in French) or words (such as ‘kind of…’ and ‘like’ in English, or tu sais and en fait in French) and unfinished sentences. These can act to your advantage, as you get a little more time to process what you hear, and if you pick up these French filler words yourself, you can use them to give yourself time to think as well.
It’s fundamentally important that you are prepared for how the language will sound when you hear it. You will do this through your studies, but it’s a good idea to think about the other opportunities available to immerse yourself in the French language, and to take advantage of them. You could, for example, watch some French-language films with subtitles. While you read the subtitles, listen carefully to the dialogue to develop a ‘feel’ for how it sounds. You could occasionally listen to French-language radio or watch French-language TV; as a beginner you won’t be able to understand the content, but you will get used to the sound and rhythm of the language. Another very enjoyable way of developing your listening skills is through music. Look up some French artists in the genres that you like and start listening to French songs (and maybe learn to sing along with them!). One great advantage of listening to music is that there are often repeated phrases, so you can imitate the sounds and repeat them. All of this will improve your listening skills while having fun.