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Improving listening skills with Sans Famille

This is my first post here; I would just like to share my experience with audio-books and free audio software to improve listening comprehension in a foreign language (in this case French).

Having studied French for a while (grammar, course-book etc),and read some books (I'm a fan of Maigret), I wanted to get acquainted with the sound of the language. An obvious choice was to listen to audio-books. The first was "Sans Famille" by Hector Malot (1830-1907). It is a touching story about an abandoned boy and the search for his real family, his adventures through France and his friends. The language is a little archaic but easy to understand and well suitable for a learner of French. You can find the audio here : Sans Famille audio, from litteratureaudio.com. (13h 10min)

Ok, I had the audio-book, now the second step was to use a specific audio-book player for language learners, “WorkAudioBook” http://workaudiobook.com/. This application is free for Windows (there is also a paid version for Android). The app is together an audio player and ebook reader (provided you have the subtitles -the text- of the audio). WorkAudioBook loads an MP3 and automatically segments it up into sentences based on the short silences that occur between sentences and links each audio segment to the corresponding susbtitles. Let's suppose we have an audiobook with subtitles. We open an audiobook MP3, the corresponding subtitles file, if it exists, will be opened too (it is a html file -with additional information- with the same name of the MP3 and located in the same folder). Now (1)you listen to the first phrase from a audiobook and try to understand it, (2) you can listen to it again, perhaps several times, (3) you can read the text of the phrase (subtitles) and use a lookup dictionary for unknown words, (4) move on to the next phrase of the audiobook and so on. These are the basic functions of the program, for more information see the homepage of the developer. I only want to mention the option "Show always" switched off to hide the subtitles. Sounds illogical? As soon as there is a text on the screen our lazy brain starts to read instead of listening. It is useful to listen to the audio without seeing the text, and only when you are lost, click to peer into it. To see the subtitles for the selected fragment press in the subtitles area. Subtitles will disappear when you move onto the next fragment. Also you can hide them by quickly pressing again in the subtitles area.

Now, I had the MP3 of the book from litteratureaudio.com and a good audiobook-player (WorkAudioBook). And the subtitles for the audio? ... I made them! (and 13 hours of subtitles was a hard work). Here are the subtitles that I made for the corresponding audio files above: subtitles (860 KB). The archive has two folders (html and srt) corresponding to the format of the subtitles: the html format is read by WorkAudioBook, the SRT format is read by many audio-players (if you wish to use another audio-player). Put the MP3 files and the html subtitles-files in the same folder and then open a MP3 file with WorkAudioBook.

Listening to a complete audiobook, reading it, looking up new words has been a fascinating adventure that I would like to share with you.

August 28, 2015



Good post. I have been meaning to do a post myself on this particular audio-book because it's a very good reading of a classic children's book.

Sadly, the reader Victoria has passed away since she completed this recording project. She did a lot of readings for literatureaudio.com (which exists to make recordings for blind and vision impaired people) and was very much loved.


I am very pleased that you remember Victoria here. Perhaps because this was my first extended exposure to the language, but French is for me indissolubly tied to her voice now.


Wow, this sounds great. I am currently working on speaking in French so this has arrived at the right time. Blessings galore!


Thats nice, really nice. Haven't tried that yet. Should try that some time.


Thanks! Good post. And great choice of book to read / listen to.


Thank You! An excellent resource.


I have been listening to this the last several days and really enjoy it! It's a wonderful resource.


Thank you so much for posting this!!! +1 Lingot


That was an awesome post!!!☺️ Very inspiring! I have read about Victoria. She is an interesting person!


Merci beaucoup! :)))))


Thank you so much! I didn't know there was an audio available; this was the very first book I ever read in French, back in my first year of the language, and I always liked it. (Well, we read the abridged version... years later, I got a copy of original full-length story and read that too.)

Has anyone seen the movie with Pierre Richard as Vitalis? To be honest I liked the book better than the film, but it was interesting to see the movie for comparison.


Thank you for sharing. The workbook audio part seems a bit more complicated so I just look up the text version of the book on another free site: beq.ebooksgratuit.com and follow along.

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