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  5. Listening- why is it so hard?!


Listening- why is it so hard?!

OK, I am a really, incredibly low level of French right now but hear me out.

So, at the moment I'm between a third to a half of my way through my German tree and I'm finding it fairly easy right now. Listening in German is fine for me as a majority of words are spoken almost exactly as to how they are written and each letter, particularly the vowels I'd say, are well defined and noticeable in each word. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that German pronunciation makes more sense to the spelling than in English.

Well, a short while ago, for the sake of just curiosity, I decided to try out French. All I can say is that translating writing was almost ridiculously easy but listening, for me, was like hearing a soundtrack of gibberish. I almost began to question how the native speakers could even understand their OWN language.

I think it was just the fact that, being so used to the simplicity I found in German pronunciation, the silent letters and crazy amounts of accents made absolutely no sense at all. To be honest, I am probably deaf to accent differences and silently non-silent syllables which unfortunately, French has quite a lot of.

Hence, I quit the course...

But now I'm back to learning it, because after all, why not? Thing is, listening is still very difficult and is obviously one of the most important parts of learning a language, if not the most in many circumstances.

So, to get to the point, can anyone tell me any way to get rid of this barrier in listening? I'd be appreciative of any help at all. :)

March 15, 2017


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I'm no expert either, but if you study and know the letter combination sounds, it gets a little better. For example "ou" is pronounced like the two Os in "moo", "au, aux, eau and eaux" is pronounced like "oh", "ois, oi, oix and oi" is pronounced like "wah", etc. Once you study like this, you are able to label the grouped letters by their specific sound; then, when you hear that specific sound, you will automatically make the connection to a particular group of letters, and it becomes easier to discover which word is being spoken. Like Ferret513 said, exposing yourself to as much audio as you can is extremely helpful, especially because of the thick accents and the fast talking. Think of it as training your ears to recognize words based on pronunciation. As well as movies, songs and podcasts, you could try cartoons! They are fun, and a little simpler in vocabulary seeing that they are designed for children :-)

March 16, 2017


Good luck studying! :-)

March 16, 2017


It takes a lot of time and practice to get used to the pronunciation. Listen as much as you can; it's really the only way to improve. Watch movies, listen to audiobooks (try LibriVox, a resource recommended to me by another Duolingo user - it's a collection of audiobooks and other texts that you can set to your target language), and, if possible, have conversations with native speakers. After a while, you'll start to get used to the pronunciation and you'll recognize different letter combinations when you hear them. It can be a struggle at first; just takes time and practice. Best of luck!

March 16, 2017


There were some studies to say that you're not imagining it, that French is indeed spoken faster than other languages. http://www.ddl.ish-lyon.cnrs.fr/fulltext/pellegrino/Pellegrino_to%20appear_Language.pdf

For French, I like to listen to presidents and prime ministers give addresses. They tend to speak slowly and carefully and enunciate their words. I can understand nothing of Québécois-talk, but strangely enough I can understand up to 90-95% of what Stephen Harper or Justin Trudeau says.

March 18, 2017


Salut. Thanks mentioning this interesting study.. Somehow felt that on average people in Latin Europe (ex. Spain, Italy, France) tend to speak faster in comparison to the ones in northern Europe.

Head many politicians receive professional training.. Late Margaret Thatcher's case is a classical example . In face there are some videos in youtube on "before-after comparison of Margaret Thatcher's speech as a matter of fact haha)

P.S: A lingot for you! =)

March 19, 2017


That is interesting, plus the cool tip. I took French in high school and my first year teacher said that the French, particularly Parisians didn't like to drag out words. For emphasis they'd prefer to repeat the word, some of that getting encoded into the creation of new words. Such as bonbon for candy.

March 18, 2017


I'm struggling as well, so I'm no expert, but this is what I do: I learn the rules of speaking separately from the rules of writing. For example:

In writing, you write: je ne sais pas.
In speaking, you say: jen sais pas = jen sai pa.

In writing, you write: un grand amour
In speaking, you say un grand tamour

In writing, you write: il est
In speaking, you say: i lest = i le

Once you know the rules, it gets easier. It's like learning two languages in one :-(

There is an awesome book called Les 500 exercices de phonetique. It breaks down these rules, and it has audio to go with each exercise. You can download it at https://archive.org/details/Les500ExercicesDePhonetique

I believe archive.org is a legal site but I'm not sure. If I'm wrong, someone please tell me.

March 16, 2017


You are correct. They are careful with copyright issues. Thank you for the resource.

March 16, 2017


Fall in love with a French girl (or a French boy). Everything will become easier.

March 16, 2017


Oui, absolument! =) One can definitely enjoy luxury of real-time feedback, corrections and tutoring on his or her French writing and speaking from a mother tongue!

March 17, 2017


Spoken French is simpler than written French, words that are written differently might have the same pronunciation, but it is still phonetic. The resources explaining the pronunciation rules are easily found with google or on youtube or in a grammar book.

I should mention though, I always disable the type-what-you-hear exercises as I don't find them helpful in learning a language, and they take up time.

I use these settings:
Microphone:off, Speaker:off, Voice autoplay:on, Sound effects:on

key combos:
ctrl+space = replay audio

March 16, 2017


Salut! A million dollar question it is. You are not the only one struggling here.. lol =) Well, others already shared very valuable tips and I agree with them 100%. Just want to add or emphasise the below points further:

1) Recommend watching children's cartoons in French frequently at first: Voice actors and actresses are trained people to speak the language with a lot more clarity and precision than average French native speakers. Thus easier to catch for non native speakers and a good role model to follow to improve your speaking (ex. la liaison, tone, speed etc.)

2) Do know it sounds somewhat frightening for beginners yet still recommend boldly listening to / watching contents that are 100% in French w/o subtitles in your native language regardless of how little you understand. Such stepping out of your own comfort zone often helps you to unleash your hidden power in you. On the other hand, audios and videos designed with too much consideration for non native speakers (ex. French spoken super slowly, scripts/subtitles in your own native language, your French teacher literally spoon-feeding you too much in English) prevent you from doing so.

3) Recommend more videos than listening to "audios only" in the beginning as videos are more straight forward in teaching which context and situation(s) your newly learned expressions are used. (Some might argue that audios have less distraction than video though...)

4) I believe the other 3 skills (writing, reading and speaking) are all tied to one's listening ability in one way or another. (Specially listening and speaking) Thus if you are already doing the best you can to improve your listening skills yet not satisfied with progress made each day, you may make extra efforts on improving the other 3 which very likely will result in some byproducts of improved listening skills soon or later, I think.

March 17, 2017


What has helped me has been watching French shows with French subtitles. By watching French subtitles I am able to match the spoken words with how they are written.

There is a show on YouTube - Extra for French. Some of the episodes have nicely done French subtitles. If you don't see the subtitles, look for a cc button at the bottom and turn it on. Be aware that all subtitles are not accurate. Find the shows that have good French subtitles. There are plenty. Also, you can rewind or pause if the dialogue is going too fast. After a little while you will begin to "see" the words you're hearing even without subtitles.

There is also a YouTube called "150 dialogues" that has written conversations which you can read as you follow along with the speakers.

March 21, 2017


You may also want to look up the "French in Action" videos on YouTube. There are, I think, 52 episodes. French in Action was a teaching method developed in the 1980s at Yale. All or most of the videos are exclusively in French, with lots of repetition and visuals to help you grasp the grammar and vocab. The story line is totally corny, but it's become something of a cult classic among people who took classes where it was used. There's a book that goes with it, which you can probably get on eBay; using that to follow along with the videos is helpful.

March 23, 2017


It's my most difficult skill too, by far. One thing I do sometimes is to listen to French news on an app. They repeat themselves periodically, so if I don't catch it this time, I'll catch it the next time, or the time after that. Moreover, I don't really worry about catching it all. Even just having it on in the background, gets one used to it. There are a number of apps, including News in Slow French.

March 17, 2017


Listening to french is very hard for me, the words sort of blur together. You just have to practice. I live in a bilingual area and I've been very slow to understand when people are talking to me. First I couldn't understand at all, then I got used to some of the people who were speaking French to me daily, then I started picking up simple conversation. It comes with time.

Funnily enough, some of the French speakers, despite being fluent in English, couldn't understand me at times because of my accent! So you're not alone in having issues with listening.

March 17, 2017


I have had similar difficulties, and though I am still working on it, the best advice I can give you is to keep listening. Even if you have no idea what they are saying, you eventually start to familiarize yourself with the sounds of the language. As another commenter said, LibriVox is a great place to listen to audio books and if you can find any French movies, they can be helpful too. Also, I have found listening to music in French is an enjoyable way to get used to the pronunciation.

March 17, 2017


I'm still struggling with this too. I try to listen to a lot of spoken French with cd's, dvd's, and internet. I'm getting better, but have a long way to go.....I can just imagine how someone learning English would struggle.

March 18, 2017
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