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Hard to Hear Every Word in the French Conversation? Do this!

So, do you constantly have the feeling that you can’t hear what the French say? You’re not alone.

I received this question from Denis, in my Facebook group:

“Hearing and understanding French conversation at normal speed is a challenge. I understand a lot if spoken slowly and can read French quite well. What can I do to improve my ability to hear French in conversation?”

This is a question that comes to me very frequently, in different forms. Even yesterday, from Brenda and Robert. The other day from Tina. It really boils down to one question: why am I able to read and write, but I don’t understand the conversation at the normal speed? And what can I do about it? Want to feel more confident not just hearing the French speak but understanding what they say so that you can feel confident when you answer back?

Read the article below for my 3-step bullet-proof technique:

3 Step Bullet-Proof Technique to Understanding Every Word

If this is you, I’d like to say that you are not alone.

Hard to hear? It is absolutely normal – this is how the brain works. Reading and writing are the easiest. Understanding a few words is also quite natural, but putting the words together at a high speed, and in the heat of the conversation is the ultimate challenge.

Our ear needs to be trained. And this takes more or less time, and it’s different for everybody. Of course, it depends on how much you expose yourself to French, and listening to podcasts, TV or audiobooks certainly helps.

The ears have to actually grow receptacles for the French sounds, and that does take time. Don’t be hard on yourself, keep listening AND speaking out loud, because what we hear from other people (or any outside source) is different than what we hear from our own voice.

However, when we are in the heat of the conversation, so many factors come to play. We are most concerned about what WE are going to say, the person may have a different speech pattern which we’re not yet used to, we may not know their vocabulary, etc.

Here is my 3-step bullet-proof technique that I used when I worked for “The Shopping Channel” and I was receiving calls from Québec, from people speaking with an accent (and vocabulary) I didn’t understand.

Step 1

Listen for known words.
Let the person speak, and pick the words you do understand.

Step 2

Ask a question about the word you did understand.
They will either say it slower (which will help you hear it easier) or use a different expression (helpful in the case you didn’t know that word at all).

Step 3

Keep speaking slower.
By asking these questions, you will interrupt the person’s speed and they will slow it down naturally, which will help you hear their French better. Meanwhile, keep your own speed down, so that the conversation overall takes on a slower, more comfortable speed for you.

Of course, you can ask them to slow down for you, with the embarrassing (for some) explanation « Je suis novice, pourriez-vous parler plus lentement, s’il vous plaît ? »

You may be surprised to see that, no matter how willing they are, they will slow down at first, then pic-up the speed again. It’s just natural, people who are not trained to slow down so that they help you understand (which I do with my clients) will simply forget to speak slower.

If you want to slow down the conversation with the French, and keep it down, stay with your own speed at all costs.

Speak slower so that you accommodate your own pronunciation – focus on the clarity of your speech instead. A conversation has the average speed of the two speakers, so it may be slower for the French, but gradually become too fast for you, so keep the speed down for yourself, and you’ll dictate a more comfortable level of conversation.

Let me give you an example

If your French friend tells you:
« J’aime fêter mes petites réussites avec un café gourmand. »

If you didn’t understand the word « réussites » (you didn’t hear it well, or simply you don’t know it), ask them:
« Qu’est-ce que vous avez fêté avec un café gourmand ? »

They will slow down to answer your question, and most likely use another word or expression or more details about « la réussite »:
« Quand je finis un projet important, je prends un café gourmand à mon café favori. »

Not convinced that slowing down your own pace will slow down the pace of the entire conversation?

Let me give you a fun example

Remember “The Godfather”?
Who speaks slower, the authority or the “little people”?
Exactly! The Godfather speaks slower and softer, drawing in his audience, demanding respect.
That’s what happens in life too – he who speaks slower draws the attention to what they are saying. Speaking slower says that you are calm, collected and you know what you are doing. You just need to keep a comfortable speed, and you’ll see how the French will slow down the speed of the conversation naturally to what you need.

Immerse yourself as you FINALLY reach your dream of becoming bilingual, learn to speak Parisian French, and BREAK your language barrier!

…and now Please Share this post with your friends. They’ll love you for it!

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Llyane S.
TutorOcean Tutor | + posts

Hi, I'm Llyane! I am a french tutor licensed by the Ministry of Education France who is also in the process of obtaining n the process of obtaining the International Certificate of Language Coaching. I offer personalized French language coaching for students of all ages and abilities.

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