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Hi all

It is great to have found this forum and I have read some really interesting and helpful posts, amongst which I have already found an answer to what my original question was going to be: What is the practical difference between “nous” and “on” in every day spoken French, so I am delighted. It’s great to find people making a great effort to help each other out.

I have also been interested to read a few posts on the feasibility of learning French mainly by listening to the radio, and this is exactly what I am attempting, so I would be really interested to open a discussion on the subject and read more thoughts on this from people who have actually done it.

My story is probably quite familiar to many first language English speakers on here. I studied French for 5 years at a school in England and got a GCSE, but found that my level of spoken French at the end of it was pretty pitiful. When I went to France, anything much more than ordering a meal in a restaurant or asking for basic directions was pretty much beyond me, and I could pick out very little of what native French speakers were saying. I could go on here about how I feel the way we teach French in English schools is wrong, but that’s another post for another forum!

Anyway, years later, I met my girlfriend (now wife!), who is a first language Welsh speaker. In just one year of hearing and experiencing Welsh “in the field”, supported by some very basic study, I was already far better at Welsh than I was at French and I soon became fluent.

When I think about it, all I really did to learn was simply to actively listen to the Welsh I was hearing around me and note down words that I could pick out but not understand. Later, I would then consult a dictionary and slowly build up my vocabulary.

I have now decided to apply the same principle to French. I try to listen to “France Inter” for about an hour a day. I only started two weeks ago and I would estimate that then, I was picking out about 25% of the words, proving that those 5 years study at school weren’t totally wasted! This was an encouraging start, but I could rarely get the full gist of what was being said, just odd words, and I found the speed hard to cope with. Just two weeks later, and I feel that I have dramatically improved already. I would now put the figure around 35% and I am sometimes able to pick out full sentences. I also find the speed less of an issue and am beginning to pick out the “mood” better i.e. is a piece humorous, sad, serious, etc? As I did for Welsh, I try to remember words that I can pick out but not understand – usually 3 - 5 after each session and then look them up. There are lots of great online tools like Google translate and this site that weren’t available when I went through this in Welsh. I also try to read “Le Figaro” for half an hour or so a day. Not surprisingly, I find reading easier than listening because I can do it at my own pace and re-read bits!

As I have no one around me to actually speak French with unfortunately, I force myself to speak French in my head and also to speak out loud to the radio when I’m alone in my car!

I would really like to know what people think about this strategy? Has anyone else learned in a similar way? There is no real structure to it, but I am really enjoying it, and that is a big thing when tackling a language – making it fun and not a chore.

I would love to be able to become fluent if I can stick to it. I was lucky with Welsh because I had my own personal tutor and lots of people around that I could chat to, which I don’t have with French, but the principle of active listening for short periods and follow up short study sessions is essentially the same way I learned Welsh.

Thanks very much to anyone who reads this post. I would really welcome any thoughts and/or advice.

Kind regards


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Hello Jon, I am in the same boat.....although Welsh might tip me overboard. I am going to try the radio, but as you said it is so fast I get very easily frustrated and miserable that I have only picked up a few words.....with the right tense. I have tried watching TV5 (799) on sky with subtitles. Good luck

Key in "French cartoons with English subtitles" on Youtube.  easier sentences/vocabulary since it's for kids.  You should soon see Disney movies.  When you're ready for the radio, look for "News In Slow French" which I cited before.  I also said that I have even taped it onto a recorder that allows me to slow the speed.  Everyone goes through the struggle to delineate the words.  Once you're ready for that, put the radio on but don't try to understand it.  You'll start picking little bits up and then more but you have to be building your vocabulary at the same time (look up English words that are frequently used).  you can also find French singers and songs on Youtube.  Find the ones you like and then you can find the lyrics and read them as you listen.  you'll of course be motivated to learn the words and they'll be reinforced when you continually listen to the songs you like.  I'll just mention "L'ymne à L'amour" and "Ne me quitte pas" as two songs anyone would probably enjoy.  I recently discovered Francoise Hardy.  Enjoy some songs and the lyrics are easy.        

Excellent advice Alan. Following your earlier post, I found "News In Slow French" and a number of other podcast sites and have found these very useful.

I like this one, which offers free daily 5 minute lessons in colloquial French: -

As you say, Youtube is a fantastic resource. I really enjoy watching and studying this poem read by the legendary French comic Fernandel: -

The words are included in the description. I love studying regional accents, after all, we have a huge number of them here in the UK! It is a long way off yet, but I really look forward to being able to appreciate different French regional accents one day!

I will try to find some of those songs you recommended now.

Thank you

Thanks very much Sally - and good luck to you too! The radio is convenient for me as I spend a lot of time in the car. I really hope it works for you too. It was funny the other day because I found that I could understand everything that was being said and was really excited for a second. Then I realised that the person was actually speaking English! It was an audio clip of David Cameron!

It can be frustrating at times, can't it? It can feel that weeks go by when you don't feel you've made any progress. But in reality you are making progress without even realising it and all of a sudden you find yourself at a new level, which feels fantastic.

I am sticking to the same principles that I used to learn Welsh - consistency, patience and perseverance. I try listen to French and study it every day if possible, as I believe that short daily stints work a lot more effectively than doing nothing for a few days then having a mammoth session.

When I learned Welsh, a lot of the people who started at the same time as me had dropped out by 6 months as they didn’t feel it was working. It’s a shame they didn’t carry on because for me, the 6 month mark was when things really started to happen. By a year, I understood enough to consider myself a fluent listener, although I couldn’t think fast enough to actually verbally contribute very much! By 18 months, I was a pretty fluent speaker, although it would have been a very basic level of language with a heavy accent and lots of mistakes. Since then I have simply improved and refined it and it gets easier and easier. Now I don’t need to mentally translate into English and I can distinguish different regional accents – the language now has its own character and is not the intimidating cipher that it once was!

I would love to be able to do the same thing with French and I feel that progress is going really well. While I don’t have so many French speakers around me as I did Welsh speakers, this is made up for by the wealth of great online resources and all you wonderful people who are so ready to give your help.

Good luck to everyone!


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