Many of you who want to learn French to then take a French level test or exam and thus validate a degree, or to prepare a placement test. Wether you intend on passing the DELF / DALF exam, the TCF or any other French level test, you'll be facing a listening test. Does this seem difficult? People do often say that the French speak too fast don’t they? And maybe you find you lack vocabulary? Don’t panic, because the messageyou need to undersatand is not only found through words. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for a listening test.
French listening exam techniques
1. Listen to French music
Learning French does not automatically rime with getting bored! We’ve already told you and will say it again, listening to French songs will make you progress and is a good way to help you with the ultimate question, “how to study for a test in French”, while having fun! Indeed, songs will help you get used to rhythm, intonation, prosody, and will make you more receptive to any oral speech. Many websites offer activities around songs: texts with missing words to complete, vocabulary activities, discussions, etc. We suggest you visit the website of TV5MONDE which offers very interesting activities around the French language: www.tv5monde.org
2. Listen to the radio
After songs, time for the radio! This is the best tool you will find to help you progress in the listening comprehension of the French language. It is true that its often formal language, and the flow is often fast, which scares many of you. But bear in mind that it is a fantastic support for current topics and thus vocabulary. In addition, modern methods now allow us to easily Podcast radio shows so you can listen to them where and when and want, and as often as you like. Besides, RFI, the International Francophone Radio, offers the daily news in easy French every night at 22h (called Le journal en français facile) ; and several times a week it also offers exercises to test your understanding from an sample of the news, titled Fait du jour (Fact of the day). You will find these suggested exercises, and transcripts corresponding to them on their website at www.rfi.fr or savoirs.rfi.fr
All of these sites allow you to learn French and study for a French test.
3. Watch TV, movies, series: all kinds of videos
Nowadays, society is based on image. It is therefore easy to find various videos through media to work on listening comprehension. The advantage of video compared to the radio, is precisely that the image facilitates understanding and allows to learn French in less formal ways.
In addition, nowadays it is possible to watch any video in its original version with subtitles. Avoid dubbed versions; prefer the original versions. You can also watch a video in French with French subtitles: you will notice that the subtitles are not always accurate, in regards to the dialogues, but they retain understandable. Learning to notice these differences is also a great exercise to work on reformulation, which we will talk about later! It is a pleasant way to study and prepare for a French test. You will even forget that you are still learning French through watching a film or any video. Gradually remove the subtitles, and you will see that it is not necessary to understand everything, to understand! You learn to take distances and you will accept the frustration of language learning.
4. Participate in public events
The advantage of public events in comparison to television or cinema is that you are also acting here. We know that our habits of viewing and listening facilitate understanding. But going to a conference, a debate, a meeting, or any other type of public event will allow you to practice the skills already learnt at home or in class, but in an authentic context. This will put you into context of the type of documents suggested in French level tests. And you can always take the opportunity to register all or part of the event, to listen to it again later.
5. Prioritise the global meaning
What often sets barriers to understanding the meaning of a hearing is the unknown vocabulary it contains. We regularly see students putting their hands to their heads at the beginning of a listening and saying “I can’t understand anything!”. Yet when we talk to them about it, we realise that in truth they panicked facing words they did not know or did not recognise. Studying for the listening of a French test is learning not to focus on misunderstandings, but instead seeking to grasp the overall meaning of the speech. For this, it is important to identify the form of the text or speech and its keywords, proper names, and numbers. This phase of observation helps realise that there is much more than the linguistic knowledge that helps to understand the situation.
6. Try to ignore the surrounding sounds
From a certain level onwards (B2), oral supports used for the listening comprehension in French level tests are authentic documents. Therefore, sometimes they contain so-called audio parasites: background noise (talking, street noise, music), a voice transformed by the recording of a telephone call, sobbing, bad recording quality, etc. These parasites certainly do complicate the understanding of the dialogue, but you must learn to concentrate on the speech itself.
7. Get used to different accents, odd voices and tones
An oral comprehension document is one or more voices. These voices can alone already give us information on the situation, the context, and therefore the listening content. Who is speaking, a child, a man, a woman, an elderly person? Where are they from: do they have a southern accent, Quebec, African, etc. ? How do they speak: their tone, do they seem excited, sad, ironic, angry, surprised, terrified, etc. ? It is undeniable that this information may help to understand the document and even answer questions from the test which sometimes carry on this type of information. It is useful to multiply the opportunities to listen to a wide variety of materials beforehand, to prepare for a French test and learn the intricacies of the language.
8. Enrich your vocabulary
Global understanding still only being the first step, it is necessary to increase your vocabulary early, in order not to panic at the time of the examination. Look for every new word’s meaning in the dictionary, check its translation in your own language, reuse it in context to help memorise it. Another tip to learning French and enrich your vocabulary: for each new word, look up the words of the same family; for example if you learn the verb “understand” also find out about the words “understanding“, “misunderstanding“, “incomprehensible“, “comprehensive”. You will see that this way you will quickly master many new words. You will be able to learn French alone and learn at your own pace.
9. Recognize and understand onomatopoeia, crutch-words and language mannerisms
“Boom! Crac! Paf! Plouf! pffff ! Oualala! “Are examples of onomatopoeia that mark any type of speech and can therefore appear in the oral comprehension exercise of a French language test. Onomatopoeias are however different from one language to another, so it is important to know the ones that are commonly used in French. Moreover, authentic and spontaneous speeches regularly have what are called crutch-words or language mannerisms in them; they are phrases without real content that sometimes just allow us to catch our breath. In French : « heu, en fait, du coup, et donc, enfin bon voilà quoi, … » are similar to “er, mmmm, well you know, see?”. Or even more complete sentences such as: “full stop” or “You know what I mean“. When the interlocutor uses these expressions, is gives time to the listener to think.
10. Understanding is not memorising
Here’s one last important fact that many learners tend to forget. In the oral comprehension part of a French level test, we are not trying to test your memory, but your capacity at understanding. So it is absolutely not necessary to use the same words or phrases that you heard in the audio presented for the exercise. What is important to make clear is the content, and the meaning of it. Don’t hesitate to reformulate! Say what you understood but in your own words.
Also note that it is easier to understand in a foreign language what we already know in our own language. So before anything, listen to the radio, read newspapers, gain general culture in your own language. This can only help you pass the test!
If it is difficult to apply all these tips alone, do not hesitate to sign up in a language school in France which will enable you to learn general French while benefiting from more individualised advice. Indeed, your teachers will be delighted to tell you how to study for a French test. A placement test will allow you to be placed in a class corresponding to your language level and thus, classroom activities will be adapted to your current skills and will help improve and deepen them perfectly. It would also be a good opportunity to practice your listening comprehension in different contexts: in the classroom, in town and at shops, and perhaps with a host family…