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Daily LifeUnderstanding French

By Brad Smith

One of the toughest parts of learning a new language is understanding real people when they speak it. There are two problems: First, you need to train your brain to separate the stream of noise into words that you can understand. That takes time and practice. Second, the people who speak that language in their own country don't speak slowly, clearly or even correctly. This is true for every living language. Listen carefully to Americans speaking English and you'll hear the same thing, which your brain filters out because of the first item mentioned above.

We've talked to numerous people who have learned and mastered a second language. When asked for suggestions, the response is nearly unanimous: watch TV in that language. It's boring at first because you don't understand what they're saying, but you'll get used to hearing the language and it soaks in even though you don't consciously understand. American shows that are dubbed are difficult (Friends and The Simpsons are on Canal Satellite daily) because they have to speak fast to keep the French sound (which generally has more syllables than the English equivalent) in sync with the American actors' mouths. Most of those asked agreed that the TV news is best because it's repetetive and the pictures give you a hint of what they're talking about. If you have canal Satellite, the channel "i>Tele" has 24hr news that repeats every 30min.

We have found the magazine called Bien Dire to be a big help. It comes out every two months and is designed for "Learners of French". It has simple articles, labelled with difficulty levels 1, 2, or 3. Each article has a vocabulary list at the end of words you probably didn't know. The most important thing is that you can order it with an accompanying CD or cassette on which actors read the text verbatim. You can listen, read or both to practice your comprehension. It's very helpful.

Another website to try out is Radio France Internationale. They have streaming audio (Windows Media Player or Real Player) with news. For some audio items you can also download the transcript to help you understand what they're saying. Again, very helpful.

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