Is Brian with the monkey?

It’s interesting to note that the content of language learning has been brain-numbingly boring for ever. Why is it that for a million years the French have been forced to dwell upon the presence or not of Brian in various bits of his house, whilst the English have to be able to identify a monkey in a tree?

There’s an interesting episode of WRS’s Word of Mouth this week that really made me laugh. ‘My tailor is rich’ is the English sentence which has passed into French culture at the oddest opportunities – film, song, name of band. I recommend listening to it here and the standup comic who discusses the existential aspects of Brian can be heard here. It’s in French, but would I send you anywhere without English subtitles? Absolutement not!

Meanwhile, I can’t recall if I’ve linked to this before, but there is no grass is greener here. The English have it just as bad learning French – Duolingo ought to be ashamed of themselves for the stuff they make people ‘learn’ on their site. Eddy Izzard’s sketch on learning French is deservedly famous. See it here.


Listening comprehension continued

FLE has a youtube channel which includes a large number of videos which consist of the text of simple dialogues and the audio – the list of these is here. My suggestion for using these is to first play the audio without looking at the text, see what you can get from just listening and then going over it again looking at the text – even if you recognised it from the audio, you’ll get a lot out of looking at it at the same time as listening, the two processes being so entirely disconnected. If you don’t look, you’ll have no idea how the words are spelled.

CIEL has nice listening comprehension exercises here, starting at A1 and going up to B1.

RFI Journal en française facile is news read slowly by French standards. It feels both faster and more difficult than the News in Slow French podcast, but it has a complete transcription and that makes it invaluable for learning to recognise spoken French.

RFI also has a learning section which, as one might expect for a radio station, has a lot of audio complete with some involvement on the listener’s part to show comprehension. It starts at A1 and ends at B2.






Listening comprehension

I’m back in Geneva after some months in Adelaide during which, despite my best intentions, I did NO French! I’m trying to make up for that now and I’ve decided to put this  topic at the top of my list of things to do. ‘Listening comprehension’. Everybody says it’s the hardest thing to do, much harder than talking because when you talk you at least know what you are trying to say. But somebody starts talking at  you? If running was something I did, I would.

So, I’m looking around the internet for resources and here are a few to start with.

From the great site Bonjour de France come some very VERY simple listening exercises with a few questions to answer if you with to demonstrate to yourself that you really did get what was going on. Comprendre une invitation is a small series of short conversations about invitations. Others include Présentation d’un professionnel and une journée typique au collège. This site also has some oral DELF practice exercises such as here. Disappointingly the audio is sometimes missing from oral comprehension exercises on Bonjour de France.

Lawless French also has oral comprehension starting from the simplest level such as this A1 proficiency test. You can find them all the A1 audio here. I think she takes the videos from elsewhere, but adds translation and places to go next to explore the grammar etc found in the audio.

Parapluie French is a new site to me – it goes to show however far you dig on the internet, there is always something a bit further down to discover. Monsieur Parapluie (who knows?) has a youtube channel which contains some typical French learning videos – discussing grammar, that sort of thing. But he also has some terrific listening comprehension videos. There are three guided listening videos, where the learner starts off just listening and hoping for the best, but then it is all dissected, discussed, analysed. He also has something called A La Une, which is learning from the news. There are three so far in this series and may there be more. Again, you listen first and then the whole thing is analysed.

The first thing I listened to on Parapluie was a radio discussion of pocket money for children. To my surprise, although I scarcely recognised a word, when we then went through it with the transcript, I could see that I could easily understand the written words.

That’s the gap, then, that I’m trying to address now. Along the way, I can see I’ll pick up other stuff too. One of the A La Unes compares the speech of the French President after the US election, with that of Le Pen. The one is reserved and clearly not happy, the other pleased as punch. It was really interesting to be given the comparison, the way in which language and sound is used to convey the sentiment. This is the sort of thing that is hard to appreciate in another language, at least as a beginner, so I thoroughly recommend the video.

I think that Parapluie’s methods of approaching listening comprehension are great and I do hope he comes up with more in the future.





An app for practising French speaking

My practise French speaking app is now up and running with 900 utterances all taken, as mention in my previous post, from Tex’s French Grammar.

It does not run on phones/tablets and it has not been tested except on Chrome and Firefox.

You may wish to log in as a guest, that is to say anonymously, in which case you go here:


username: guest
password: leave blank

A sign will come up asking for permission to access your microphone. You have to say yes. Please note that your voice is being recorded. Logging in as ‘guest’ means you are anonymous.

If you would prefer, you can ask me for a unique username and password. This would be great for the guys at Geneva uni who have developed the system as they may be able to use the data. They do things with it like try to measure how people are learning. It could be that you can also get some information back at some point if you do get a  unique username.

After you sign in, you see this:


Without any ado, the course starts at the beginning with this statement, which may look boring, but is fun for me because my boyfriend is very curious as to who this Robert is 🙂

You can at this point (or at any time) go to ‘Select Lesson’ on the left. Yes, it is a bit slow to load the lesson menu. Pick one! Then start.

Please note: once you are in the course, all the tabs left and right of the screen are irrelevant except for SELECT LESSON. Ignore them all!

It is for practising pronunciation and fluency. You look at what you have to say, you listen to the audio. You practise and perhaps also play the help and speak at the same time trying to match Eric, the audio help. You do this as often as you like, without getting the guilts because you are boring a human being to death. Eric is a real person, but as we have just recorded his voice, he can happily go about his life while you listen to him as often as you like!


When you feel confident, you click the record button AND HOLD IT DOWN while you speak. Then you STOP HOLDING THE BUTTON DOWN. When you play the audio help, you do that by pressing the button but not holding it down, so it is different from one button to the other. Sorry!

For a further discussion of how the interface works, go to the previous post. (This is not a tool for practising translation. Whether or not you think that you know a way to translate the English into French, you do need to look at the help and speak the French that is provided.)

I don’t know how it goes with built in microphones, I’ve only used a headset. If you are having consistent problems with recognition, that may be why.

There is no difference in standard between the different units from a pronunciation point of view. There is no point in doing it in any particular order. I’ve been jumping around, doing a bit here and a bit there. The grammar sections are not boring, even though they have boring looking names.

If you try it out, please leave a comment, feedback would be great!






My practise-speaking-French app

There is an amazing amount you can get online free for learning French. However, given that I set out to learn French more or less entirely online, what was lacking for me was something to help with pronunciation and fluency. Everybody kept telling me I could only get that by talking to real people, but I had an idea that I could create something that would help.

Most importantly, I wanted

  • real human voices, not synthesised speech. Ugggh. Hate the sound of it.
  • interesting things to say

So, I’ve made my own practising French speech app.

  • It consists of units ranging from a few words to about twenty, over one or several sentences.
  • You get an English prompt showing you what you are going to say in French.
  • You then click on help to see the French version and hear how it is pronounced.
  • You can play that as often as you want to, and speak along with the audio.
  • The audio is in slow clear French.
  • Then when you are ready, you click on record and try it on your own. The voice recogniser will either give you a red frame indicating you should try it again, or a green one, which means yay, it got what you said! Then it moves on to the next.

There is no such thing (yet) as an infallible speech recogniser. Use your judgement, having heard your own voice back, and decide if it’s okay to move on.

This is not supposed to teach you French, only help with pronunciation. However, the text is all taken from the hugely popular Tex’s French Grammar and I don’t think you could use it without picking up some French knowledge while (hopefully) improving  your pronunciation. It is loosely arranged into ‘lesson’ units on topics like:



But it is also, as those who use the site will know, useful and witty. You aren’t going to learn how to get to the museum or where the nearest bank is. If you want to learn how to say really boring things in French, this app may not be for you.


callslt screenshot

For those who are familiar with Tex’s French Grammar, it is based on a group of characters, starring Tex who is a poet, his girlfriend Tammy and Bette who is trying to get in on the act. Tex and Tammy are armadillos while Bette is, of course, a cat. All the characters are animals. I didn’t have a good way of keeping that in the app, but it will be obvious from time to time as you work through it.

The audio is by a native speaker and at the moment is all in slow, clear French at a pace that a beginner can hope to imitate. Soon I’ll be adding audio at normal speed as well.

So far there are 900 utterances.

In the pipeline:

  • A mirror course, English for French speakers
  • it would be very easy for other people to turn it into other languages as well or to create prompts in their own language in order to facilitate learning French
  • an additional format that is more interactive, allowing conversation
  • normal speed audio as well as slow
  • option of a female voice audio

I’m checking it out today to make sure it’s all up and running okay and will do a post with a link to the content tomorrow so you can try it out if you want.






Dictation…the perfect workout

I love doing dictation. It means practising comprehension and writing. You can also practise speaking as well, imitating in time with the dictator’s voice. Perfect!

My favourite site so far is L’éducation pour tous. It’s in levels – I’m onto level 2 now. You listen to a short piece of dictation and write what you hear. You can listen at normal speed and/or at a slow speed with repetitions. After you’ve finished you click through to a screen which assesses what you have done, tells you how many mistakes you have made and where they are. Here you can also see the actual text if you want, or you can go back to the dictation screen and try again based on the feedback you’ve been given. It does expect you to provide correct punctuation, which is very handy for being able to gain an understanding of when something might be an exclamation, for example.

When you have finished it correctly, it congratulates you – very exciting when this happens first time, no corrections to be made! – and you then move on to the next.

Another site which is very similar is TV5monde’s Dictée d’Archibald. It is also arranged in levels starting at A1. It’s much harder,  even at what they call A1, so I suggest starting with L’éducation and completing some of the levels there first.

Not for the first time, it is interesting to see what huge variance there can be in the assessment of the levels A1….C2.


The Language Gym

I’ve been wondering lately why people who commute by public transport don’t use that time to do a brain workout. I’m guessing that instead they spend that time doing rather mindless things, liking photos on facebook or playing games with frogs in them.

Say you have a thirty  minute commute. Spend that time doing a chess or a bridge problem, reading something challenging, doing a cryptic crossword. Or, learning a language. Thirty minutes a day isn’t going to make you a killer French speaker, but you will be learning something (instead of nothing) and it’s good for your brain.

Coincidentally, I’ve just come across The Language Gym. It caters to various languages including French and consists of three sections:

  • verb trainer – every brain doing language needs a personal verb trainer
  • workouts
  • games room

It ranges from easy to challenging, you can pick your level.

My commuting advice is stop listening to music, which is the most passive thing you could be doing, stop playing rote games, stop hanging out on social media. You take your body to the gym because you know you should. This isn’t any different. Your brain will appreciate some new and fun demands being made of it in exactly the same way.