I've been learning French and reading and writing it is easy. But understanding spoken French is hard because many consonants are not pronounced, and they speak so fast, blurring the entire sentence into one long string of words. I've been practicing hard to try to understand it, listening over and over again. I made some progress until I could not improve any more. I can understand simple sentences but when they speak advanced sentences fast, I either fail to hear critical vowels or they omit saying it. I am forced to fill in the missing pieces by context, but sometimes it is just impossible with so many possibilities of what the sentence should be. How do French people live with it, speaking like that?

For example the sentence:

Nous sommes plus heureux séparés.

I hear this sentence as

Nous sommes plus heure ou ses par air

because these sound the same to me when spoken fast.

Another example:

on entre ou tu sors

I fail to hear the critical word Ou and hear:

on entre tu sors

So how can I possibly improve my listening skills when vowels, and even words are omitted, and short words sound the same as other short words?

  • 6
    This question should be asked on Language Learning since it is not specific to the learning of French, you'd have the same difficulty learning other languages. And French people who learn English (but not only) have the same difficulty. "How do French people live with it, speaking like that?" : they understand one another, if their accents too different they might find understanding difficult, same in every country that have different accents.
    – None
    Aug 14, 2019 at 15:09
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    I disagree, because no other language is like French, consonant omission, very short similar sounding vowel only words, stringing words together and blurring them. I find spoken Spanish a lot easier, and Japanese as well. Most other languages are consonant based, French is vowel based, Aug 14, 2019 at 15:22
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    Each language has its difficulty. Just ask French people if they don't find English difficult to understand, they think English people swallow every other syllable. Spanish German and Finnish are a lot easier to learn for a lot of people because usually every letter is pronounced. But how you will learn how to listen and understand French is professional advice depending on your mother tongue, your background, your hearing capacity, etc., not a question that can be answered on French Language.
    – None
    Aug 14, 2019 at 15:29
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    This might make you understand better what I meant.
    – None
    Aug 14, 2019 at 15:47
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    @Con-gras-tue-les-chiens I'm inclined to disagree with that, common as the wisdom is. I think our language-learning norms have a curious focus on I-centred production rather than on You-centred listening. Of course, listening has to be done with 100% of your attention and presence to be useful. But in any case, as Laure said, that's an interesting conversation to be had on another SE!
    – Luke Sawczak
    Aug 14, 2019 at 16:57

3 Answers 3


Q - How am I supposed to understand spoken French?

A - With your ears. If for some reason, you have something stuck in them, I suggest you have whatever's blocking them removed, lip-reading will only get you so far.

Q - How do French people live with it, speaking like that?

A - We're doing fine, and have been for about a thousand years, thank you for asking.

Q - Do I fail to hear critical vowels or do they omit saying it.

A - Probably a failure on your part, I agree.

Joking aside, you do have a point about the big discrepancy between the way French is written and the way it is spoken and you have a right to be miffed about it, but still it's a bit rich coming from an English speaker given that English spelling is just as erratic and the spelling-to-sound correspondences a bit of a nightmare as well.

A bit of advice to conclude, keep at it, expand your vocabulary, the more you know, the more you will recognize.

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    Of course everything you say is perfectly correct, but I cannot see what's specific about French in this. You can replace "French" in your answer with almost any language on the planet. French Language deals with "finer points of the French language" !
    – None
    Aug 14, 2019 at 17:36
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    Enfin un peu d’humour … so British. chez Molière !
    – Personne
    Aug 14, 2019 at 18:35
  • Actually, Old french was more consonant based and more consonants were pronounced than that of today's French, So Modern french may have been around for a bit less than a thousand years. Aug 14, 2019 at 21:09
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    @Robert Tattorn I have no idea what you mean by consonant-based or vowel-based for that matter.
    – user21018
    Aug 14, 2019 at 21:39
  • It means that a lot of consonants are omitted (not pronounced) and that vowels are more important in understanding what is being said. As for a consonant based language, most consonants are pronounced and the consonants are the key to determining what is being said. Aug 15, 2019 at 1:44

Watch and listen to French as much as you can. You're on the right track, trying to understand through context. Eventually your brain will learn how to make sense of it, just as it does in English when we smush words together :-)

There's a good YouTube channel called 7 jours sur la planète that has French captions below the interview, so you can listen and match it up with what they're saying. Great way to get more familiar with French pronunciation and rhythm.

(I'm also a huge fan of Lingq.com, which has written and audio texts for you to learn from)


All your questions are those of someone who forgets that to get to the point of using his/her mother tongue easily he/she had to go through a long formation that began virtually in the cradle, kept on with kindergarten, then was made systematic through many years of elementary school and left him/her to realise then that if he/she really wanted to understand the speech of politicians and educated members of his own community he/she had to go on with many more years of high school. You have to come to grip with the fact that all those notions about learning a foreign language in 3 weeks are utterly ridiculous, absolute trash. Learning a foreign language is a long and arduous task into which you'll have to invest a lot of time if you want to do well. All I can say to you is work assiduously and be patient, everything will fall into place in due time; it's a matter of time.

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