Listening to people speak French without any visual cues can be one of the hardest skills to pick up as a language learner. Podcasts come in all levels, from short bursts of French followed by English explanations, to full-on history lectures and news. There’s something out there for your level. Don’t worry about not catching every single word, many French podcasts have free transcripts available that you can review. If you’re finding the host speaks too quickly, don’t forget most podcast apps let you adjust the speed of the playback. It does stretch out some sounds, but it can make the difference between keeping up and getting entirely lost. In this article, we will introduce you to the best free podcasts for learning French.
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The Daily French Pod also takes its content from the news, but on a smaller scale. Each episode is about four minutes long and features a few sentences in French taken from the news. They are spoken very slowly and clearly. The host then takes half the time to repeat words and phrases several times, with their English translations. Some words are defined more fully, and the host uses them in example sentences. You can read transcriptions of each of the French sections on their website. This short podcast would be too simple for intermediate and advanced students. However, the vocabulary is interesting and comes straight from the news.
Radio France International is a public broadcaster working in French and 12 other languages, along the lines of the BBC World Service. Their Journal en français facile is part of their French learning department. It is a real news podcast that goes out every weekday. They are featuring several hosts and covering two to three news topics. The hosts speak very clearly, enunciating each word, but beginner language learners may still find them too quick to follow. You can find full transcripts on the rfi site as well.
If you’re finding these short podcasts hard to get into, try Hugo’s popular intermediate level podcasts. At 30-40 minutes each, they are nothing but listening comprehension, with Hugo holding forth on various subjects inspired by the news or discussions of French history and culture. There’s no breakdown of grammar or explanations of vocabulary here, just Hugo chatting in clear, enunciated French for a full half-hour. You can find transcripts for each episode on his site by registering for his email newsletter.
This history podcast from French radio station Europe 1 is not specifically for language learners, but I find host Jean des Cars easy to listen to, and the dramatic storytelling very engaging. You can find the transcripts on the Europe 1 site, if you find it easier to follow along with the text as you listen. Des Cars focuses on monarchs and castles in his podcast, but fills in the story with plenty of historical context. He includes a bibliography at the end of the transcript if you’d like to learn more. Definitely on the intermediate to advanced end of the listening spectrum, these podcasts are so fascinating, it’s worth working through an episode even if you find it challenging.
Hosted by an Irish secondary school French teacher, these podcasts also feature several native French speakers who read out short texts on everything from gardening to Brexit. Each podcast runs for 15 minutes, with the native speaker running through the prepared text in the first half, and the French teacher explaining points of vocabulary and grammar in the second half. These podcasts are free. However, if you’d like the transcript, you need to sign up on their website and pay a fee. You will find podcasts for every level on their website.
You are an advanced learner and you want to explore the podcast experience further? Here are some “real French podcasts” you could be interested in.
You could listen to documentary podcasts like LSD or Les Pieds sur terre, both on the France culture website. The first one relates to life experiences, cultural, political, international, or economic topics. The second one posts a 30-minute episode every day and talks about true stories told in the first person.
If you are interested in the feminist cause, listen to podcasts like La Poudre or Les couilles sur la table. In the first one, they invite inspirational woman artists, activists, scientists and politics to talk about their stories and struggles. Some episodes have even been recorded or dubbed in English! The second one is a podcast about masculinity and sexism from the point of view of men to bring the discussion forward on feminism.
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Erin McGann is a Canadian freelance writer focusing on travel, living abroad, parenting, history, and culture. After nearly a decade living in the UK, Erin settled in Heidelberg, Germany with her husband and son. Dragging her family to every castle and open-air museum is a favourite activity, along with sewing, archery, and historical reenactment. You can check out her travel blog, and follow her obsession with half-timbered houses on her Instagram account.