Best News Podcasts to Learn French through Real-World Content
Podcasts have been around for twenty years, but it has only been the last few years that they have become mainstream with more and more people listening to them. Podcasts are convenient – they can be listened to on your phone or in your car, streamed on your laptop, cast to your TV or smart speakers – and most are free. For these reasons they make a great resource for learning a language.
Media groups were amongst the first to latch on to podcasts, especially for broadcasting news programs. Now news podcasts are one of the most popular podcast categories, as people move away from getting their news fix from traditional sources like reading a physical newspaper or listening to a radio. For French learners who want to incorporate authentic, real-world material into their learning regime, listening to French news podcasts is a great way to power up your studies.
French news podcasts
Beginner French news podcasts
Unfortunately there are not a lot of French beginner podcasts with a news focus out there at the moment. However, as I noted above, podcast popularity has only recently started growing, so in a year or two, we may see enterprising French educators take advantage of the gap here and develop materials targeted at beginners to learn French by podcast.
Probably the best podcast to learn French for beginners is News in Slow French. They have podcasts tailored to the beginner, short 3-to-4-minute podcasts, with transcripts, flashcards, and quizzes. Unfortunately there are no free resources, and the subscription rate is not cheap ($US20 a month).
An alternative for beginners and elementary learners who want to access authentic news and current affairs material might be to use a resource like Newsdle. They are not podcasts, but they are news articles with audio to listen along. And a subscription is only half the cost of News in Slow French (even less if you buy a longer-term subscription).
Intermediate French news podcasts
Once you reach a level where you can express a few opinions in French and can understand the gist of a conversation or a talk spoken in a clear manner, then it’s an exciting time to be a language learner. A whole world of listening opportunities now opens up for you, including the following intermediate French podcasts.
Not specifically a French news podcast, the host Hugo Cotton talks on a wide range of topics, from culture and literature to technology and language. He also occasionally looks at current affairs and news topics like the French presidential election, the ‘yellow jacket’ movement, and COVID-19. The reason I recommend him is because he is a qualified French teacher with experience in developing French learning materials. This experience becomes obvious with both the accessible content and clear delivery of his podcasts. Most of his resources, including transcripts are available for free, though you will need to create an account to access the transcripts.
These French podcasts provide 10-minute summaries of the news of the day and include transcripts to follow along. An excellent resource for news junkies and it’s free.
One of the most popular French podcasts they cover a range of topics, mainly on culture and science but also on economics. A great resource for intermediate level students because not only are they short but they have transcripts.
Swedish media group UR creates a lot of educational material, including language learning podcasts. Nouvelles en français facile are published about twice a month, and the language level is very clear and easy to understand. However there are no transcripts.
This long-running French podcast recently came to an end, but of course the whole backlog is still available to listen to. The host, Vivian, took a different approach to the news, explaining to French learners the language used in news headlines in a clear and informative way. You can also find transcripts to the podcasts on her oui-speakfrench.com website.
These are very brief podcasts, around 3 minutes, and cover an eclectic range of topics, and come with full transcripts on their website.
Advanced French news podcasts
If your French is at a high level, there’s no reason to not listen to French news podcasts targeted at native French speakers. As long as you can understand around 80 percent of the podcast, then listening to high level French podcasts will only improve your French proficiency.
- Les Actus du Jour – Hugo Decrypte
Hugo Travers, journalist and popular YouTuber, also produces daily podcasts that cover the news of the day in just over ten minutes.
Different journalists from Le Parisien newspaper look at issues making the news.
Another very popular French podcast created by journalists from a French newspaper, this one the Echos finance newspaper.
A fact-checking podcast in French by Radio France. No transcript but I like how they provide background information to accompany the podcast on the France Info website.
A podcast produced by RTS (Radio Television Suisse), so a good choice if you’d like to hear a French news podcast from another Francophone country.
A podcast series from L’Express. No transcripts, but if you access from L’Express website they provide links to articles related to the podcast topic.
A podcast series from Le Monde. Like the L’Express podcasts, there are no transcripts, but the website provides links to related articles.
A daily podcast in French from Agence France Presse (AFP), the France-based international news agency.
French news podcasts on Spotify
Spotify is one of the easiest ways to access podcasts, and many of the French news podcasts mentioned above can be accessed on Spotify. In addition, simply type in the Search bar “actualités françaises” and dozens of additional podcasts come up. The list below is just a sample of the best French podcasts for you to explore.
- Europe 1’s Le journal
- Radio France’s Journal de 08h00
- France 24’s weekly Une semaine dans le monde
- Radio France’s Les informés
- Radio France’s Géopolitique
- Australian news broadcaster SBS’ podcast SBS French
- Pile dans l’actu
Strategies for using podcasts to learn French
Where to access podcasts
Podcasts can be accessed directly from the web or by using platforms like Spotify (see above), Amazon and Apple, or mobile phone apps like Google Podcasts and Podcast Player. YouTube too will be positioning itself as a podcast player of choice, and once it puts its substantial resources behind it, I’d expect it to be a useful source for content (but not just yet).
Active learning rather than passive learning
It might be tempting to use French podcasts as background noise while you do other things, and though it won’t do any harm, your French progress will be slow. As French is not your native language, you will need to give your full attention to what has been said to get the best results.
Use transcripts to read along while listening
I’ve noted above the podcasts which provide transcripts, and these are an indispensable ally. Transcripts help both reinforce vocabulary and improve your listening skills by matching the sounds you hear with the words you read.
Create vocabulary lists to help you learn
You will inevitably come across a lot of new and unfamiliar vocabulary, and unless you have a photographic memory, you’re not likely to remember these words unless you write them down and make an effort to commit them to memory. Fill a notebook with vocabulary lists, create physical flashcards, or use electronic ones that come with spaced repetition software like Anki or the paid version of Quizlet.
Transcribe what you hear
Writing down what you hear (or what you think you hear) is a powerful method to fine tune your listening skills. If you do it over time you might discover there are particular sounds you have trouble distinguishing, for example the French ‘an’ and ‘on’ nasal sounds, or the different pronunciations of the ‘e’ sound, or the contractions that are natural in spoken French.
Just be wary that transcribing is a slow and demanding process, so the moment you find it getting tedious or frustrating is the moment to stop. Language-learning needs to be interesting or fun or else it just becomes a chore to be abandoned.
The ‘Shadowing’ technique
Some of the polyglots and language educators I follow recommend the shadowing technique when listening to audio. Shadowing is repeating in real time what you hear, trying to exactly copy the pronunciation and intonation of the native speaker. Its practitioners believe that it is a more effective method than the pause and repeat method for mimicking pronunciation. The theory behind shadowing is that by just focusing on the sounds that you hear rather than their meaning, the method will really improve your pronunciation as well as your ‘ear’ for the language.
The concept of shadowing sounds easy but it’s actually a very tricky exercise to do well, and you’ll probably need a transcript to assist.
Prepare to discuss a recently listened to podcast with your tutor and/or language partner
So far we have focused on French podcasts as a method to improve your listening skills, but they can also be used to improve your speaking. If you have a private tutor or language partner let them know that you would like to talk about a podcast you’ve recently listened to. In preparation for your conversation session, take notes from the podcast, learn the key vocabulary, and prepare a few talking points. And of course if there are any vocabulary, grammar points or even points of general knowledge that you weren’t clear on when listening to the podcast, you can ask your tutor or language partner for clarification.
Access to interesting, engaging, real-world material is key to keeping your French learning fresh and maintaining your motivation. If you’re interested in French society and France’s relations with the rest of the world, then French news podcasts are a great way to improve both your French and your understanding of France or other Francophone countries. Already there is a wealth of existing French news podcasts out there. As podcasts grow even more popular. I would expect a corresponding increase in French podcasts created by French educators and teachers and targeted at French learners, just as in recent years there has been an increase in YouTubers targeting French learners.
Nick is an English teacher who has taught English as a Foreign Language in China, Italy and France. He has a Bachelor of Arts (Modern Languages), majoring in French, from the University of New South Wales. He loves travel, reading and football and, of course, learning languages. Four years ago, Nick and his wife co-founded an online English language school targeted at the Chinese market (since sold to Chinese investors). He has also ghost-written the autobiography of a well-known Australian horse trainer.