For the past few weeks, I’ve been practicing my French listening skills with a French series on Netflix called Plan Cœur. I do this via an exercise where I listen to the same clip repeatedly – the same method I used with Korean and English. It is still to this day one of my favourite ways to improve listening skills, so I thought I’ll do a quick breakdown of the process and share it with you guys!
I’ve also made a video on this in Korean (for fun, and for practice), so if you prefer that to reading, click here.
Who Is It For
I’ve found that this method works best for intermediate learners. Beginners might find this too stressful – movies and shows aren’t a good source of comprehensible input for beginners, anyway. Advanced learners probably don’t need this, although they might benefit from a more simplified, streamlined version of this exercise.
Step 1: Install Language Learning with Netflix
If you have not tried this chrome extension, you should! It’s absolutely amazing. I wish I had something like this back when I was studying Korean – it would have saved me so much time and made things so much simpler.
It displays up to two subtitles at once, which is helpful when you’re not at a level where you can 100% understand subtitles in your target language without a little bit of help.
To look up the meaning of a word, all you have to do is click on it. While the feature isn’t perfect – it provides no sentence examples – it’s great for moments where you encounter a word that you’ve seen before but have sort of forgotten about, and just need a quick refresh on what it means.
And now onto my favourite part – it generates a bilingual transcript that you can download or print out. I remember how much time I used to spend on hunting down stuff like this – now it’s all just a click away.
Step 2: Watch the Movie
Watch the movie/episode once, with both subtitles turned on. Since this is your first time watching it, you should just sit back and enjoy the story. Focus on the subtitles in your native language if you find it a bit difficult to keep up with the ones in your target language. You should prioritise getting the plot down and familiarising yourself with the dialogue – so you know what’s happening and what’s being said.
Step 3: Study the Lines
Depending on where your comprehension skills are, this may be as simple as looking up the few words or expressions that you’re unfamiliar with and writing them down in a notebook somewhere.
If you find yourself struggling to understand or keep up, however, you might need to do something a little more intensive. Download the transcript – or print it out – and study it. Look up words that you don’t know, and take note of the differences between the original dialogue and the translation in your native language. Are there any expressions or specific ways of wording things, for example, that you wouldn’t have come up with on your own? Highlight those, and consider transferring them to your study notebook, if you have one.
Step 4: Watch It Again
Now back to the video – watch it again, this time turning on only the subtitles in your target language. Since you’ve studied the dialogue so thoroughly with step 3, you should have little problem understanding the subtitles. Your primary concern should be listening – whether or not you can actually hear what is being said. It’s one thing to be able to understand the subtitles, and another to be able to detect those sounds accurately and transform them into sentences in your head – and to do all that in a millisecond. An easy way to test this is to turn off the subtitles completely, listen, and see if you could repeat what is being said, word by word.
What you need to do, basically, is listen closely. Focus really hard on the sounds, and try to match them to the subtitles that you’re reading. Repeat parts that you struggle to follow, or slow them down if you need to. Fortunately, Language Learning with Netflix allows you to do just that via some simple tweakings in the settings.
Step 5: Test Yourself, Sans Subtitles
Repeat step 4 as much as you need until you feel confident enough, and test yourself to see how much you can understand by watching it one last time without subtitles. If you can under about 70% of what is being said, then it’s time to move on to a new movie/episode!
This may differ from person to person, but generally, I find 5-6 viewings to be more than enough. I’m usually able to understand 70% – 80% of what is being said after doing that, even if my comprehension level was under 10% at the beginning of the exercise. I think it highlights how much you can achieve, through sheer repetition alone.
Step 6: Shadowing (Optional)
I only do this when I have extra time on my hands, because it can be quite time-consuming. It’s a great way to practice speaking, though, especially if you don’t have anyone to speak to in your target language.
It’s quite simple. Play the video, pause after every line or two, and repeat after the actors. Try to imitate their pronunciation and intonation as best as you can.
Language Learning with Netflix has this neat little feature called ‘auto-pause‘ that pauses the video automatically at the end of every subtitle, which is great for shadowing. It also lets you navigate easily through the subtitles by pressing on these keys: A for ‘previous subtitle’, S for ‘repeat current subtitle’ and D for ‘next subtitle’. This saves you the hassle of wrestling with the video progress bar trying to get to a line that you missed, or to revisit something that was said several lines back.
To sum it up, this is how I do it – I watch the episode once with both subtitles on, and then spend 1-2 hours studying the transcript, usually on a weekend since that’s when I have the most free time. Then, for the rest of the week, I watch the video once per day, with only the french subtitles on. I throw in a little bit of shadowing here and there, whenever I have the time. And finally, on the sixth or seventh day, I turn the subtitles off to test myself and see how much I can understand.
Note that you don’t have to use a movie or a TV show for this. I’ve done the same with Youtube videos that I can find English and French CC for – they’re generally 3-8 minutes long, which significantly reduces the time taken to complete the whole process. You can also choose just one specific scene from a movie or TV show to do this with.
You can use this method with pretty much any type of audio clip with a transcript provided – the idea is to study what is being said, and then listen to it repeatedly, until it’s seared into your memory.
You’d be surprised how long your brain retains this sort of stuff. I still remember whole scenes from High School Musical, the lines of which I remember by heart. (Don’t judge! :P)