Understanding Spoken French — Eating Letters?

It probably goes without saying, but everyday spoken French is really hard to understand. Pronunciation doesn’t flow logically from the spelling — and then there’s the fact that French people eat letters from their words!

Today, let’s practice your understanding of real spoken French, specifically by looking at when and why we “eat” letters.

C’est parti.

Want all the vocabulary of the lesson ?

1. First viewing

In the video lesson, you can see a short clip from the movie L’Auberge Espagnole (= “The Spanish hostel,” 2002). In the clip, a young woman named Martine talks with her boyfriend Xavier about an old children’s book.

[Le truc en plus : L’Auberge espagnole is a movie directed by Cédric Klapish, starring actors Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou (the star from Amélie Poulain). The context of that scene is that Xavier is leaving soon to spend a year in Spain, and Martine is actually upset about that, not the book.]

We’ll analyze the clip together in a minute. But on a first, fresh viewing — how much can you understand? Write down the specific sentences you hear.

If you didn’t understand much, don’t worry! They do speak fast and softly, in colloquial French. It’s an intimate scene, after all.

2. Second viewing - correct French subtitles

Now, let’s “cheat” by watching this short clip with subtitles, in French at first:

– C’est l’horreur, hein.
– Quoi, c’est l’horreur ?
– Bah tu as vu comment c’est sexiste ? Tu as vu la vision pourrie de la femme ?
– Non, pourquoi ? Tu dis ça parce qu’elle va donner des graines aux poules et qu’elle trait les vaches ?
– Mais non… De toute façon évidemment c’est ton fantasme, ça… La petite fille, bien gentille, avec la petite jupe et les joues toutes rouges ! (Ben, nan…) Quand je pense que mes parents m’ont appelée Martine à cause d’elle ! Pff… Bah ça me fait totalement flipper, là.

How much do you understand now?

By the way:

  • Pourrie = rotten (literally) = lame, lousy (colloquial French)
  • Flipper = being afraid, freaking out (colloquial French)

Don’t worry if you need a dictionary or an online translation tool to understand the rest of the conversation. Practicing well means starting at your own level!

Did you know that you can often activate subtitles on French YouTube videos? They can be a good tool for you when practicing on your own!

3. Third viewing - eaten letters

If you’re a more advanced French learner, maybe the informal grammar looked strange. But, that’s how French people make sentences (in spoken French, anyway). They’re often full of Bah, euh, and other filler words!

And maybe you noticed that the characters eat a lot of vowels.That’s a common problem in understanding spoken French! But there’s a bit of method to it.

For example:

With pronouns:

  • Tu / TeT’ (before a vowel)
    • Tu asT’as (= you have)
  • JeJ’ (whenever it’s possible)
    • Je pense → “J’pense (=“I think”)
    • Je suisJ’suis / Chuis (= “I am”)
    • Je sais J’sais / Chais (= “I know” )

(We only do this in spoken French. We wouldn’t write this way for anything more formal than a text message.)

With other words, cutting the “e” whenever it’s possible:

  • Me → m’ (= “to me / myself”)
    • Ex: Tu m’prends pour une andouille (= “You think I’m stupid.”)
  • Petite → “P’tite” (= “small, little”)
  • Totalement → “Total’ment” (= “totally” – this one happens even in correct French)

With common expressions and turns of phrases:

  • Parce que → “Paske / Pask” (= because)
  • De toute façon → “T’façon” (= “anyway” – that one is a hard cut!)

Now you’re ready for a third viewing! I’ll slow it down for you, show you the eaten letters in the French subtitles, and add the translation.

Can you hear when they’re eating vowels?

Now, watch the initial clip one more time — and notice your progress in understanding their spoken French!

By taking the time to analyze a French resource, you get closer to understanding other spoken French conversations. It’s not passive listening, it’s practice!

You can practice with other specific lessons as well, such as:

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next lesson!

And now:

→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂

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Join the conversation!

  • Bonjour Géraldine. Vous m’avez envoyé cette belle vidéo la dernière fois. Merci cependant, j’ai rafraîchi quelque chose. “Repetitio est mater studiorum”, comme on disait dans la Rome ancien.
    A la fois suivante.

  • Merci Geraldine, pour tout vous faites de nous aider d’ameliorer notre francais.
    Cette lecon m’a plu beaucoup.
    desole pour les erreurs grammatiques, avec les accents.

  • C’est une distance terriblement longue et ennuyeuse pour comprendre cette version du français. Cependant, c’est le seul moyen. Mersi, Géraldine.

  • Si les Français mangent des lettres … les parisiens mangent des mots entiers! Et ce sont des mangeurs très rapides! C’est rapide et tronqué. Comprendre le français parlé est mon Saint Graal. Toujours insaisissable … mais je persévère.

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