Learn French with TV: Shows to better understand French


Practice understanding real, authentic French conversation with some of my favorite French TV shows!

C’est parti.

1) Parlement

Parlement is a small TV series about day-to-day life in the institutions of the European Union. And it’s actually really funny!

A young French assistant called Samy learns to navigate the maze of politics, bureaucracy, lobbying and absurdity, alongside all the other people working for the EU. The first season is in Bruxelles, while the second season takes place in the European Parliament of Strasbourg.

And it’s a treat for language learners: the characters often talk in French, English, German, Spanish, Polish… and of course, with their own accents. Extra fun, for the people who like to hear different languages!

The French dialogue is interesting too, as it’s often a mix of anglicisms, informal French, and sometimes very technical vocabulary about the working of the EU and its politics.

2) Le Bazar de la Charité

Le Bazar de la Charité (The Bonfire of Destiny)

Le Bazar de la Charité (The Bonfire of Destiny in English) is a French mini-series about the lives of three French women from different social classes in La Belle Époque (literally “the Beautiful Era”) as we call the times before la première Guerre mondiale (World War I.) We follow their relationships, their trauma, and how they manage to navigate French society at their own level.

It starts with a real-life event: l’incendie (= the great fire), at the Bazar de la Charité, a charity event in the center of Paris.
The show uses everyday French informal grammar, instead of the more formal French we might expect from a period piece. But it works fine! And you get to practice understanding French sentences that you could hear in a real conversation, so that’s a big plus.

The show stars Gilbert Melki and Audrey Fleurot.

Gilbert Melki was the main character in the great series Kaboul Kitchen, about a French journalist running a restaurant for foreign NGO workers in 2005 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Audrey Fleurot was cast in Intouchables (The Upside) as well as the TV show Engrenages (Spiral) that I’ve covered before.

Click here to learn more: Best French TV Shows to Learn French: Engrenages (Netflix)

3) Drôle

Drôle (Standing Up in English) is a show about funny people.

In French, “funny” is drôle, or marrant in everyday informal French. Or rigolo for a more immature / childish vocabulary.

The series Drôle is made by Fanny Herrero, who also wrote the show Dix pour cent (Call my Agent) that I covered several times with Comme une Française.

Here, it’s about young people (Aïssatou, Nezir, Bling and Apolline) chasing success on the French stand-up comedy scene.

Oh, and in French, stand-up comedy is called… le stand-up – an anglicism, since it’s so heavily influenced by American culture.

Click here to learn more: How to Understand Spoken French with ‘Call My Agent’ on Netflix

4) Johnny par Johnny

Johnny par Johnny (or in English, Johnny Hallyday: Beyond Rock) is a 5-part documentary about the life and career of French superstar Johnny Hallyday.

I’ve told you about Johnny Hallyday, that French rock superstar from Belgium that tried to look like an American, and who’s totally unknown outside our borders. He passed away in 2017, but he’s still in the hearts of many fans and French culture as a whole.

There are multiple documentaries about him in the works, and one of them got released on Netflix earlier this year.

It’s a great introduction to the singer, even if you know nothing about him… and even if you’re not a giant fan of his music. It’s a fast-paced series that drives you through the ups and downs of his life and career, told mostly through his own voice in interviews. You get to see how he changed during 40 years of his career, and in mirror, how France culture has changed as well.

Click here to learn more: Practicing Your French With Music: Johnny Hallyday

5) The Extra Mile: Irma Vep

Since shooting this episode, I binge-watched the HBO show Irma Vep by French director Olivier Assayas. It’s an American-French production: the dialogues are around 50/50 in French and in English.

It’s very “meta,” about itself: this international TV series shows us the process behind the scenes of making an international TV series. The fictional show is a remake of a real 1915 black-and-white silent series called Les Vampires – that real-life director Olivier Assayas adapted himself in 1996.

Beyond the clever fictional versions of itself, Irma Vep is about cinema, and the new media landscape, and love, and ghosts, and being a woman, and dancing.

It goes deep into the movie cliché of French people having philosophical conversations and talking a lot, but if you like that kind of thing, Irma Vep should be right up your alley.

And now you can also check out other French TV shows to Binge Watch for Oral Comprehension with my previous lessons:

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

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