Back in the 1980s I didn't have much access to French video. Today what's available in the US is staggering: TV series, YouTube shorts, long films, news, you name it. There's no shortage of videos to stream. They offer visual clues that help infer the meaning of speech, which then helps resolve what the words must have been. Many videos have French closed captions which help build listening skills as well. They cover a wide range of vocabulary and speaking styles, often using a more colloquial register than I find in books, newspapers, or even podcasts.
Here are some of my recent favorites. They vary in length, subject matter, and difficulty, but if you have a B1 or better level of oral comprehension there should be something here for you.
Mr.Nouar is a YouTube channel of short sketches about life in modern France by comedian Mohamed Nouar. They contain funny, sharp social commentaries on issues of discrimination, unemployment, race, family, dating, incompetence, love, les relations hommes-femmes. He's been posting videos since 2014. Born in 1988 of Algerian parents in southwest France, Nouar's work is full of multicultural twenty-somethings who talk fast, chat ironically, use slang, and revel in verbal jousting.
Available for free on YouTube.
Miraculous: les aventures de Ladybug et Chat Noir is a TV series for kids drawn in the Japanese anime style and broadcast from 2015 to 2019. Set in Paris, two young teen superheroes together battle the villain of the week. Meanwhile, their alter-egos conduct an awkward middle school flirtation, unaware of the other's superhero life. The series has wholesome characters, non-stop dialogue, and simple stories whose predictability helps clue the meaning. Each 21-minute episode includes scenes from daily teen life (school, home, babysitting, subway, market, movie theater, etc.) as well as superhero battles. Though the intended audience is French kids ages 8-12, older students of French can benefit a lot from the series.
Full episodes available on Netflix, excerpts on the official YouTube channel.
Chiffroscope is a collection of 48 mini-documentaries (2-3 minutes each) that look at big questions of the day using statistics and irreverent animations. It's an eclectic series, with topics like cannabis legalization, freedom of the press, money and happiness, overfishing, global chocolate consumption and danger from asteroids. The narrator's delivery is clean but fairly fast, and there are many complicated numbers spoken aloud (e.g. 143,000) – good listening practice. Otherwise, the language is very accessible, as almost everything is in the present tense and the drawings reinforce the words.
Chiffroscope videos are available on YouTube on the channel «l'Effet Papillon».
Au service de la France
Au Service de la France is a television series that paints an absurd picture of a French spy agency in the 1960s. Though set in the past, the show debuted in 2015 and is a vehicle for rather acerbic criticisms of French society today. It mocks French attitudes towards Algeria, the rest of Africa, the Cold War, women, and class. Fair warning: the series is hilarious, but intentionally shocking. Many characters say and do awful things designed to illustrate how far French society still has to go. Though cringe-inducing, it's also a goldmine for studying French language and culture. Lots of things are said on screen that won't be heard in more sanitized media. The language is challenging, but the French closed captions are quite faithful to the spoken French if you want an assist.
Available on Netflix under the name "A Very Secret Service". Two seasons of 12 episodes, 25-minutes each.
Dix Pour Cent
Dix Pour Cent is another television series that offers a chance to expand your knowledge of modern French language and culture at the same time. Set in a present day Parisian talent agency, it follows four agents as they deal with landing projects for their touchy stable of stars. But there's a gimmick: each episode features a guest star who plays themself. Famous French film names like Cecile de France and Michel Drucker are written into the scripts and get to poke fun at themselves or play off their established stereotypes. There are also long running plot arcs around the careers, love affairs, and family troubles of the four agents and their assistants. There's plenty of familiar and colloquial language in the dialogue, including cursing, drinking, and talk of sex, but nothing discomfiting.
Available on Netflix under the name "Call My Agent!" Four seasons (2015-2020) of six episodes 50 minutes each. Select the original French audio, and either no subtitles or the French closed-captions.
Watching French video can be a great way to improve your French, but don't be surprised if it takes more energy and focus than watching TV in English. Also, don't be afraid to watch the same segment more than once, or to watch an entire episode with captions on and then again with captions off. If you add 15 minutes a day of French video watching to your routine, you'll be sure to notice a big jump in your mastery in no time.
Bonne continuation !
David Miller is an American software engineer and teacher. He has been an FCC member since 2012. You can find more of his writings at his blog "Monsieur Miller: A Francophile's diary".