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CULTURE

The 14 best podcasts to help you understand France and the French

If you want to learn more about France, learn some French or a bit of both, then podcasts are a great way to do it - here's our pick - including our very own podcast Talking France.

The 14 best podcasts to help you understand France and the French
Photo by Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

We’ve selected a mix of podcasts in both English and French that will you learn more about the country, learn the language or both.

These are just our personal picks, so if you have recommendations, please feel free to suggest them in the comments section below.

In English

Talking France – The Local does its own podcast, called Talking France. If you have not given it a listen yet, this is The Local’s weekly 30-minute exploration of France’s latest news and cultural quirks and sets you up with some of the lingo you need to know to understand what is happening in France.

Talking France is a weekly podcast where we discuss the big news and talking points in France as well as explore and explain the major issues that impact life in the country. We also answer your essential questions and look ahead at what’s coming up.

In each episode presenter Ben McPartland discusses the most important news and must-know information with The Local France’s editor Emma Pearson and journalist Genevieve Mansfield. They are also frequently joined by John Lichfield, a veteran journalist whose knowledge of French news and politics is second to none, as well as other expert commentators. 

Find Talking France on Spotify, Apple, Google podcasts or HERE

French Rugby Podcast – For sports fans, this is a great introduction into the world of French rugby – a passion verging on religion in the south west of the country. This podcast interviews players and unpacks seasonal drama – it is hosted by Benjamin Kayser and Johnnie Beattie – and also speaks to some of the many anglophone rugby stars who have made France their home about the challenges and culture clashes they faced along the way.

The Europeans – While this podcast – like its title – is focused on Europe broadly, one of its two hosts lives in France, so many of the stories are French-specific. Hailing from London and Essex, the two hosts came to the idea for the podcast out of a shared conviction that “Europe was too often treated as something boring and irrelevant in the British news media.” The podcast tells personal stories, and dives into cultural topics “from conceptual art to Eurovision.”

The French History Podcast – If you are a history buff, this might be the podcast for you. It explores several different facets of French history, from the Algerian War to the viking conquest of Normandy in 793. Episodes are long, sometimes over an hour, but they are rich in information. 

Revolutions, Season 3 – The Revolutions podcast is another option if you are interested in a deeper dive into the French revolution specifically. The third season of the podcast series narrows in on this crucial part of French history, with 55 episodes dedicated to the time period. 

The Earful Tower – Hosted by Oliver Gee, this podcast is an essential guide to Paris, filled with recommendations for where to eat, shop, and drink coffee. There is even an episode on how to take the best professional photos in Paris. 

In French

If you are looking to hear more spoken French, or simply listen to stories about French culture, language and history, then you might be in the neighbourhood for some podcast recommendations. 

Just starting out

Duolingo French Podcast – This podcast offers “fascinating true stories” where storyteller speaks in intermediate French, and then the host chimes in to offer context. If you are finding it hard to follow, you can always use the episode transcript while listening, which can be found on Duolingo’s website.  

Coffee Break France – Available at four different levels, this podcast starts its first season off with a language teacher helping his student, Anna learn French. You follow along as she is taught how to introduce herself, greet people, and become familiar with how the language works. For those who do not yet live in France, this is a great podcast to listen to before moving or taking a vacation that will help prepare for those initial conversations in French.

You’ve got the basics, but need some more practice

Journal en français facile – Of the three, this is probably the best to start off with. Offered by French national radio (RFI), this podcast goes over the news of the day at a slow, easy to listen to pace. 

L’heure du Monde – This is French newspaper Le Monde’s flagship podcast. It is very similar to the New York Times’ Daily podcast, if you are familiar. Each day, the presenter picks a different topic that is in the press. 

Le Journal de 8h – This is just one of the many podcasts and radio shows offered by France Inter. It is a daily news update that goes over the major news events going on in France and across the world. It is just 16 minutes long, so it is not too long that you might find yourself getting easily lost. 

Perfecting your French

Transfert – This weekly podcast is hosted by Slate. It introduces you to a new, true story with every episode, and it is narrated by the person sharing the tale. Some episodes are exciting and fun, while others are moving and emotional. It is a great way to listen to different French accents, as the narrator is always the person telling their own story. Keep in mind that as the narrator changes each time, so does the voice – one week it might be easy for you to understand, whereas the next it could be trickier. Take it as an opportunity to slow down and try to experiment with different people’s manners of speaking French, at your own pace.

Kiffe ta Race – A podcast about the intersections of race and gender in France. The title – “Kiffe ta race” uses the slang term ‘kiffe’ which means to love or enjoy, along with ‘ta race’ (your race). The top question of the podcast, however is why the word “race” is taboo in French. The hosts interview guests each episode, most of whom are non-white, and begin by asking them if and how they define themselves by their race. If you are looking to understand France in its full diversity, this podcast is a great place to start. 

Si je change, le monde change : l’effet Papillon – This French podcast came as a recommendation from a reader on Twitter. A bi-monthly podcast, host Victoire interviews a different guest each episode, hoping to share an informal conversation about the ways humanity has been impacted by key discoveries in subjects like ecology, health, agriculture, and climate change. Her guests are “artists, entrepreneurs, authors, therapists, researchers, and journalists.” Episodes are usually around 30 minutes or less.

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CULTURE

The lives and loves of French writer Colette

France next week celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of the novelist whose uproarious life featured in the 2018 Hollywood biopic Colette, starring Keira Knightley.

The lives and loves of French writer Colette

A century before #MeToo, French author Colette dumped a sleazy husband who took the credit for her work to throw herself into a life of free love that she fictionalised in groundbreaking novels about the lives of women.

France next week celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of the novelist whose uproarious life featured in the 2018 Hollywood biopic Colette, starring Keira Knightley.

Plucked from the Burgundy countryside by her first husband – a literary agent 14 years her senior – he put her to work writing about her schoolgirl fantasies in the wildly popular “Claudine” books that he published under his own name.

Colette went on to cause scandal after scandal writing about hitherto taboo subjects like domestic violence, anorexia and fake orgasms, before becoming a music hall dancer, mime artist and weightlifter.

She was also among the first women to wear trousers and have a facelift in a dizzying life that included three marriages and a multitude of affairs with both men and women.

As the American novelist John Updike said: “In the prize ring of life few of us would have lasted 10 rounds with Colette.”

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was born in a Burgundy village in 1873 and was swept off to Paris at 20 when she married the womanising music critic Henry Gauthier-Villars, aka “Willy”.

He introduced her to high society salons frequented by novelist Marcel Proust and composer Claude Debussy, where she was gently mocked for her Burgundy accent and long blonde plaits.

Willy encouraged her to write about her life at school, telling her not to spare “the juicy details”.

Colette’s mother had instilled in her a love of nature that made her fiercely attuned to the senses, and she brought that to the page.

Riot
First, in 1900, came the homoerotic, coming-of-age tale Claudine at School, followed by Claudine and Annie, Claudine in Paris, and Claudine Married. All were instant bestsellers.

After spicing them up, Willy put the books out under his own name.

Colette eventually moved in with her lover, cross-dressing noblewoman Mathilde de Morny, nicknamed “Missy”, and filed for divorce after learning Willy had sold the rights to her books.

In between affairs with other women, Colette learned to dance and took to the stage in 1906, causing scandal wherever she appeared, once flashing her breasts and causing a riot when she kissed her lover Missy at the Moulin Rouge in Paris.

Her semi-autobiographical novel The Vagabond, about a divorced music hall dancer was hailed by critics in 1910. Cheri, about an affair with a much younger man, followed in 1920. But her best known work abroad, Gigi, the tale of a young girl being groomed to become a courtesan, did not come until 1944, and later became a Hollywood musical.

Affair

Colette’s second marriage was to a newspaper editor and in 1913 she gave birth to her only daughter, also named Colette, whom she promptly entrusted to a nanny.

Nearing her 50s, she seduced her 17-year-old stepson, with whom she had a five-year affair that ended her marriage.

Her third marriage, to Maurice Goudeket, a businessman and journalist, was happier but their bliss was shattered by World War II when he was among thousands of Jews rounded up in Paris for deportation to the Nazi death camps.

Colette used her connections to secure his release, but in one of the many contradictions of a life lived on her wits, she also wrote for collaborationist magazines.

Despite yearning for the freedom enjoyed by men, she was also scathing about feminists, declaring once: “You know what the suffragettes deserve? The whip and the harem.”

Bedridden in later years by arthritis, she was the first French woman to be given a state funeral when she died aged 81 in 1954.

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