The Eiffel Tower.
The Louvre and the Mona Lisa.
Does your travel bucket list look a little like this?
I’m not surprised!
France is the most visited country in the world, and those few attractions I mentioned above are only a few of the headline acts!
Who wouldn’t want to marvel at the châteaux of the Loire Valley, enjoy dégustations du vin (wine tastings) in a cave (wine cellar) in Burgundy, bask on the superb beaches of Saint-Tropez, sample the Alpine ski resorts in the east or explore the world-famous UNESCO Heritage Site Mont-Saint-Michel?
Whatever you French fantasy is, there’s one thing that’ll surely make it even more extraordinary.
The ability to communicate and interact with some of the 65 million people who call France their home will certainly bring a unique element to your French experience.
To begin this beautiful French language journey, you’ll want to start with the basics, though.
So, let’s go ahead and learn some of the most common French words and phrases, shall we?
Speaking French in France
Our guide of the most common French words and phrases covers the essentials that you’ll need to simply get around.
We’re not going to get into all the minute details about the finer points of grammar because it’s not so pressing for this particular objective—to enjoy a trip to France and be able to have basic, functional conversations with the locals.
But before diving into the highly useful vocabulary below, let me lay down one solid piece of advice: don’t be shy!
We often worry that our beginner-level attempts sound silly to the natives.
This is entirely not true!
In the majority of cases, French people will be all too happy that you’re making an effort to speak their language.
A great way to gain authentic exposure to French being spoken by native French speakers is to access FluentU. FluentU is an online immersion platform that takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
FluentU isn’t just about watching videos, though. It’s about learning and actively practicing the language with the help of interactive subtitles, vocabulary lists, practice exercises and multimedia flashcards.
This is the closest you’re going to get to France without actually being there. But, to get you ready to be there, let’s learn some common French words and phrases!
Kick-start Your French Language Journey with These Common French Words and Phrases for Beginners
There are a few words that most French learners pick up right away. They are also ones that you’ll use every day in France. These are those words.
- Bonjour! (Hello/Good morning—it means both!)
- You can say bonjour all day long until the sun sets. And it’s polite to use it at the start of any conversation before you say anything else.
- Bonsoir! (Good evening!)
- This is the nighttime version of bonjour, which you use in the same way.
- Ça va? (How are you?)
- This handy little phrase is used all the time in France. To respond to it, you’d say oui, ça va bien, merci (yes, I’m good thanks.)
- Et vous? (How about you?)
- If you weren’t okay, you’d say ça ne va pas (literally—it’s not going well).
Asking for Help
Looking for the train station? Not exactly sure where you are? Or are you just trying to buy something from one of the many market vendors in Périgueux?
Whatever you do on your trip to France, you’re definitely going to need to ask for some sort of help or direction at some point.
Here are some common questions to help you get around:
- C’est combien? (How much is it?)
- Quelle heure est-il? (What time is it?)
- Il est…heures. (It’s…o’clock.)
- heures et demie (half past…)
- heures et quart (a quarter past…)
- heures moins quart (a quarter to…)
- Où est/où sont…? (Where is/Where are…?)
Obviously, there are a lot of words you can use to finish the question où est/où sont…?
The list of things you might be looking for is endless, but here are a few common places you’re likely to be looking for during a trip abroad:
- les toilettes (the bathroom)
- l’hôtel [NAME] (hotel [NAME])
- la banque (bank)
- le distributeur (ATM)
- le restaurant [NAME] (restaurant [NAME])
- l’arrêt de bus (bus stop)
- la gare (train station)
- la plage (beach)
Common French Question Words
- Où? (Where?)
- Pourquoi? (Why?)
- Qui? (Who?)
- Quoi? (What?)
- Quand? (When?)
- Comment? (How?)
- Combien? (How much/How many?)
Questions You Might Be Asked
Of course, the beauty of a learning language is to be able to communicate with native speakers, which means people might also ask you questions!
Here’s a handful of the most common questions you might encounter, and how to respond:
- Quel age avez-vous? (How old are you?)
- J’ai…ans. (I’m…years old.)
- To fill in the blank with your age, you might want to brush up on your French numbers.
- Comment vous appelez-vous? (What’s your name?)
- Je m’appelle… (I’m called…)
- Vous venez d’où? (Where are you from?)
- Je suis… (I am…)
- des Etats-Unis. (from the United States.)
- du Royaume-Uni. (from the United Kingdom.)
- d’Espagne. (from Spain.)
- d’Allemagne. (from Germany.)
- du Canada. (from Canada.)
- d’Australie. (from Australia.)
Are you from a country that’s not included on this list? Take a look at this map of the world to learn your country’s name.
Small but Useful Words
These words don’t really fit anywhere else, but you’ll likely use them at least a dozen times a day!
- Oui. (Yes.)
- Non. (No.)
- Excusez-moi. (Excuse me.)
- Je suis désolé(e). (I’m sorry.)
- Take note that women will need to add the additional e when writing this phrase because adjectives have to agree with the noun’s gender. This extra e is silent, though, and doesn’t change how the word sounds.
- S’il vous plaît. (Please.)
- In its written form, you’ll often see this shortened to “SVP.”
- Merci. (Thank you.)
How to Say You Don’t Understand
- Je ne comprends pas. (I don’t understand.)
- Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement, s’il vous plaît? (Could you speak more slowly, please?)
- Parlez-vous anglais? (Do you speak English?)
- Je ne parle pas français. (I don’t speak French.)
- Comment dit-on…en français/anglais? (How do you say…in French/English?)
- Ça veut dire quoi? (What does that mean?)
- À bientôt! (See you soon!)
- Bonne soirée! (Goodnight!)
- Say this when you’re wishing someone a good night at the end of an evening together.
- Bonne nuit! (Goodnight!)
- Say this when you’re about to go to sleep.
- Au revoir! (Goodbye!)
Wow, we really covered a lot of common French words!
Master these, and you’ll be pretty prepared for a lot of different interactions.
Now, spread your French wings and soar!
Siobhan Wood is a British writer specializing in language learning. Speaking French, Spanish and German, she loves to encourage others to take the plunge and learn a language. Her business helps language schools and e-learning providers to attract new students by creating fun and engaging content. Check out her website here.
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