Quick, what country comes to mind when I say “French music”?
Did you say France?
Most people think of France as the center of the French music scene, but that’s only a piece of the pie!
French is the official language of 29 countries, and it’s spoken in even more.
With such a variety of French-speaking communities in the world, there’s more French music available to devour than you probably ever realized.
In fact, even North America is home to some very important Francophone music communities (shout out to the Cajuns in Louisiana)!
But before we start traveling the world to check out these tunes, let’s first take a look at why music is perfect for learning the French language.
Advantages of Learning French Through Songs
- Stimulate your creativity: Music stimulates your right brain, the part of the brain responsible for creativity and abstract thought. Traditionally, language learning has put heavy emphasis on your left brain (i.e. grammar, memorization and reading). However, it’s very important to stimulate both sides to get full benefit, and songs do just that! For the creative learners in the bunch, you may have just found your ticket to hands-on learning!
- Train your ears: Songs improve your listening and eventually, comprehension. Along with handy vocabulary, songs “normalize” phonetics in foreign languages in order to get you more comfortable with their rhythm. In fact, up to the age of 12 we learn primarily through listening to repeated sounds and rhythms to form our speech! And let’s face it, French phonetics can be tricky, so you’ve gotta practice.
- Pronounce like a pro: Despite level, those learners who regularly incorporate music and songs into their learning pronounce better and have improved rhythm in their foreign language, hands down. Get on board and start singing along mon ami(e) (my friend)!
- Expose yourself to new cultures: Francophone music is varied and dispersed around the world, from Europe, Africa to the Americas. Songs are simply the best tool to provide direct access to regional accents, vocabulary and culture.
More than anything, songs make French sound “normal” to you, whether it’s passive sounds (people talking/background sounds) or active (you talking/giving a speech). D’ailleurs (for that matter), it’s fun!
Now that you are convinced that songs are an important tool for improving your French, let’s look at some tips on turning these songs into wicked language lessons!
How to Turn Downloaded French Songs into Learning
- Sing with lyrics: Use song lyrics and sing along while reading. To spice up this method, keep a highlighter at hand and highlight 3-5 (or 10 if you are really motived) new words, making sure to pause at them in the song to capture good pronunciation.
- Write new lyrics: Take your newly highlighted words and become the artist by composing a song/poem/short story with them! If you’re writing your first song and a beginner, feel free to string the French words together with English ones. As your vocabulary develops, try composing solely in French. I have a musician friend who composed a whole CD in Spanish using this method—talk about actively using your vocabulary!
- Use FluentU: FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. Using FluentU’s unique “learn mode” to master the lyrics of a music video is an incredibly powerful way to learn French through music. For your own copy of the lyrics, use FluentU’s handy loop button to copy lyrics by hand—an exercise that will really ingrain the words and melodies into your mind.
- Fill-in-the-blanks: Create fill-in-the-blank exercises with your lyrics, like music mad-libs (remember those?). This is a fun activity and a challenging exercise for all levels—though of course make sure to pick simpler songs if you’re a beginner, aka fewer words. And this is also a great game to play when spending an evening with your language-enthusiast friends. Why not make it a competition and give out prizes?
Now you know why songs are important in learning, and you are equipped with practical methods to use them effectively. Something missing? Oh yes, the songs, c’est vrai (it’s true)!
Let’s begin exploring francophone music from around the world, shall we? These are eight catchy tunes you’ve gotta have on your playlist. And once you start employing the learning tips above, you will really start tuning in. Welcome to your Francophone Music Tour!
8 Catchy French Songs You’ve Gotta Download ASAP
And of course, let’s begin in the birthplace of the language, Europe it is!
1. Manu Chao – “J’ai besoin de la lune”
Manu Chao is a multilingual artist crème de la crème (cream of the crop), as he sings in French, Spanish and English. He became famous for his bilingual French-Spanish title, “Me gustas tu.” Chao is of Spanish Basque origin, and is prominent in both the French and Spanish music scenes.
The great thing about Chao is the simplicity of his lyrics. His songs are perfect for beginners looking for a challenge, or even intermediates wanting a refresher. This song is fantastic for constructing phrases with avoir besoin de (to need something) and also to review your french pronouns (lui, toi, moi…).
2. Frero Delavega – “Mon petit pays”
This is an interesting young duo from France who became famous overnight. Long-time neighbors and university classmates, Jérémy Frérot and Florian Garcia were discovered online when a music producer from Capitol Music France came across their YouTube music videos. These two young Parisians have great catchy sentimental pop songs.
I’d recommend this song for expert intermediates or advanced learners, as many of the words are cut short with liaisons for rhythmic purpose. This tune is another great one to practice your pronouns, especially moi (me) and toi (you).
3. Stromae – “Tous les mêmes”
Who doesn’t love Stromae? He’s avant-garde, handsome, educated and one of the few mainstream artists that challenges social taboos. Stromae is diversity in both artist and flesh, born in Brussels to a Rwandan father and a Belgian mother from Flanders (the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium), he sings about social norms, gender stereotypes but also having a good time.
Stromae is for all French-level learners, because once you hit play on any of his songs, you will hit repeat over and over, despite your level. Thanks to his neutral Belgian accent, he sings clear and crisp! In “Tous les mêmes,” Stromae explores negative qualities of males, such as lying, cheating, making up stories and degradation of women. If you love this tune, I’d recommend the whole album, or purchasing it here. Stromae’s full album is a great tool for advanced learners, as he will mix in social taboos with your vocab and get you dancing!
Alright Europe, that’s enough. Down to Africa, the fastest growing Francophone region in the world, with killer beats to boot!
—Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—
4. Maître Gims – “J’me tire”
That’s right, French rap exists! Born in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, Maître Gims moved to Paris at the age of 12 with his family as illegal immigrants in the ’80s. This gave way to a difficult childhood and harsh upbringing in various Paris ghettos and squat homes, which is reflected in his music—where we get a view on immigrant realities in the French-speaking world.
*Un petit (a little) linguistic disclaimer: The lyrics in this song do reflect a certain degree of artistic rage, so for those sensitive ears, skip to the next track below!
This tune is great for music madlibs, as Gims sings quite clearly and slowly, however his Congolese French accent provides a nice twist and challenge for the untrained ear. If you like the song above, also check out “Changer.”
Now let’s come home to the Americas, where French is alive and active!
5. Cajun Red Stars – “Parlez-nous à boire”
The great thing about la musique cadienne (cadian/cajun music) is that it tends to be quite instrumental and a bit lighter on the lyrics, meaning that these tunes are great for beginners.
Although the Cajun Red Stars are from none other than Louisiana, they perform mostly in the Berlin music scene now, and with much success. With this tune, you can review basic verbs like boire (drink), voler (steal) and se marier (to get married) with consistent and slow repetition. You can also review how to construct simple negations with the word non (no).
6. Damien Robitaille – “Omnipresent”
Damien Robitaille has great songs for the beginner learner looking to transition to intermediate, as his songs are simple and sweet. Robitaille is another great artist for pulling out some song madlibs in French. Robitaille is a franco-ontarien, a member of the minority French-speaking community in the province of Ontario, Canada.
He mixes English and French a lot, so sometimes you get direct translations right in the song, like in one of my personal favorites. The song “Omnipresent” (ever-present) is great for reviewing expressions of time, like partout (everywhere) and toujours (always).
7. Alfa Rococo – “Lever l’ancre”
Alfa Rococo is a classic Quebecois duo for the stars. It’s worth checking out all their songs, because Alfa Rococo is pop’s answer to great francophone music. Their songs are sophisticated and creative, leaning in on the alternative pop category. Another great thing about this band? If you live in the USA or Canada, you can go see them live! (Check out their concert schedule). Who said you had to travel to Europe for a quality French concert!
This song is quite fast, and recommended for advanced learners. Also, make sure to pull out your lyrics sheet because the heavy instrumentals may cover up the words and confuse you if you are not following along.
Ready for a real musical treat? You know all those times you’ve said to yourself “I wish I could just speak Franglish or something!” You’ll be surprised to learn that Franglish does indeed exist, well sort of! It is called Chiac and it’s a variation of français acadian (Acadian French). It is spoken in the bilingual province of New Brunswick, Canada, where our #8 guest Franglish music stars originate.
8. Radio Radio – “Dekshoo”
Ok, I will admit that you won’t learn perfect Parisian French with Radio Radio, but are they ever creative and bilingual! Get your friends together and try to translate the conversation in the beginning of the “Dekshoo” video above. I’ve seen both Francophones and Anglophones fail in their attempts, just to say, this linguistic community is quite special! These three are really a delight, and for all those Franglish lovers out there, this is your band. On the download link, you have access to all their electro-pop Chiac tunes.
Also check them out in this video, where group members present Chiac as the linguistic solution to bilingual barriers. Chiac schools? Sign me up!
That concludes our Francophone Music Tour! Once you’ve listened through the various artists, make sure to pick out your favorite songs and incorporate the learning tips above to tune your songs to learning, and finally turn your fluency volume up!
And One More Thing…
You can keep the French tunes rolling with FluentU!
Since this video content is stuff that native French speakers actually watch on the regular, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French—the way it’s spoken (or sung!) in modern life.
One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:
Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions will guide you along the way, so you’ll never miss a word.
Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on your screen:
Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU’s learn mode to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video with vocabulary lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”
As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.