You just made a big bowl of popcorn and sat down to watch your favorite TV show.
The protagonist gently leans in to finally kiss your favorite character when…
Or you eagerly click the link your friend sent you for a funny cat video when…
YouTube makes you watch an ad first!
Did you know that those same annoying commercials you would much rather just pass by can actually be powerful French learning tools? There’s no shortage of French commercials out there, and they all provide an authentic look at French language and culture.
But where to start?
In this post, we’ll show you 10 commercials that are in French and have English subtitles, from cheese ads to anti-smoking PSAs. We’ll give cultural insights and tips for watching and listening effectively.
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Why Learn with French Commercials?
I know. There are so many French learning strategies out there. You can pick up the news in French, kick back with a great movie or even start flipping crêpes. Why add commercials to your study routine?
Well, since airing a commercial can be quite expensive, commercials are virtually always short. In fact, none of the commercials we’ll discuss in this post run longer than two minutes, and a couple are under 30 seconds. That means you can easily incorporate them into your regular French practice. Furthermore, you can watch one several times to see how your comprehension grows from viewing to viewing.
Commercials also offer a great way to discover French culture. You can learn about the French products and services that native speakers use every day, while PSAs allow you to see important social issues through the eyes of French citizens.
Finally, commercials are a prime example of authentic learning material. In other words, they were made for and are regularly viewed by native French speakers—so they’re great for immersing yourself in natural, real-world French.
Another fun online option for this type of authentic French learning is FluentU. FluentU is designed to get you comfortable with everyday French, by combining real French videos with interactive subtitles. You can click any word and get an instant definition and pronunciation. You’ll find commercials as well as movie trailers, funny YouTube clips, news broadcasts and lots more.
Buy into Better French: 10 Intriguing French Commercials with English Subtitles
We’ve organized the commercials below into three categories: food and drink ads, public service announcements and commercials for various everyday products and services.
Once you choose a commercial, always watch it once without looking at subtitles to see what you can figure out on your own. Then go back, watch it with subtitles and note what you missed.
Food and Drink Commercials
If any feeling is universal, it’s our love of food. Every culture has its own specialties, but everyone seems to agree on the delight of eating good food with people you love. Needless to say, France in particular is deeply associated with la cuisine raffinée (sophisticated cuisine). Thus, it seems only logical to look at some food commercials in French.
This brief but somewhat melodramatic French cheese commercial tells a fictionalized story about how the company’s trademark cheese was developed.
As the monologue is somewhat fast-paced, this commercial is probably a good choice for intermediate learners to practice their skills. The Basque Country—or pays Basque as you’ll hear it called in this commercial—is a region in the very southwest of France bordering Spain.
Le raisin rouge (the red grape) is a French wine company. (If wine and cheese isn’t French, I don’t know what is). This commercial features very basic vocabulary and is essentially all adjectives.
The premise is the comparison between a couple gracefully dancing and the full-bodied nature of the wines. The effect is a tangible brand personality that has a sophisticated, artsy feel, complete with black-and-white cinematography and soft piano music in the background.
Although this ad is for the popular American company Wonderful Pistachios, the commercial is geared towards French viewers. At a mere 15 seconds, this one is particularly short. The duration and use of American terminology makes this commercial simple and ideal for beginners.
The video features a cat playing the keyboard to crack une pistache (a pistachio). The whimsical premise along with awkward special effects make for an amusing, albeit nutty (I’m sorry, really) commercial.
This commercial rests on two brief conversations: the first is between a high school student and his boyfriend, while the second is between that same student and his father. The marketing strategy centers on the closing phrase venez comme vous êtes (come as you are).
This one is considered controversial because of its message (as is evident by the comments section, if nothing else). However, no matter what your views on that issue may be, this commercial does allow for straightforward language practice.
Although the content of the conversations is relatively simple, the somewhat fast-paced speaking and use of slang would make this one a bit difficult for most beginners. But remember, one of the advantages to learning with commercials is you can easily watch it several times without taking a large chunk out of your day.
Public Service Announcements
French PSAs (Public Service Announcements), or messages d’intérêt public (literally translated: messages of public interest), are similar to American ones. They draw attention to an important social issue and urge the audience to take action in some way.
By nature, they’re generally heavier than commercials that are merely trying to market a product or service. One takeaway with French PSAs (besides your newfound French prowess, of course) is how universal and pervasive issues such as hunger, smoking addiction and domestic violence really are.
This 30-second clip illustrates how hungry kids can’t focus on schoolwork. The PSA was released by a Canadian organization that seeks to provide nutritious breakfasts to school children so that they can learn.
As simple and poignant as the video is, it moves quickly and can be difficult to follow, making it ideal for intermediate learners. One strength of this PSA is that it gives exposure to the unique accent of Canadian French speakers. You can go even deeper in your learning by checking out the organization’s website and reading more about what they do. (Another great opportunity for cultural connections!)
At about 1.5 minutes, this video is one of the longer ones on this list. The premise is a business meeting where executives brainstorm how to dispose of toxic waste, so the vocabulary is more complex than a simple conversation between father and son—making this PSA most suitable for intermediate learners.
Not only will it expose you to business French, but it’s also worth watching for its creative twist in addressing the dangers of smoking and how big business manipulates the health risks for personal gain.
Note: for this one, be sure you click the “CC” icon on the bottom right corner of the YouTube video screen to turn on the English subtitles. The good news is that you can click the icon again to turn subtitles off as you continue to practice and get more comfortable with the language.
At almost 1.5 minutes, this chilling PSA is also on the longer side. However, its conversational French and poignant message definitely make it worth watching. Interestingly, this video was released by the French government itself, as indicated by the logo we see at the end of the video marked République Française (French Republic).
The context for this one is a conversation between a husband and wife that grows increasingly heated and ultimately leads to violence. The immediate purpose of the PSA is to raise awareness on the prevalence of domestic violence (in French, la violence conjugale), especially towards women, and to publicize “3919” as a number to call for help.
Although the conversation begins simply, the language speeds up as the tension rises, making this one challenging for most beginners, but great for intermediate learners or even over-achieving beginners.
Commercials for Everyday Products/Services
Needless to say, as enjoyable as food (especially French food!) can be, there exists a myriad of other products and services that are being marketed. In this last section, we’ll highlight a few more commercials covering a variety of industries.
This one-minute Apple commercial dates to 1989 and reflects the prevalence of factory jobs as a source of livelihood during that time. Apple’s main marketing point is how they run their company and in particular how they treat their employees.
In the video we witness a father, the wealthy owner of the factory, coaching his son on how to manage the business when he inherits it. The father portrays the workers as thoughtless machines at the mercy of their boss. When the father is done, the narrator points out that there are, luckily, different ways to manage a business. At the end, the 1980s Apple logo appears.
One advantage of this commercial is that, for dramatic effect, the father speaks relatively slowly, making this video easier to understand compared to many others and accessible to beginner and intermediate learners alike.
Condoms are another product with wide appeal on both sides of the Atlantic. This creative commercial features a young boy who does several crazy things (getting a tattoo, driving a plane, etc.) all the while he simply says, ma maman m’a dit que je peux (my mom told me I can). At the end, let’s just say that you find out what keeps making his mom say oui (yes).
Not only is this ad humorous, but with its simple language (the majority of the speaking is the boy repeating his excuse), it’s easily accessible to beginning learners. It’s also great for intermediate learners who want to practice on a lighter note!
This witty ad for a French language school examines statistics of various countries. Upon discovering that nations where people consume large amounts of fat, drink a lot of wine and have sex often see lower heart attack rates than the U.S., the narrator concludes that “what can kill you is speaking English.”
As the narrator doesn’t speak overly quickly and a few key phrases are repeated throughout the video, this commercial is accessible to beginners and intermediate learners alike. (Hopefully, this one will also encourage you to continue your French studies and avoid too much English!)
But Wait… There’s More!
There, you have 10 specific commercials under your belt! You have opportunities to laugh, opportunities to make cultural connections… but what’s next?
- We’ve looked at 10 commercials with English subtitles. If you think you’re ready to move on to the next level, check out this YouTube playlist of French commercials without subtitles. We all have to leave the nest sometime.
- This Business Insider article compares French commercials with American ones. It offers a few cultural comparisons regarding economic values that are good to think about, whether you agree or not. The page also includes 10 French commercials, but without subtitles.
- Throughout this article, I’ve emphasized the fact that commercials are short, which can be a major advantage in using them to practice French. However, there’s no replacement for longer, more sustained opportunities to try your ear at real French. If you think you’re ready, check out YouTube channels with authentic French videos.
Commercials can be a fun and effective way to sharpen your French. Whether you move on to subtitle-less commercials or longer French videos, we wish you bonne chance (good luck) on your French journey!
Rachel Larsen is a lifelong Francophile and freelance writer who dreams of living in France one day. She’s currently a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. To learn more, visit her LinkedIn page.
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