Changing leaves, hot cocoa, scarves and sweaters, pumpkin flavored pastries in cafe windows.
It can only mean one thing: Fall has arrived!
Along with its arrival comes a ton of new French vocabulary centered around the season.
It’s time to start thinking about the first of several great holidays to come—Halloween!
Who doesn’t love it? It’s the time of year that brings out your spooky side and lets you get creative with costumes, treats, games and more.
No matter how you like to celebrate this sweet holiday, why not use it as a fun opportunity to learn some new French vocabulary at the same time?
Halloween has recently been catching on in France, so there’s no better time to celebrate October 31st with a French spin!
Get in the “Spirit” of the Holiday by Discovering Halloween’s French Roots
While Halloween is largely considered by the rest of the world to be absent from French culture, you might be surprised to learn that you, in part, have France to thank for the holiday’s existence!
Believe it or not, Halloween is said to originate from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which was celebrated over 2,000 years ago in what is today the United Kingdom and Northern France.
The Celts who lived in those areas marked their new year on November 1st and believed that, during the preceding night, October 31st, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead was unclear.
Fast forward to the eighth century when Pope Gregory III establishes November 1st as All Saints’ Day (a day to honor all saints and martyrs). October 31st then becomes All Hallow’s Eve and later Halloween, with both holidays echoing certain traditions of the ancient celebration of Samhain.
If you really want to celebrate Halloween properly, there’s no better way to pay homage to its roots than mixing in a little French culture!
Halloween in France Today
Despite its initial roots in Northern France, and the fact that All Saints’ Day is a public holiday in the country, Halloween as we know it has taken a long time to catch on in France.
However, while you may not see as many trick-or-treaters in France or the candy and decorations one is accustomed to in say, the United States, some French are starting to warm up to the idea.
For example, more shops in France’s bigger cities like Paris are starting to incorporate Halloween window displays.
Boulangeries (bakeries) are beginning to offer Halloween-themed goods, such as miniature cakes in the form of jack-o-lanterns and freshly baked bread in the shape of spiders.
Each year, more and more kids are begging their parents to take them trick-or-treating, influenced in part by American television shows and movies about the holiday.
While it’s not necessarily easy to find a pumpkin patch in France, it’s finally possible to find smaller choices in local vegetable stands during October.
With every passing year, a little more of this great holiday is incorporated into the culture as the country establishes its own unique French Halloween celebrations.
Creepy Ideas to Practice Halloween Vocabulary
There are many ways to incorporate French vocabulary into your Halloween activities.
A great way to learn French is through writing. What better way to do that than by creating your very own spooky story? Challenge yourself by trying to use at least 10 of the words and phrases from the list below or by using one of these horror story prompts on Every Writer.
If you’re not in the mood for writing, then try telling a scary story in French to a friend. Take turns and see who can come up with the most frightening tale.
Games can be another excellent learning tool when studying French! Try playing Halloween bingo while calling out the words in French or create your own French mad lib and fill it out with a friend.
If you’re in the mood for something big this Halloween, host a murder mystery party for you and your friends. Establish a rule that you can only ask for clues and make accusations in French!
Lastly, if you prefer staying inside and cozying up on the couch, you can’t beat watching a film and learning French at the same time. Try watching a scary movie with French subtitles to see how many words you recognize. Or you can just turn the subtitles off and write down any words you don’t understand to look them up later.
To save yourself time in looking up words—indeed, to get instant definitions for any words you don’t understand while watching a French video—try FluentU.
With meticulous, interactive captions, you’ll see every word that’s spoken in a video—and you can just hover over anything unfamiliar to get instant definitions, pronunciations and extra usage examples.
A huge library of videos on all sorts of topics mean that you can always find something interesting to watch. And, since videos are organized by learning level, you can easily find videos that are just right for your level of fluency.
Fun, adaptive exercises let you practice what you’re learning, ensuring that you truly understand all your new vocabulary and grammar.
FluentU tracks your progress and will let you know when it’s time to review, using multimedia flashcards that keep learning dynamic—so you never forget what you’ve learned.
Check it out with the free trial—you’ll have a ghoulishly good time learning authentic French with entertaining, engaging videos.
Truly, the possibilities for wickedly enjoyable practice are endless!
Get Ready for October 31st with These Spooktacular French Halloween Words
Whether it’s writing your own French ghost story, playing games or watching horror films in French, learning the language is sure to be a ton of fun during this holiday.
Here are some great words and phrases to get you started for a fun French Halloween:
Watch out for monsters!
L’Halloween — Halloween
Le monstre — monster
Le zombie — zombie
La sorcière — witch
La momie — mummy
Le squelette — skeleton
Le fantôme — ghost
Le vampire — vampire
La chauve-souris — bat
Broken down, the French actually refer to a bat as a chauve (bald) souris (mouse)!
Le cimetière — cemetery
La maison hantée — haunted house
Tricks and treats
Le bonbon — candy
La citrouille — pumpkin
Note that if you want to refer to a jack-o-lantern, or denote a carved pumpkin, you’ll need to say la citrouille d’Halloween.
Le déguisement — costume
Don’t be fooled by a faux amis (false friend)! If you use le coutume, you’ll be saying “the custom.” Rather, the French word, le déguisement, for costume more closely resembles the English word “disguise.”
La Toussaint — All Saints’ Day
This word is a simple combination of tous (the plural form of “all”) and saint, the same as its English counterpart.
Hanter — to haunt
Effrayer — to scare
This is a slightly higher level way of saying “to scare.” A more common phrase would be faire peur à (to make afraid).
Craindre — to fear
One can also use the common avoir peur de (to be afraid of). Literally, this phrase means “to have fear.” It’s important to remember that in French, one uses avoir (to have) when referring to fear, unlike English that uses the infinitive “to be.”
Rouler — to trick
You can also use duper which means the same thing.
Le tour — trick
Other ways of saying “a trick” include une blague (also meaning “a joke”) or une farce (a farce).
Aller de maison en maison pour chercher des bonbons — to go trick-or-treating
Since there’s no exclusive phrase for expressing the Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating, the French use the above sentence that literally translates to “going from house to house to look for candy.”
Des bonbons ou un sort! — Candy or spells!
Unlike the tradition of saying “trick or treat,” French kids have several phrases they use when out hunting for Halloween candy. Another common saying is bêtises ou friandises (mischief or sweets).
Let the celebration begin!
Joyeuse Halloween! — Happy Halloween!
Je voudrais sculpter une citrouille. — I would like to carve a pumpkin.
Ça c’est effrayant! — That is scary!
Comment te déguises-tu pour Halloween? — What will you dress up as for Halloween?
Regardons un film effrayant. — Let’s watch a scary film.
Disons des histoires de fantômes! — Let’s tell ghost stories!
The holidays are a fun way to incorporate new and exciting French vocabulary. Don’t just stop at Halloween, but check out more French vocabulary for the whole holiday season.
Have fun practicing these new Halloween French words and have a joyeuse Halloween!
Camille Turner is an experienced freelance writer and ESL teacher.
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