5 French Plays to Master the Art of Français Conversation Quickly
When my French teacher suggested we read a play together several years ago as part of class, I secretly balked at the idea.
But then we started reading. We read together in class. I read at home in my spare time, with and without my husband. And I started to realize something.
Maybe there was something to this play thing after all—especially in another language.
Because I was learning in a fun and completely different way, and the truth is that I loved it!
Read this post to discover five quintessentially French plays to read yourself. I know you’ll enjoy it like I do.
- Essential French Plays to Master the Art of French Conversation
- How to Learn Conversation with French Plays
- And one more thing...
Essential French Plays to Master the Art of French Conversation
1. “Le dîner de cons” (The Dinner Game)
Written by Francis Veber and published in 1998, “Le dîner de cons” is the story of Pierre Brochant and his weekly “idiots’ dinner,” an event where Pierre and his well-to-do friends come together for a dinner, each with an unknowing “idiot” of their choice. At the end of the evening, a winner is selected based on the most hilarious “idiot.”
On this particular night, everything seems to go wrong and the dinner doesn’t happen at all. Nonetheless, Brochant and his chosen “idiot” end up spending the evening together, dealing with a series of hilarious mishaps and cringe-inducing moments.
You may also recognize this plot from its American remake with Steve Carell, “Dinner for Schmucks.”
Bottom line: If you prefer a more modern comedy with more straightforward dialogue, this is a great place to start.
2. “Le Dieu du carnage” (The God of Carnage)
Written by Yasmina Reza in 2006, “Le Dieu du carnage” tells the story of two sets of parents who come together to discuss their sons. The boys have recently gotten into a fight at a local park, and now the parents are trying to figure out how to resolve the conflict.
While the night begins with plenty of civility as the parents discuss what happened, it quickly and painfully deteriorates into chaos as the parents begin to verbally attack both each other and their children.
Bottom line: If you prefer a more modern play with a darker side, you’ll be happy with this choice.
3. “Huis clos” (No Exit)
Written by Jean-Paul Sartre and published in 1947, “Huis clos” is the story of three individuals—two women and one man—who all die and end up living in a room together in l’enfer (hell).
Over the course of the play, each of them shares a bit about their lives and how they ended up there in hell. The longer they are in the room together, the more they begin to bother each other and the closer we get to the crux of the story—and the ultimate point that Sartre is trying to make.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for something more philosophical in nature without stepping too far back in time, this would be a good bet.
4. “Le tartuffe” (The Imposter)
Written by Molière in 1664, “Le Tartuffe” tells the tale of an unwelcome house guest who has enchanted the several members of a family, much to the dismay of the rest of the family. The house guest, Tartuffe, feigns piety to get into the good graces of several more welcoming members of the family, who refuse to turn against him until later in the story when his duplicitous ways are shown to them as well.
The play is written in rhyming couplets, which actually makes following along slightly easier and helps with reading it aloud.
Bottom line: “Le Tartuffe” is the oldest and by far the most challenging of the four plays listed in this post. If you’re up for a challenge and looking forward to reading through a classic, give it a shot!
Whether you’re a lover of plays or even if you’re a little concerned by the format (like I was!), I urge you to give it a try. My guess is you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
5. “Les bonnes” (The Maids)
This well known play by Jean Genet follows two maids—Claire and Solange— who have been serving their Madame for several years. While she is away, they plan to poison her. Changing roles, imitating their mistress, her language, her attitudes, they flirt with madness and self-destruction.
The play brings up the themes of the master-servant relationships, and it was one of the first French contemporary plays to use the concept of cross-dressing on stage.
Bottom line: This is a really fun play, with pithy dialogue and great dark characters. I highly recommend it.
Find these and more French plays in the video library of FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
How to Learn Conversation with French Plays
So now that I’ve let you in on how French plays will help you, let me fill you in on some of the ways you can make them an especially useful learning tool.
Begin reading like a book
My recommendation is to begin like you would with any book, and start by reading the play to yourself. Take some time just getting a grasp for the vocabulary you aren’t sure of, along with the broader tone of the story and the personalities of the individual characters.
You don’t necessarily have to read the entire thing through at this point. In fact, I think you might find it more useful to just read a few pages to yourself, perhaps just until you reach a good break point, like the end of a scene. Make sure you really understand those pages well. It’ll make the next part a lot easier and more interesting.
Read the dialogue aloud
Once you’ve got them down, go back and try reading the dialogue out loud and see if you can get a feel for the flow. Try to identify the type of conversation and the personalities of the characters, and then take that knowledge and use it as you say the lines. If you have a study buddy, get them involved too. Assign characters and re-assign them as each new scene requires. Really try to get into the emotional mindset of everyone.
Watch a performance of the play
Now put the play down and pick up your computer. Lots of plays are available on YouTube in one form or another, and for many you can watch the entire thing performed. So find your play and watch the scene(s) you’ve just studied.
How does your acting compare with what you see in the clips? What are you learning from the actors? After you’ve watched some clips, try going back and reading the dialogue again. Chances are you’ll feel even more confident in your words and demeanor.
This goes back to the point I made earlier about the flow of dialogue and sounding like a native. By watching a performance, with real speakers, the words are essentially coming to life and you can see more nuance behind each and every one of them. Plus, since audio is provided, you’re improving your listening comprehension.
Having visuals are a great help when it comes to understanding French in context. Seeing the language put into action by native speakers can make a huge difference in your ability to understand and use French.
Now get out there and get on with your play. No acting skills required—I promise!
And one more thing...
If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.
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