It was my first international flight.
I was headed to spend my entire summer in beautiful coastal Italy.
I remember the sinking feeling when I arrived at the airport only to find out that I’d misread my ticket and the gates were already closed.
This fate resulted in eight more hours at the airport, a two-day layover in Iceland (not altogether bad) and one worn-out girl who spent the first several days of her Italian vacation sleeping.
It’s time for a confession: my ticket mishap was due to the fact that I didn’t read the time (written in European/military format) correctly… what a dope!
Whether it’s the format or a single foreign word you don’t understand, prepare before going abroad so you don’t have a similar mishap.
One of the easiest ways to do so is to learn your transportation vocabulary and phrases before you go!
How Can French Transport Vocabulary Help You?
Aside from avoiding travel fiascos like mine, transportation vocabulary is one of the most important French essentials to learn if you want to get around efficiently in a French-speaking region.
If you don’t at least know how to ask important questions at the ticket booth, make sense of the signs in the metro station or find the correct terminal, you can’t expect to get very far.
There may even be times when you’re abroad and don’t have a handy phrasebook with you and no one around you speaks a bit of English. So don’t waste precious travel time but make the preparations now by learning the most important transportation words and phrases below.
French transportation vocabulary is also helpful even if you don’t have a trip booked. As you’ll see in the list below, many transport terms are widely-used in other contexts as well—such as directional words or movement verbs. Learning them will give your general French vocabulary an important boost.
How to Practice French Transport Vocabulary
For many language learners, rote memorization is like traveling in circles. Here are some fun ways to fast-track your memorization of the vocabulary in this post.
- Try using this flashcard set on Quizlet, where you can shoot at vocabulary word asteroids or match them together in a giant word cloud.
- french-games.net is another resource that turns this vocabulary into catchy online games.
- The YouTube channel YouLearnFrench has a great video for those of you wondering how to better pronounce the French transport vocabulary. You can also watch Easy Language’s interview with French citizens about public transportation.
- If you enjoy those videos, go straight to the source with FluentU. FluentU provides tons of authentic French videos, like interviews, news clips, inspiring talks and more, that’ve been transformed into personalized language lessons.
- Each video comes with interactive captions—you can click any word for an instant definition, pronunciation and visual learning aid. FluentU will also show you other videos that have the word so you can use it correctly in any context.
- You’ll actively build your French vocabulary while absorbing the language as native speakers actually use it. For example, in this news clip you’ll hear about how the Paris metro and roads were closed for safety during the New Year. Advanced speakers will enjoy this funny take on the Paris metro from the comedy show “bref.” You can check out the full video library for free with a FluentU trial.
100+ French Transport Vocabulary Words for Stress-free Travel
The Essentials for All Travel Types
Whether you’re on your morning metro commute or taking a taxi to meet a friend for dinner, there are just certain words that you’ll almost always need to know.
Le transport — transportation
Voyager — to travel
Aller — to go
Venir — to come
Prendre — to take
Les directions — the directions
Où est… s’il vous plaît? — Where is… please?
Au nord — to the north
Au sud — to the south
À l’est — to the east
À l’ouest — to the west
Tournez à droite. — Turn right.
Tournez à gauche. — Turn left.
Tout droit — straight ahead
Loin de — far from
Près de — close to
À côté de — next to
Devant — in front of
Derrière — behind
Au coin de — at the corner of
Au centre — at the center
Là-bas — over there
Getting Your Ticket
Un billet/un ticket — a ticket
In French, you use un ticket for bus and metro tickets and un billet for train and plane tickets.
Un billet simple — a one-way ticket
Un billet aller-retour — a return ticket
Quel est le prix d’un billet? — What is the price of a ticket?
Le guichet — the ticket booth
En avance — early
À l’heure — on time
En retard — late/delayed
Supprimé — canceled
Getting Around the Metro
In this section, there are both general metro words you’ll need to know and some terms that are specific to the metro system in France.
Le métro — the metro
Une carte de métro — a metro map
En service — in service
En raison de travaux de maintenance, le trafic est interrompu. — Traffic is interrupted because of maintenance work.
Bus de remplacement. — Bus replacement.
You’ll see this a lot when the metro is being worked on (which is quite often in France). Bus replacements will be your saving grace when stations or parts of the line are closed.
Une perturbation est actuellement en cours. — A disruption is underway.
You’ll see this a good bit and you should know that when you do, your metro will surely be late.
L’écran — a screen (for information about the metro)
In French metro stations, these screens will be your best friends as they’ll tell you when the next few metros will arrive and if there are any delays. If you ask someone for information, they’ll likely direct you to l’écran.
Un carnet — a pack of 10 metro tickets
Les places prioritaires — reserved seats
Le contrôle des tickets. — ticket verification
Be sure that you inserted your ticket when you came through the turnstile because you can get some serious fines if stopped by the French metro control, who are always out and about looking for offenders.
Comment aller à la station _____, s’il vous plaît? — How do I get to _____ station, please?
Passage interdit. — Do not enter.
La correspondance — the connection
La sortie — the exit
Travel by Car
Here are the essential French words you need to know about traveling by car.
La voiture — the car
La rue — the street
Une rue à sens unique — a one-way street
Conduire — to drive
Le conducteur/la conductrice — the driver (masculine/feminine)
Un passager/une passagère — a passenger (masculine/feminine)
Le trafic — the traffic
Un feu tricolore — a stop light
A red light is called un feu rouge.
Un panneau stop — a stop sign
La limite de vitesse — the speed limit
Une voiture de location — a rental car
Les freins — the brakes
Le moteur — the engine
Le volant — the steering wheel
La ceinture de sécurité — the seatbelt
Les pneus — the tires
Un permis de conduire — a driver’s license
Un taxi — a taxi
Le chauffeur de taxi — the taxi driver
Buses are a big part of everyday life in France. Chances are you’ll use them a lot if going abroad.
Le bus — the bus
Le chauffeur de bus — the bus driver
Le siège — the seat
Un arrêt — a bus stop
Valider votre billet — to validate your ticket
Don’t forget to validate your ticket at the front of the bus by putting it into the machine when you board.
Le prochain arrêt — the next stop
Un noctilien — Paris-specific night bus
Complet — full (no room for additional passengers)
Le terminus — the last stop
Un itinéraire — a route
L’horaire — the timetable
Travel by Boat
Though you may think you’ll never travel by boat, chances are you’ll take a cruise on the Seine River if you’re ever in Paris. If so, it’ll help to know the following vocabulary.
Le bateau — boat
Un bateau touristique — a sight-seeing boat
La rivière — the river
Un souper-croisière — a dinner cruise
À l’intérieur — inside
Sur le pont — on deck
Le quai — the dock
Here are the most important words and phrases you need to know when traveling by airplane.
L’avion — the airplane
L’aéroport — the airport
Le pilote — the pilot
Le décollage — take-off
L’atterrissage — landing
Le retrait des bagages — the baggage claim
L’enregistrement — the check-in counter
Le terminal — the terminal
La porte — the gate
The French use the same word for “door” to denote an airport gate.
Le steward / la hôtesse — a steward/stewardess
Voler — to fly
L’embarquement — boarding
Here are some basic train words and phrases. For a more in-depth list, check out this article on French train vocabulary.
Le train — the train
La gare — the station
Le quai — the platform
Note that this is the same word to denote a dock in the “Travel by Boat” section.
La voie — the tracks
En première classe — in first class
En seconde classe — in second class
Un vélo — a bike
Faire du vélo — to ride a bike
Une location de vélo — a bike rental
Renting a bike is a very popular way to get around in French cities. You’ll see bike shares nearly everywhere you go.
Le cyclomoteur — a moped
Une moto — a motorcycle
Now that you know the French transportation basics, you’re ready to venture out and have some fun!
Camille Turner is an experienced freelance writer and ESL teacher.
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