For French learners everywhere, France is the goal.
Filled with incredible food and some of the richest history in the world, it’s a country that already takes a high spot on many people’s travel wish lists.
So if you’re learning French, you’ve probably been eyeing up trips for a while.
And if you’re jetting off any time soon, you’re probably eager to brush up on the words and phrases you need to ensure every part of your stay plays out perfectly.
So sit back, relax and read on.
We’ll review everything you need to know before takeoff, so you can concentrate on enjoying the food, seeing the sights and having conversations with locals.
Getting by in France is actually really easy. As long as you’ve got some essential phrases under your belt, you’ll be good to go!
In this post, we’ll go over the most important phrases to know when you’re traveling in France.
But first, let’s look at a few easy things you can do to feel confident and in control before you fully immerse yourself.
How to Prepare for Your Trip to France
Find a phrasebook
Before you travel, you’re going to want to arm yourself with a few essentials, and at the top of your list should be a really great French phrasebook. Although we’re going to prepare you with some good frequently-used phrases, it’s always good to be ready for any eventuality, and a phrasebook will act as a great backup. Two of the best phrasebooks for French learners are the “Collins French Phrasebook” and the Lonely Planet French Phrasebook, both of which contain their own French dictionaries for your convenience.
To go beyond those two options, you’ll want to explore Lonely Planet to see what’s available. There are French phrasebooks for every corner of the French-speaking world, and some have additional features like accompanying audio files, travel guides or apps.
Research local customs
Wherever you go in France, you’ll find a whole host of things that make the area unique. Whether it’s local French cooking, events or linguistic differences, it pays to research the place you’re going and, if necessary, learn a few phrases relating to whatever may be going on around you. In Paris, for example, some museums and galleries are free to all on the first Sunday of the month, a deal worth taking full advantage of! If you want to check out the region to which you’re traveling, France.fr is a great place to do so.
And of course, Lonely Planet offers French phrasebooks and regional travel guides that can offer you insight into customs, culture, etiquette and holidays.
Make a list of activities
Just getting to France may seem like a dream come true, but unless you have some idea of how you want to spend your time, it can pass you by in a haze. Before you leave, try making a list of things you’d like to do. This way, you can adjust the phrases you learn accordingly and be ready to ask about certain exhibitions in the area, for example, or how to find a place to eat that serves a certain local dish you’d like to try. Spontaneity is wonderful, but a little planning doesn’t hurt, either.
Learn polite French terms of address
The French take manners very seriously, and if you’re meeting someone for the first time, or talking to a stranger, it’s important that you address them in the right way. If you’re trying to attract the attention of someone who might be able to help you, say either bonjour monsieur/madame (hello sir/madam), or excusez-moi monsieur/madame (excuse me sir/madam). Similarly, when you enter a shop, it’s always nice to greet the shopkeeper by saying hello or good morning.
You can get a head start on polite conversation for practical, everyday matters with ed2go’s Beginning Conversational French course. This is a short online course that prepares you for communication in places like restaurants, hotels and other typical scenarios you may encounter on your travels.
There are also different terms of address in French, and depending on how well you know someone, you’ll have to address them in a certain way. For people you know, you can say tu (you) when talking to them. This can also be used for children and animals.
For strangers, figures of authority or your elders, you must use vous (you). This is a much more polite term of address, and expected when you haven’t gotten to know someone well yet.
If you’re struggling to know which one to use, always veer on the side of caution and use vous. The other person will tell you if they want you to say tu to them instead!
Watch videos on FluentU
On FluentU, you can build your confidence by brushing up on different areas of travel vocabulary with videos like “When to Use Tu and Vous” (see above) and many more.
You can easily search videos by level and subject, so you can brush up on areas of French culture that interest you to get inspired for your trip. You’ll also get the advantage of being able to hear how real French people actually speak some of the phrases you’ll need to know yourself. Never underestimate the importance of pronunciation!
Start using it on the website right now, or better yet, download the app from the iTunes store or Google Play store to take along to France with you!
Learning just a few simple phrases before you go to France will serve as a great backup should you ever need to ask a local questions.
The ones below should help you in most tourist-based scenarios, and help to make your time in France truly memorable!
25+ French Travel Phrases That’ll Take You Places
Let’s start with the absolute basics.
- Oui — Yes
- Non — No
- Bonjour — Hello
- Au revoir — Goodbye
- Bonsoir — Good evening
- Pardon — Excuse me
- Merci — Thank you
- S’il vous plaît — Please
- Excusez-moi monsieur/madame — Excuse me sir/madam
- Je voudrais… — I would like…
Je voudrais is likely to be a phrase that you’ll need to use very frequently—when ordering food, attending new places or just trying to buy something in a shop.
While most phrasebooks will contain the names of most foods and items that you would need to order, it’s worth remembering a few so that you don’t get stuck in a sticky situation! So here are a few you may want to commit to memory.
- Je voudrais…un café — I would like…a coffee
…une bière — …a beer
…une baguette — …a baguette
…de l’eau — …some water
…un carnet — …a travel pass
This last one would usually be for the metro, and consists of a book of 10 tickets.
…l’addition — …the bill
- Je cherche… — I am looking for…
Je cherche is another handy phrase to make use of, especially if you’re traveling for the first time in a French city. Unlike in English, where we say “I am looking for,” the French don’t use a preposition (“for”) after the verb, and simply follow this phrase with what they’re searching for.
- Je cherche…le bus — I’m looking for…the bus
…un taxi — …a taxi
…les toilettes — …the toilets
…l’hôpital — …the hospital
- Parlez-vous anglais ? — Do you speak English?
- Ça coûte combien ? — How much does that cost?
- Comment dit-on ___ en français ? — How do you say ___ in French?
- Où est … ? — Where is…?
Again, this is a phrase that you’ll be needing to use for a lot in France, and it pays to memorize the names of a few places, so you can get by if you’re stuck.
- Où est…l’hôtel ? — Where is the hotel?
…la banque ? — …the bank?
…l’aéroport ? — …the airport?
…la plage ? — …the beach?
- Je parle un peu français — I speak a little French
If you’re learning French, chances are you’ll want to practice your language skills when you go out there. However, it can be intimidating approaching a native, and letting them know that you’re not fluent will really put your mind to rest! Saying je parle un peu français will enable you to continue practicing your speaking skills, while at the same time alleviating any pressure you might feel to talk fluently. Use this phrase when you’re first starting a conversation, or want to continue talking to someone in French.
- Je ne comprends pas — I don’t understand
A necessity if you’re trying to make conversation with a native, je ne comprends pas will serve you well if you ever get stuck. Often, French people are so pleased to find a foreigner who is able to speak in their language that they’ll get a little carried away and enthusiastically try to start a complex conversation. While situations like these are incredible if you’re a learner, they can also be very intimidating. Don’t worry if you don’t understand. Simply excuse yourself, say that you don’t understand and if you would like to continue the conversation, try the following phrase:
- Pouvez-vous répéter, s’il vous plaît ? — Could you repeat that, please?
- Je suis là pour les vacances/le travail — I’m here for vacation/work
After you’ve made your initial introductions, it’s likely that a person with whom you’re speaking will ask about the time you’re spending in France. While many people travel to the country for vacation, this isn’t always the case, so informing the other person of your reasons for traveling can help fuel the conversation you have. It’s likely that the other person will want to expand on the topic, so having a few words ready about your future itinerary or your job wouldn’t go amiss.
- Parlez plus lentement, s’il vous plaît — Speak a little slower, please
For French learners, the coveted native speed of speaking can seem unattainable, and while you can learn to understand it over time, it does take a little adjusting to. If you’re speaking to a local and would like them to speak a little more slowly, it’s better to just ask them, rather than suffering in silence. Saying parlez plus lentement, s’il vous plaît will let your speaking partner realize they might be going a little too fast for you, but that you would still like to continue.
If you’d like them to go back over something they’ve been talking about, saying pouvez-vous répéter ? once more is a great way to have them re-cover a topic that might have gone over your head. Don’t worry about seeming rude—French people are very willing to help learners with their language skills, and will likely have no problem adjusting their speed.
- Est-ce que vous acceptez les cartes étrangères ? — Do you accept foreign cards?
Be aware that paying for items when abroad may not work in the same way as at home. If you’re in a smaller town in France especially, it’s always worth checking with hotels or shop owners if they accept foreign modes of transaction. Asking est-ce que vous acceptez les cartes étrangères ? will ensure that you don’t find yourself in any sticky payment situations down the line.
If you’re traveling from the U.S., asking acceptez-vous les cartes sans puce ? might be more to the point. Many North American cards don’t have chip-and-pin security, and some stores in France don’t have magnetic strip readers.
Generally, most tourist destinations will be equipped to deal with foreign credit cards, but if you’re ever not sure, it always pays to double check!
- Est-ce que vous pourriez prendre ma photo, s’il vous plaît ? — Could you take my photo, please?
Everyone loves a souvenir, and it’s likely that you’ll take your camera along with you to capture precious memories. In touristy zones, natives are used to being asked to take photos, but if you’re going to do it, it’s especially nice to be able to inquire in French.
In order to ask, simply say excuse-moi monsieur/madame, est-ce que vous pourriez prendre ma photo, s’il vous plaît ? If there are a group of you, then replace ma photo (my photo) with notre photo (our photo). Addressing someone by the equivalent of “sir” or “madam” in French is generally expected, so if in doubt, err on the side of being overpolite—the person taking your photo is much more likely to accept your request!
- À quelle heure est-ce que cela ferme ? — What time does it close?
Across France, especially in the summer months, it’s worth checking out closing times. To ask when a shop or attraction is closing, ask à quelle heure est-ce que cela ferme ? to a member of the staff. Remember, French time works a little differently and is often given on a 24-hour cycle, so if someone responds with dix-sept heures (literally, “17 hours”), they mean 5 p.m.
On the other hand, to inquire when a place will be opening, ask à quelle heure est-ce que cela ouvre ? (what time does it open?). Both of these phrases are really essential when traveling, so make sure you learn them ahead of time!
- Quel temps va-t-il faire aujourd’hui ? — What will the weather be like today?
Don’t forget that much of the time, the weather in France is described using the verb faire, so if the other person responds il fait beau aujourd’hui, they are saying that the weather is beautiful today.
Learning some vocabulary for different kinds of weather is a great idea before you venture out—being able to understand what sun and rain are in French will help you to listen out for all the right words.
- Il fait beau aujourd’hui — It’s beautiful weather today
- Il pleut — It’s raining
- Il fait chaud — It’s hot
- Il fait froid — It’s cold
- Il fait du soleil — It’s sunny
- Il fait du vent — It’s windy
- Pouvez-vous m’appeler un taxi, s’il vous plaît ? — Can you call me a taxi, please?
Getting home in France when public transport has stopped running can be a real worry, and unless you’re right next to a taxi stand, it can be very difficult to find a cab. If you’re at a venue late, ask one of the staff pouvez-vous m’appeler un taxi, s’il vous plaît ? Staff are likely to have all the information about local transport and taxis and normally will be able to supply you with one in no time at all! As usual, thank the person for their help and address them in the most polite way you can.
Learning about other forms of transport will also help you to no end, especially when you’re searching for a way to get home.
- Le bus — the bus
- Le train — the train
- Le bateau — the boat
- Le car — the coach
- La voiture — the car
- Pouvez-vous m’aider ? — Can you help me?
In the unlikely scenario that you get into trouble when in France, it’s really important to have armed yourself with the right words to get out of a bind. Even knowing pouvez-vous m’aider ? (can you help me?) is incredibly handy.
Of course, just because you need help doesn’t mean you’re in trouble, and sometimes, you might just need directions. The above phrase can be used in those scenarios, too, and is a great way to identify people who are able to speak French and who know their way around town.
Traveling to France is a thrilling and eye-opening experience.
In order to get the most out of your trip, it’s a great idea to memorize some key words and phrases before you go, just in case you can’t remember anything else.
These French phrases will have your back throughout your travels. And they just might enable you to start a conversation in French with a native speaker.
So what are you waiting for? You’ve got learning to do!
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