10 Tricks to Sound So French That Natives Think You’re One of ‘Em
Do you ever come across the classic language switch, the moment when your French conversation partner can sense your foreignness and begin to move the conversation from French to English?
Whatever the reason for this might be, you’re dying to sound so perfectly French that natives will never guess—not in a million years—that you’re foreign.
So, if you want to sound so French that you pass for a native, then you need to include the following tricks in your French repertoire!
- Having the Right French Attitude
- Mastering French Mannerisms
- Knowing French Culture
Having the Right French Attitude
1. Act as confident as possible
When said with confidence, even mispronunciations and mistakes can be perfectly understood or overlooked. Speaking sheepishly will do you no favors. Allez-y! (Go for it!)
2. Find French equivalents to expressions you use in English
Think of some fun phrases you always use in English that foreign people wouldn’t think to use or necessarily understand.
For example, in English we say things like “give it a go!” instead of just saying “try.” You might say “are you up for doing…” rather than “do you want to do…”
It seems like a minor detail, but using and understanding these phrases is your key to coming across as a native, or even just as a capable bilingual.
These are essentially just different versions—perhaps slightly more complex ways—of saying simple things. This adds color and natural flavor to our daily language.
Beginners in English might not know how to use all of these, but they certainly aren’t beyond anyone’s capability. They’re easy to learn—it’s just about the level of familiarity with the language that natives have, and having the ability to play around with word usage and phrasing.
Get yourself ahead of the game. Learn the equivalents of these sorts of things in French and you’ll no longer sound like an amateur.
3. Twist your English mouth to make French pronunciations
Make yourself aware of those certain tricky sounds and pronunciations that your darned English-trained mouth just can’t get the hang of.
There are definitely going to be one or two trouble areas when it comes to learning French as an English speaker, as your mouth physically isn’t used to pronouncing certain things.
You probably already know exactly which sounds I’m referring to, because you’ve stumbled over them in the past. Am I right or am I right?
You literally need to train and stretch the muscles to correctly enunciate as a native Frenchie would. Once you have identified which specific sounds you’re struggling with—the ones that make you sound less like the suave Parisian you aspire to be—you can start to fix the problems and stop sounding like a hopeless foreigner.
For example, the importance of correctly pronouncing the difference between dessus and dessous (above and below) is a common one. Go over the sounds and words that you find difficult, repeat them to yourself and mouth the shape of the word’s sound.
Do this as much as you can, whenever you can: washing up, on the loo, in the shower, in the car, on a bus. They’ll eventually fall out of your mouth more naturally just due to the habitual practice.
Mastering French Mannerisms
The following points are 5 classic French conversational techniques and mannerisms to help you sound just a bit more truly français:
4. The tactical use of bah
Fairly difficult to translate, the French bah is used rather regularly and can make your speech pattern sound very authentic.
In answer to an obvious question perhaps:
“Tu aimes bien la pizza?” (Do you like pizza?)
“Bah oui, bien sur!” (Well, yes, of course!)
Or something like the following:
“Tu adores le brocoli?” (Do you love broccoli?)
“Bah non! Je déteste!” (No, I hate it!)
Or as a deep, elongated syllable to fill gaps while you think:
“Qu’est-ce que tu fais le weekend?” (What are you doing on the weekend?)
“Baaaaaahh, en fait je ne sais pas encore.” (Well…actually I don’t know yet)
5. Adding quoi to the ends of sentences
This one is also not easy to translate, but it would be the French equivalent of “whatever” or “innit.” So, you might imagine that it shouldn’t be used when talking formally, but it’s used often in casual conversation and can perfectly round off a sentence.
“C’est quoi, ça?” (What is that?)
“Euuh, je ne sais pas exactement mais je pense que c’est une sorte de nourriture, quoi.” (Um, I’m not really sure but I think it’s a type of food or whatever.)
6. Using eh, ah and hein like there’s no tomorrow
Whether it’s to fill space while you think or to provoke a response, these elongated vowels are very useful when speaking French. They can be heard very often in conversation.
For example, in English we add “don’t you?”/ “aren’t you?”/ “isn’t it?” to the end of statements to toss the conversational ball back into the other person’s court. The French will simply say “hein?”
“Il fait beau aujourd’hui hein?” (It’s nice weather today isn’t it?)
Try it with raised eyebrows for added French effect.
7. Sufficient use of voilà here, there and everywhere
The slangy English phrases “so, yeah” or “so, there you go” would probably be best translated into French as “voilà.”
When you can’t think of anything else to say at the end of a sentence, you can’t go wrong with a voilà. Sometimes even two. Voilà voilà.
8. Not forgetting the classic French shrug
In response to a question to which you don’t know the answer, respond the French way with an exaggerated shrug, raised eyebrows and add a “baaah, je sais pas, moi!” for good measure.
Knowing French Culture
Seeming completely at ease whilst in a French-speaking environment is about more than just talking well enough to impress the natives. In order to blend in, it’s helpful to know the basics of French culture—what’s generally acceptable, what’s not acceptable and what’s going to make you look like the unacquainted outsider.
When it comes to trying to sound authentically French, you need to ditch your textbooks and really indulge yourself in the culture.
Take pleasure in absorbing the culture itself. This is arguably a lot more enjoyable than slaving away at those tiresome verb conjugation exercises, anyway.
So, how can you learn these kinds of things on your own? And how can you see your new French tricks brought to life and used in action?
You have a ton of options open to you as a learner!
Try to read French books with modern language and magazines.
Watch French television programs, track down some classic French films, look up interviews with French celebrities and really pay attention to the way they talk and phrase things.
Use immersive learning programs like FluentU, which pairs authentic French videos with learner-oriented tools like interactive subtitles, multimedia flashcards and personalized quizzes.
However you do it, try to absorb as much of the culture as you can. Here are some cultural notes to keep in mind:
Food and drink is a sacred part of French culture.
Three proper meals a day is the norm. Morning, afternoon and evening. None of this eating whenever you feel like it. No being a bit peckish at 11 a.m. and grabbing a sandwich to eat on the go.
Meals play a major role in French social life, and a dinner party or evening out is to be a long, enjoyable event, not to be rushed or half-hearted. Similarly, don’t be the person who’s mainly interested in staying at the bar all night after wolfing down their dinner at the beginning. The two parts of the evening, food and drink, come hand in hand.
The way you present yourself is a very important aspect of the culture. Presentation refers to the way you dress, act and speak.
In general, the dressing habits are seen to be very understated. You’re meant to be well-dressed but not in anything fussy or fancy. That’s how it’s done for the most part. In the way you converse, never raise your voice or speak over people, it’s polite to stay composed and respectful.
Your combined knowledge of French language, habits and culture will not only give you the resources, but what’s more the confidence, to engross yourself in France and everything French! Before you know it, you’ll be talking to someone French who feels so comfortable conversing with you that the question “where are you from, then?” won’t even come up.