Learn French with Songs: 23 Hits to Help Improve Your French Skills
“Pourquoi philosopher alors qu’on peut chanter?” (Why philosophize when we can sing?)
Georges Brassens, the beloved French singer who posed this question, might have a really good point.
In addition to philosophers and writers, music is an important art form that’s commonly overlooked when learning French.
The French language is highly melodic, and what better way to learn a melodious language than by singing?
- French Songs to Learn French
- 1. “La vie en rose” — Edith Piaf
- 2. “Quelqu’un m’a dit” — Carla Bruni
- 3. “Bonnie and Clyde” — Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot
- 4. “Je t’aime… moi non plus” — Serge Gainsbourg ft. Jane Birkin
- 5. “Ta fête” — Stromae
- 6. “On ne change pas” — Celine Dion
- 7. “Je lui dirai” by Celine Dion
- 8. “Je veux” — Zaz
- 9. “Mister Mystère” — -M-
- 10. “Ma soeur” — Vitaa
- 11. “Tandem” — Vanessa Paradis
- 12. “Raconte-moi” — Stacey Kent
- 13. “La vie ne m’apprend rien” — Daniel Balavoine
- 14. “Aussi libre que moi” — Calogero
- 15. “La jeune fille aux cheveux blancs” — Camille
- 16. “Petite soeur” — Ben L’Oncle Soul
- 17. “Ma liberté de penser” — Florent Pagny
- 18. “Il est temps” — Kyo
- 19. “La tribu de Dana” — Manau
- 20. “Con j’pense” — Manau
- 21. “Trankillement” — Fatal Bazooka
- 22. “Écris l’histoire” — Grégory Lemarchal
- 23. “Vois sur ton chemin” — Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc
- How to Learn French with Songs and Music
- Why Learn French Through Songs?
- And one more thing...
French Songs to Learn French
1. “La vie en rose” — Edith Piaf
Almost everyone knows the melody of Edith Piaf’s “La vie en rose.“ The song was first aired in the 1940s and we have been hearing it ever since.
While perhaps a bit overly romantic, the lyrics and dreamy music will make you want to fall in love with French all over again.
As a bonus, it’s sung slowly, so it’s easy for newbie and intermediate students to follow.
2. “Quelqu’un m’a dit” — Carla Bruni
Carla Bruni is something of a national treasure in France, and her album “Quelqu’un m’a dit” is truly lovely to listen to. The album’s title track, “Quelqu’un m’a dit,” is a classic in French culture.
If you like songs about love and broken hearts, this album is a great option. A number of the tracks were used in international film and television in the years since the album’s release.
3. “Bonnie and Clyde” — Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot
Serge Gainsbourg was the heavy smoking bad boy of the Parisian music scene.
Brigitte Bardot was the French Marilyn Monroe and sweetheart of French cinema.
Put the two of them together, and you get Bonnie and Clyde!
Between Serge’s raspy singing and Brigitte’s sultry voice, you’re sure to get chills. The song is sung at an almost criminally slow pace, which will help you follow along.
4. “Je t’aime… moi non plus” — Serge Gainsbourg ft. Jane Birkin
This song is from the “Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg” album, and it was released back when Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin were dating.
The album is packed with songs about relationships, all sung by the couple at the height of their romance—including the infamous track “Je t’aime….moi non plus.”
It might be controversial sometimes, but you’ll learn a lot about ‘60s French society while brushing up on your romantic vocabulary.
5. “Ta fête” — Stromae
“Ta fête” is from Belgian musician Stromae’s dance album “Racine Carrée”, which has African and Caribbean influences. It talks about themes as diverse as social networks, cancer, AIDS and relationship problems.
The songs are based around dance beats and therefore tend to be very easy to understand. In fact, most of the album was a huge hit in France.
6. “On ne change pas” — Celine Dion
While Celine Dion is best known internationally for her English hits, she has released a whole batch of albums in her native Canadian-French, targeted at Francophone countries.
The singer uses her signature “diva” tone in the songs, and they’re remarkably easy to follow and understand. Themes and lyrics are repeated from time to time, making it much easier to understand French songs as you go.
7. “Je lui dirai” by Celine Dion
Light and jolly, with touches of a countryside feel to it, “Je lui dirai” is a delightful song. It’s sung by a mother to her son about what he ought to know about life, in the past, present and future. A truly beautiful piece matched with a relaxing melody sung by Célion Dion’s powerful voice.
It’s a very soothing choice to learn French with songs on a sunny day.
8. “Je veux” — Zaz
Zaz is a contemporary musician who dabbles in jazz, soul and French acoustic, producing a unique sound. Her self-titled album was a huge success in Francophone countries, reaching the tops of the charts.
Her trademark is upbeat tunes with a clear voice and neutral tone. It’s very easy to follow the words in “Je veux,” and the song is worth listening to for the lyrics alone.
9. “Mister Mystère” — -M-
French musician Matthieu Chedid came up with the -M- persona to combat his shyness on stage. Since then, it just stuck.
His album “Mister Mystère” was his first hit after a six-year musical hiatus and received overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Blending musical styles to create an innovative mix, this signature track is great to listen to in order to wind down and top off your French learning at the same time.
10. “Ma soeur” — Vitaa
This song by French pop artist Vitaa is primarily about betrayal. One friend, who was treated like a close sister by the other, betrayed the other when she slept with the other’s boyfriend.
The lyrics are written with feelings of both anger and sadness. Torn between wanting to forgive her, reminiscing about the past and basking in fury, the melancholic melody serves as a beautiful complement to the woeful words.
11. “Tandem” — Vanessa Paradis
Vanessa Paradis is a name with which you might be more familiar thanks to her relationship with Johnny Depp. Paradis is also a hugely popular singer in French-speaking countries. “Variations sur le même t’aime” is often named as her most coherent album.
For the track “Tandem,” Paradis employed music stalwart Serge Gainsbourg to help her with the lyrics and, as a result, it’s the most well-known song in the album.
12. “Raconte-moi” — Stacey Kent
Stacey Kent is actually an American singer-songwriter. But when you listen to her jazz album “Raconte-moi,” it’s hard to believe it hadn’t been taken directly from Paris.
The signature song “Raconte-moi” is easy to follow, with a clear and authentic French accent. Because the whole album is dedicated to her grandfather, it’s useful for gaining an insight into French colloquialisms and terms of address.
13. “La vie ne m’apprend rien” — Daniel Balavoine
Daniel Balavoine was a popular French rock singer who stood up for human rights. He spoke out against racism and economic discrimination when interracial relationships were still taboo in France.
The message behind his song “La vie ne m’apprend rien” will stay with you long after you’ve heard it. For any learner who wants to know just what life is all about, Daniel Balavoine will tell you in this song.
14. “Aussi libre que moi” — Calogero
If you’re a pop-rock fan, you might fall in love with Calogero. The music is upbeat, with lyrics that are both seductive and fun. Don’t be worried if you can’t hit the same high notes—the singer’s frail voice is his trademark.
The song will help you with pesky French pronunciation when speaking quickly, like when the singer croons “comme je crois” (as I believe) as only a Frenchman can.
15. “La jeune fille aux cheveux blancs” — Camille
French singer Camille’s album “Le Fil” is worth listening to if you’re into experimental pop that’s light and mesmerizing, with thoughtful lyrics. It had been likened to Bjork’s “Medúlla,” mostly because Camille uses her voice as an instrument.
The album contains a drone note on purpose for every track. Camille calls the sound “her note” and uses it to thread together all of the songs on the record.
16. “Petite soeur” — Ben L’Oncle Soul
If you like soul music, consider listening to Ben L’Oncle Soul.
His “Live Paris” album was recorded over the course of one night, with accompaniment by a contemporary soul band. It contains all of the hit songs from the singer’s career, including “Petite Soeur.”
As well as being a fun way to learn French with music, the songs are irresistibly upbeat and will put a smile on your face!
17. “Ma liberté de penser” — Florent Pagny
Florent Pagny is known for his emotional ballads and extremely poetic music. However, “Ma liberté de penser” is a much more sarcastic song.
Back then, Pagny had gotten into trouble with the French tax department and had the majority of his assets seized. Pagny responded by comparing the French taxman to the devil, telling him to take everything he wants and leave the singer with his freedom to think.
18. “Il est temps” — Kyo
Light and upbeat, “Il est temps” speaks about the separation of a couple and the impact it has for the male partner. The song is a piece that expresses the insecurities, the nostalgia and the longing felt by him.
With an atypical melody that doesn’t sound overly doleful, it’s a cool and relaxing song to listen to for all occasions.
19. “La tribu de Dana” — Manau
This is one of the most popular French songs of all time. It’s about a war fought between the Dana tribe and the Celtic warriors.
In fact, the song reads like a story. It starts off with a prelude to hail the beginning of the war, then progresses to when the battle started and finally ends on a victorious note, with the singer/narrator becoming the king of Dana.
20. “Con j’pense” — Manau
Rapid and clever, Manau delivers yet another hit song with “Con j’pense.” This is a bit difficult to listen to because it contains a lot of slang, but it shows you a more colloquial side of French.
Con roughly means “idiot,” although it’s quite a bit more rude. In the title, it’s a play on the word quand (when) which sounds like con when spoken in a Southern French accent.
21. “Trankillement” — Fatal Bazooka
This rap from Fatal Bazooka is another challenging piece of music in French. With lots of cultural references and colloquial terms, it’ll take a while to figure out.
If you’re on a slightly more advanced level, I highly recommend this for deepening your understanding of French “street” culture.
The title is a play on French word tranquillement (quietly/calmly), and the k probably replaces qu to make it sound cooler.
22. “Écris l’histoire” — Grégory Lemarchal
Grégory Lemarchal was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as an infant, so he had to overcome many obstacles to even start his pop music career.
The young singer overcame his illness to sing songs like “Écris l’histoire.” Sadly, the young Grégory passed away in 2007 due to health complications. Fortunately, his memory lives on in all his fans who rightly feel like he left them too soon.
23. “Vois sur ton chemin” — Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc
“Vois sur ton chemin” is one of the theme songs of the internationally acclaimed film, “Les Choristes” (The Choir). The movie is about a music teacher who works at a school for troubled boys and tries to change this status quo through music.
The song speaks of the fragility of childhood, which complements the movie. Sung by a French choir, it has a mesmerizing tune and meaningful lyrics.
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How to Learn French with Songs and Music
That’s already an entire playlist of French songs for learning French! Here are three strategies for making the most out of these:
Choose songs that match your level
It’s important to choose French songs that suit your current ability.
For instance, I had about three years of experience learning French when I tried to listen to French rap, but I could barely make out individual words that were rapped. Instead, when I changed to some easier-to-understand classics (like Disney songs in French!), I could make out more words and phrases in the piece.
All you have to do is compile a list of 10 to 20 songs, then hit them up on YouTube and do a quick gut check. If everything you hear sounds like gibberish to you, that’s a good indicator that it’s a definite no-no for you. But if you can start catching a few French words here and there, then go for it!
Listen every day
Here’s a simple strategy: commit to listening to two French songs a day for at least an entire month.
Every day, listen to each song three times:
- The first time, just listen to the song from start to end.
- The second time, you want to do some deep listening and try and jot down as many words and phrases as you can.
- The third time, go back and listen again to see if there are any additional words you couldn’t hear in the second round.
You can then look up the official lyrics on the internet and see how much you got right. LyricsTranslate is a great resource for this
Here’s a video that shows how you can use this approach to break down French songs word for word:
Do this every day, and give yourself a big pat on the back once you can decode your favorite song!
Learn with songs you actually like
Like any language, music in French has a wide variety of genres. Take your pick at songs that you like best, and I can almost guarantee you’ll listen better.
And after hearing a song so many times, you’ll start to remember the lyrics from the song. And if you do that, you’ll probably soon want to pick up the dictionary and look up phrases you don’t know.
After that, guess what—you’ve just easily picked up new French words and phrases!
Why Learn French Through Songs?
Here are the major reasons why you should use French songs to learn French:
- You’ll train your ear to understand native French speakers. Songs help you get better at French through repeated listening. French has many pesky words that tend to sound similar to the untrained ear, and the only way to conquer them is to get lots of exposure.
- You’ll improve your pronunciation. Do you remember those songs that get stuck in your head? By listening to your favorite French songs and singing along, you’ll improve your pronunciation for certain words which are common to almost all songs.
- Songs can make words easier to remember. The song’s melody will help you remember the lyrics. There are certain words and expressions in songs that will stay with you, which is why it helps to read through a rough translation of the song before listening to it.
- It’ll teach you about French culture. Listening to French songs will tell you things about the musician and, more often than not, what was going on in the country then. Songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s are particularly good for this because political and social changes were on the minds of most French people. You can also learn about French humor from songs!
- It’s repetitive and quick to learn. Both the themes and lyrics in songs and albums tend to repeat themselves. If there’s something that you’re struggling to understand, your best bet is to listen to the particular song on repeat until it makes sense to you.
And there we have it—a list of catchy French songs to provide you with hours of study.
And one more thing...
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