Holidays are always better when you speak the local language. Wherever you go, it is a good practice to learn some essential words and sentences of the locals. It will help you to interact with the native speakers and make your holidays more memorable and productive.
Learning a new language can take a lot of time and hard work, however, you can learn some common words to help you in greeting people and navigating the cities.
Parisians appreciate it when you make an effort to speak their native language. A lot of French speak fluent English, but most of them are a little reserved and shy when it comes to switching languages. By showing a little effort from your side, it’ll make them feel comfortable.
In tourist cities like Paris, you will notice that most locals switch to English when they hear your foreign accent. But if you plan to visit the less touristy places, you are more likely to use the native language. So, learning a few essential French words and phrases will take you a long way.
This is an awkward question; but, everyone should learn how to say Ou sont les toilettes? (pronounced as OOH-sohn-leh-twah-LET?) You never know when you will feel the need for a toilet, and if you don’t know how to ask, it could end badly for you.
Just a tip – the French consider it inappropriate to use the restroom in the middle of a meal. If you simply must use the toilet, excuse yourself from the table and ask your host discreetly.
If you are outdoors visiting places, you can use the restrooms in the café. However, most of the cafés do not let outsiders use their restroom unless they’re paying customers. A trick is for you to order a cup of coffee, pay the bill, and then hit the loo!
2. Combien ca coute?
Translation – How much is it?
We all know there will be a lot of sightseeing and shopping when visiting a new country! If you are shopping for everyone at home, you should learn how to say Combien ca coute (pronounced as COMM-bee-yen-SAH-cool). It simply means how much is it?
When you can speak the native language with the local shop-keepers you may just get lucky and may end up getting discounts. When they see an outsider trying to learn their language, it makes them feel appreciated and draws out their soft side.
We all know France can be an expensive place to shop. So it’s a good idea to learn the local phrases and brace yourself to bargain a little for a good purchase. It can also save you from awkwardness and help you avoid buying unnecessarily costly things.
3. Le menu sil vous plait
Translation – The Menu Please
A trip to France means feasting on Soupe a l’Oignon Gratinee (Onion soup), baguette (French bread), elaborate spreads of fromage (cheese board), and more! The proper way to order food at a restaurant or a café is to ask for the menu in French which is – le menu, sil vous plait (the menu please). The right way to pronounce it is- lu-meh-new-seel-voo-pleh.
Remember, it is considered rude to ask for the menu directly. You can start by saying bonjour (bawn-ZHOOR), and then follow it up with le menu, s-il vous plait.
4. Avez vous un menu en-anglais?
Translation – Can I get a menu in English?
It can be quite a challenge to understand what is written on the menu. Although I wouldn’t recommend it, you can always ask the waiter for a menu written in English.
The French for the phrase can I get a menu in English? is Avez vous un menu en-anglais? (pronounced as Ah-vey-voo-unh-meh-noo-ahn-ahn-glay?)
Along with this, you also need to acquaint yourself with certain French terminologies to know which section of the menu you are looking at. For instance, an appetizer in French means Apéritifs; the main course will be written as Le plat principal, beer as Bière, red wine as Vins rouge, white wine as Vins blanc, mineral water as Eau minérale, etc.
Once you have finished your meal or coffee, you can ask for the bill by saying l’addition, s’il vous plaît? (Check please?)
5. J’ai besoin d’aide
Translation – I need help
If you are a tourist, you’ll probably need help on a daily. Do not shy away from asking for assistance wherever you go. Whether it’s the route to metro stations, to museums, restaurants, or specific locations, you can always ask for help by saying J’ai besoin d’aide (pronounced as jhey-buh-zwan-det).
If you have to interrupt someone, you can start with excusez moi (ehk-SKEW-zay-MWAH), which means excuse me and then ask for guidance.
6. Ou sommes nous?
Translation – Where are we?
Est ce que c’est proche/ loin?
Translation – Is it close/ far?
Safety is a priority especially when you are exploring new cities alone and without anyone with you.
When you learn basic phrases like Où sommes-nous? meaning Where are we?, and Est-ce que c’est loin/proche? (seh-lwa(n)/prohsh) meaning Is it far/ close?, it can be quiet handy to help you go about without getting lost.
It is always a wise decision to know where you are going. Ending up in the wrong destination can be a waste of time and money.
7. Quoi de neuf?
Translation – What’s up?
Translation – Hey there!
A plus tard
Translation – See you soon
Quoi de neuf? (kwa-duh-nuf), Coucou! (kookoo), and A plus tard (Ah-plu-ta) are informal French phrases to greet people. But so not use these with people whom you have met for the first time.
These are casual greetings that you use with people you meet or see quiet often, like your hotel lift boy, host, etc. If you say it correctly with the right accent, some people may mistake you for a native speaker.
Sometimes, simply saying pardon doesn’t cut it. When you find it difficult to understand what the other person is trying to tell you, just tell them je ne comprends pas (pronounced as juh-nuh-com-prond-pah) which means I don’t understand.
Use this phrase if you are trying to hold a friendly conversation with a local but you simply can’t bring yourself to translate what they just said. Say it politely and your conversation partner will be patient enough to explain it to you.
9. Ou se trouve la-station de metro la-plus proche
Translation – Where’s the nearest metro station?
Ou se trouve la-station de metro la-plus proche (pronounced as oo-suh-trOOv-lah-stah-syon-duh-MAY-tro lah-ploo-prosh) means where’s the nearest metro station? This is an important phrase that may save you a lot of trouble.
Imagine being stranded in a strange place and you can’t get anybody to understand that you’re looking for the nearest metro station! Learn it, and learn it well – for your safety.
When you learn this phrase, you’ll also know how to say where is it? (ou se trouve) which literally translates to where is it found?. Here is another handy phrase you can make out of it – ou est le-commissariat de-police?
Which means where’s the police station? Pronounced as oo-suh-tr-OO-v-luh-com-mee-SAHReeah-duh-poLEES.
10. Je t’ aime
Translation – I love you
You can’t not know how to say I love you when in the city of love! What if you find love on the road!?
How do the French say I love you?
Adorer is the French word for to love. But you only use this when referring to things rather than people. Say for instance you want to say I love this place, song, or book. That’s when you use the word adorer.
When you want to say love with reference to a person, you use the word je t’ aime (zhuh-TEM). Typically, aimer means like however in this context it is understood as love. Make sure you use it wisely.
Different Ways to Learn and Pronounce French for English Speakers
Learning a new language like French can stimulate your brain. It can also improve your listening and memory skills. However, if you want to speak like a native, you need to get the accent and pronunciation right.
One of the easiest ways to learn French or any other language is by signing up for an online one-on-one class. The advantages of an online course are that you can learn wherever you go by switching on your smartphone.
Another way to improve your pronunciation is by listening to French Podcasts that are for French speakers. Listen in your car, on the way to the office, gyms, etc. and familiarize yourself with their accents and speech patterns.
Finding a conversation partner who is good in French is also a smart way to learn French quickly. It can be either done online or in-person if you are lucky enough to have a native speaker friend. A fun and easy way to learn French is by listening to songs. You can learn and sing along, and in no time, you will be speaking like a native speaker.