Top 17 French phrases to learn before Paris

| September 5, 2011 | 32 Comments
French phrases to learn before Paris
Terrorising Paris with my inability to speak French

The last time I spoke French I managed to fail my Year 9 course at High School with a rough rendition of introducing myself and then staring blanky at the teacher when he asked me further questions.  This time I vowed to do better and practice French phrases to learn before Paris.  

So before our trip to Paris I popped into the local public library and borrowed the Learn French for Dummies guide.  I skim read it for about an hour or two a night and tried to learn a little bit to help us order our morning pastries and baguettes.

Below are our top French phrases to learn before Paris that we found helped us the most when we were cycling and wandering the streets of Paris.  Now I am definitely no expert so while I have tried to provide a breakdown of how you say them as well as the translation be prepared that the Kiwi accent that we have probably didn’t help us out too much!  However, it really does sound like it is spelt (in the brackets) and every time you say a line you will gain in confidence so keep practising.

French phrases to learn before Paris

Whenever you meet someone on the street and/or EVERYTIME you walk into a shop make sure you acknowledge the person with a simple greeting such as:

Bonjour (Boh(n)-zhur) Translation:Good morning and hello


Bonsoir (bohn SWAHR) Translation:Good evening

Throw in a little Monsieur or Madame to spice it up a little bit as well.  Usually at this stage you will get a similar response followed by a barrage of French while you stand there with your mouth hanging open and a blank expression on your face.

Now is the time to close that mouth, smile and break out a quick note to mention you have no idea what they so eloquently said:

Je ne comprends pas (ZHUHnuh kohm-PRAHN pah) Translation: I don’t understand.

French language in Paris
Got by with enough French to enjoy breakfast

The person you are speaking to will usually switch straight into English and you won’t have any more problems.  However I found this a bit annoying as I often wanted to practice myFrench rather than rely on English.  So when they would answer in English, if I could, I would speak a little bit of French in each sentence.

Even if it was just agreeing with, or disagreeing with what they were saying:

Oui (wee) Translation: Yes

Non (non) Translation: No

You can also ask them whether ornot they speak your native tongue.  Surprisingly we never had anyone thatwe were not able to communicate with effectively or that could not speak alittle bit of English:

Parlez-vous anglais? (par-layVOO Ong-LAY?) Translation: Do you speak English?

Often after the initial introduction or entrance it is polite to ask:

Comment ça va? (koh-mahn sah vah)Translation: How are you? 

And if they ask you in return then reply with a simple:

Bien, merci (bee-uhn, MEHR-see) Translation:Fine, thank you. 

Some old bird

A good one to use when you are wandering the Louvre with your eyes flicking back and forth between the artworks while bashing into everyone is:

Je suis Désolé (Zhuhswee DEH-soh-LAY); Translation: I am sorry


Excusez-moi (ehk-SKEW-zayMWAH) Translation: Excuse me

Another one that really helped a lot that we used when trying to find something, buy something, or just ask a question was usually to begin with:

Je voudrais… (zhuh voo-DREH…) Translation: I would like…

And if your Mum ever taught you properly then make sure that when ordering that coffee or croissant make sure you ask politely with a:

S’il vous plait Translation:Please

The French are very polite as well so make sure you never forget to use this phrase after someone has actually helped you.

Merci! (Mehrsee) Translation:Thank you!

Finally, on your way out make sure you leave the same way you entered by giving them a “Cheerio” (preferably not) or:

Au revoir (oh rer-vwahr)Translation: Goodbye


Bonne nuit (bohn NWEE) Translation:Good night

And no matter what, even if I felt like I had offended them or they were rushed we would always finish with a quick:

Bonne journee (BOHN-zhuh-nay) Translation: Have a nice day

This always without fail seemed to generate a smile out of even the most sour faced baker at the local corner store.

One of the best ways to learn from here is just practice, practice practice.  Now I made a few mistakes but I felt like we got by.  One of the most useful things we did was to write the French phrases to learn before Paris on to little post-it notes which I stuck around the room so that every time I passed them I  could practice them before we left.

I usually also ran through the French phrases in my head (yes I am a weirdo) if I was heading down to the Hotel Lobby or just before going into a shop so that I would say the right things. You would be surprised how often a smile and a quick attempt at speaking French would get us, rather than just butting in with; “Hey you, how do I get to that big famous metal tower?”

Getting my daily fix

What have your experiences been with learning a new language or visiting a foreign speaking country? And how did you cope?

Oh and if you are struggling to order something in the local patisserie store then just ask for “le pain aux raisins” (les pahn oh ray-sayn).  I had two a day and they were delicious!

About the Author ()

Cole is one half of New Zealand's leading adventure travel blogging couple who have been wearing out their jandals around the world since 2009. He loves any adventure activities and anything to do with the water whether it is Surfing, Diving, Swimming, Snorkeling or just lounging nearby on the beach. You can follow Cole on Google+. Or consider following us via RSS Feed, Twitter, Facebook and subscribe to our Newsletter.

Comments (32)

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  1. Jerick says:

    Exactement! My personal favourite is ça va? (short for how are you?) and then you respond – oui, ça va. et toi?

  2. FourJandals says:

    Merci Jerick! You can definitely learn the slang quickly if you just have a chat with someone, such as the hotel desk staff who were always more than happy to help me out with my pronunciation. I have just tried to explain the more "formal" language above though. Cheers.

  3. As a French speaking Canadian I feel the need for at least 3 swear words should be included in this list.

  4. Do says:

    Hello !
    Your blog is sympathetic and I have met it by my cousin’s page on FB via NEW YORK HABITAT
    I’m Froggy 🙂 … and suggest the french usuel word “tongs” for jandal.

    Good journey and stage in old Europa!!
    Do Dourthe

  5. Sam says:

    Good selection of the essential French phrases. It can be amazing how much more positive a reception you can receive when you make an effort with even just a few phrases of another persons language.

  6. Jarmo says:

    Great, thanks! Heading to the French alps in March, and things always go more smooth if you know a few phrases of French. This should help! 🙂

  7. Alouise says:

    Great list. After nine years of French from Elementary to High School, the only phrases that stick in my mind are the phrases that won’t do me any good traveling. However I do remember “Où est la toilette” – where is the toilet. That could come in handy.

  8. Laurence says:

    Living in France means that I am rapidly learning that my school boy French is not quite as brilliant as I thought it was. Generally it starts off well.. and then goes wrong when people attempt to talk back to me. Still.. it’s all good fun!

    • Cole says:

      Haha that is exactly what happens when we attempt it as well. Once they speak back to me it is all downhill but a polite smile usually wins them over haha.

  9. Before I went, I learned to say, “I am very sorry. I do not speak French. Do you speak English.” Took me forever to memorize it, but it seemed to be received well 🙂

  10. cheryl says:

    Ha ha, cute! Glad you got by. 🙂

    Learning a new language is always tough. Trying to learn German now and it’s hard!

  11. IPBrian says:

    Great list…I would throw in addition to Excusez-moi… Mon français n’est pas très bon. Translation: My french is not very good. Please correct me on the grammar if the translation doesn’t match up completely, but the Parisians I kept saying it to got the drift.

  12. We were in Italy last year, one month in a small village, we were the only English speaking people. You learn words very quickly when you get hungry.

    Another word for jandals, in good old Québécois, scougoune.

  13. Aggy says:

    Awesome! I lived a year in France and still the language is too difficult for me! My fav sentence is “Je voudrais un pain au chocolat et beaucoup des macarons svp!” 🙂
    Oh, and don’t forget “Pardon!” – it’s an important word especially in the Paris metro!
    Aggy recently posted..Time Travel to Athens the Ancient City

  14. Kelsey says:

    Something to add, please never say “Adieu”!! This is so rude, even if you don’t mean it. It is perceived as “I will never see you again, nor do I want to!” Only say “Au revoir!” or the like. Thanks:)

  15. I find myself using “la carte du vin, s’il vous plait” and “l’addition” all the time!

  16. Benjamin says:

    It’s impressing how a few basic words can totally change a travel abroad. Everytime I go abroad, I always learn some basic vocabulary, and it totally changes the way natives interact with you, they become even nicer and it lead me to very nice discoveries abroad.
    Benjamin recently posted..The 7 words you will need to survive in France

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