The French you don’t learn at school.
I’ve been asked a lot recently to explain how I learnt French; how I learnt to speak quickly and fluently and most often of all, how I learnt to sound like a Parisian. Interestingly, people always presume that I studied here or that I studied French at school for many years and that’s why I can speak French. In the words of French comedian Norman Thavaud, this is, totally and utterly…FAUX!
Between the ages of 11 and 18 I did, in all honesty, study French at school in England. However, this is not the secret to becoming fluent in French. After seven years of studying the language I knew a lot of vocabulary and I understood the basic grammar rules but I faced a huge problem; I couldn’t speak.
When I moved here at the tender age of 21 I couldn’t even order a coffee and a croissant confidently. I would mumble the words, secretly hoping that the person would just serve me and not ask me any other questions. My French was, as the French like to say, complètement nul.
I’ve lived here now for almost five years and I can tell you the secret to becoming fluent in French in three easy steps:
1. Get your head out of that textbook. Revising grammar in a book everyday for two hours is not the best way to learn. Half the grammar points in these books aren’t even used on a day to day basis!
2. Listen and imitate. The best way to improve your accent and your French in general is to listen to the French people; copy what they say and also how they say it. It’s easier than you might think!
3. SPEAK. Speak, speak, speak, even if you make a thousand mistakes, it doesn’t matter. Practice makes perfect.
SO, to help you get started I’ve compiled a short list of important words and phrases that you need to know if you want to sound more like a French person. Using these words will not only make you sound like a Frenchie but they will give people the impression that you know real French, and not the French that you learnt at school.
What the French say: J’ai la flemme
What we learn at school: Je n’ai pas envie
What it means: I can’t be bothered
What the French say: Boulot — Taff e.g. Je vais au boulot/taff.
What we learn at school: travail
What it means: Work
What the French say: une clope e.g. Je vais fumer une clope.
What we learn at school: une cigarette What it means: a cigarette
What the French say: ça caille
What we learn at school: il fait très froid
What it means: It’s freezing!
What the French say: J’ai la banane!
What we learn at school: Je souris
What it means: I’m smiling!
What the French say: Bouffer — la bouffe
What we learn at school: Manger — la nourriture
What it means: To eat — food
What the French say: Je me casse
What we learn at school: Je m’en vais
What it means: I’m going e.g. I’m going now, see you tomorrow!
What the French say: Je suis à la bourre
What we learn at school: Je suis en retard
What it means: I’m running late
What the French say: J’en ai ras le bol — J’en ai marre
What we learn at school: Je n’en peux plus
What it means: I can’t take it anymore! I’m fed up! I’ve had it up to here!
What the French say: un mec/une nana
What we learn at school: un garçon/une fille
What it means: a guy/a girl
What the French say: Putain
What we learn at school: Zut
What it means: If you look it up in the dictionary it actually means whore but in daily Parisian life it can me shit, damn or even the F word, depending on how you say it!
There are many more words and expressions that you should learn but these are just a few examples to help you get going. So good luck on your language learning journey and check back in regularly for other blog articles like this one!
nice post 🙂
This list is helpful, but it isn’t ‘proper french’, it’s just slang!
It’s not meant to be proper french 🙂 it’s the French that’s spoken here in Paris on a day to day basis! Hence why it isn’t what you learn in a textbook!
Yulin Lee, Personal Finance Coach
Thanks for the list! Very interesting.
You’re welcome :-)!
Great post! And then there’s the verlangue! A whole new dimension to french slang..
nice, I’ll build on some of your examples,
Tu bosses aujourd-hui? Are you working today?
The french also use ‘trop’ (too much) to say ‘very’ i.e c’était trop bien la fête (teuf) hier!!
the opposite of ça caille, ça tape (hit) trop le soleil – it’s scorching
great input! Thanks!
This is an awesome list of slang words/phrases! A few of these I knew, but some were definitely brand new – super helpful. I’ll be making a mental note for sure 🙂
My Life Living Abroad
So glad you enjoyed it and found t useful!!
Thisis so helpful Chloe! I’ve had the hardest time learning French, partly because of being in my expat bubble, partly shyness, and the rest because I am so lost and intimidated on where even to begin! Mostly the second and third one – but I don’t want to be that way. This was a great reminder to let all of those fears go, and I learned a lot. It’s going to be great to have formal classes to get those basics down, but super important to speak naturally. Please never stop this series!
My Life Living Abroad
So glad you enjoyed it Lena! And don’t worry I will continue doing the series and you will get there if you keep practicing 🙂