Life in Paris

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 cigaretteSee original image 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! 

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