When you learn French, you’ll naturally spend a lot of time focusing on French grammar and French vocabulary. A lot of the process of learning French vocabulary involves committing lists of lone words and their translations to memory. And these individual words are, of course, important when you want to describe the world around you.
But so much of what makes the French language rich and engaging are the many French phrases that add flavor to the language, the ones you can’t necessarily get from a teacher or a textbook. Learning key French phrases can take you out of the classroom and into actual conversations. Knowing what to say in real-life contexts when you’re introducing yourself, making new friends, making a purchase at a store or even finding your way around on your next vacation is often more important than knowing how to recite vocabulary lists or how to use French syntax effectively (though all these elements of course play a part in mastering French in their own ways).
When you learn French phrases, you also get a window into the idiomatic and slang French phrases that take on a colorful meaning all of their own, one more vibrant than the sum of the individual words that make them up. These French slang phrases make French language learning all the more fun!
How To Learn French Phrases
There’s no wrong way to learn and practice French phrases, and it all depends on your learning style and preferences. When it comes to learning individual French vocabulary words, many people like to use flashcards or the sticky note method. But these learning techniques often work better for long lists of vocab, not necessarily for long phrases made of many words or without one-to-one translations.
If you really want to learn how French phrases are used in different contexts, spending time interacting with French media is a great way to do just that. French TV shows and French movies feature dialogue that’s full of the types of French phrases and expressions you’d hear in real-life contexts, so your exposure to French is richer than what you’d get from a textbook. The same goes for French podcasts, French songs and French YouTube videos — anything that lets you hear French spoken by native speakers who are having real conversations.
And if you want to explore how French phrases are used in writing, reading French books is a fantastic way to build up your language skills and to see how authors use French phrases in all sorts of genres and literary styles.
By and large, the best way to practice French phrases is by having real French conversations, either with native speakers or with a teacher or tutor who can give you real-time feedback. To know the French that’s spoken in the world, you’ve got to get out into the world and practice!
Essential Conversational French Phrases
When you have conversations in French (and isn’t that the goal of learning a new language?), you’re going to rely on a handful of conversational French phrases that will become like second nature to you. They’ll become your go-to French phrases in many situations, so they’re important to master from the beginning of your French journey. From “Hello!” to “How are you?” to “Where’s the bathroom?” and everything in between, here’s our list of essential French phrases for conversation.
When you explore the French-speaking world, you’ll need a repertoire of French travel phrases, whether you’re using them to ask for directions, order at a bar or make that connection at the train station.
Où y a-t-il un supermarché ? — Where is there a supermarket?
Où sont les toilettes ? — Where are the toilets?
Je cherche la gare. — I’m looking for the train station.
À quelle heure ouvre/ferme le musée ? — What time does the museum open/close?
Vous pourriez me recommander un bon hôtel ? — Can you recommend a good hotel?
J’ai perdu mon passeport ! — I have lost my passport!
Nous avons deux valises. — We have two bags.
Combien coûte un ticket pour l’aéroport ? — How much does a ticket to the airport cost?
Je voudrais acheter un billet. — I would like to buy a ticket.
À quelle heure faut-il arriver ? — When (at what hour) should I arrive?
Slang French Phrases, French Expressions And French Idioms (That Native French Speakers Actually Use)
To sound like an authentic French speaker, you’ve got to know the French phrases that real people in the French-speaking world actually use. Here’s a selected list of some wacky, eccentric and wonderful French slang phrases and expressions that will make you sound like a native French speaker.
vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué — to get ahead of oneself (literally, “to sell the bear’s skin before it’s been killed”)
donner sa langue au chat — to give up (literally, “to give your tongue to the cat”)
pisser dans un violon — to waste one’s efforts (literally, “to piss in a violin”)
quand les poules auront des dents — when hell freezes over/when pigs fly (literally, when chickens have teeth”)
un ours mal léché — an uncouth or unsociable person (literally, “a badly licked bear”)
se faire poser un lapin — to be stood up (literally, “to be given a rabbit”)
passer du coq à l’âne — to jump from one topic to another (literally, “jump from the rooster to the donkey”)
La vache ! — My goodness! (literally, “The cow!”)
avoir un cœur d’artichaut — to fall in love easily (literally, “to have a heart of artichoke”)
avoir un coup de foudre — to fall in love at first sight (literally, “to have a thunderclap”)
Il (ne) faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties ! — One shouldn’t exaggerate! (literally, “One shouldn’t push grandma in the nettles!”)
On n’est pas sorti de l’auberge ! — We’re not out of the woods yet. (literally, “We’ve not yet left the hostel!”)
C’est simple comme bonjour ! — It’s easy peasy. (literally, “It’s as simple as hello.”)
Les chiens ne font pas des chats. — Kids are like their parents; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. (literally, “Dogs don’t make cats.”)
When it comes to teaching you the most important French phrases you’ll need for real-life conversations — and making sure they stick — Babbel has you covered.
Babbel is designed by more than 150 linguists and language experts whose goal is to get you speaking French in real conversations with confidence. Our interactive lessons cover all the aspects of learning French — reading, writing, listening, and speaking — with multimedia content to train your ears and eyes. Our speech recognition feature even helps you hone your pronunciation, too.
In addition to the vocabulary and grammar you’ll need to know to speak French, Babbel places an emphasis on teaching you French phrases that you’ll hear and use in the French-speaking world outside of the classroom. Almost all Babbel French lessons feature a real-life dialogue to help you put the French phrases you’re learning into practice in actual conversations.
With Babbel, you can pick and choose the topics and themes that are most relevant to you. Taking a trip soon? Brush up on the French phrases you’ll need for travel and navigating new places. Need to sharpen your French for an upcoming business meeting? Our courses have you taken care of.
Try a free French lesson with Babbel and see for yourself how quickly you’ll be on your way to speaking French with confidence — like you’ve always wanted to!