Imagine this.

You’re walking along the streets of Paris and you see a delicious croissanty thing in the window of a boulangerie.

You don’t know what it’s called, but you know you want one.

So you let the sweet smell of French pastries pull you towards the counter, where the serveur asks:

Bonjour, vous désirez? (Hello, what would you like?)

You have 2 choices.

  1. Point and say “one of those please”
  2. Point and ask: Comment on dit ça en francais? (how do you say that in French?)

The first will keep you stuck in touristville. The second is an example of a powerful little French conversation phrase that will help you:

  • Learn a new French word.
  • Strike up a conversation with a French person.
  • Show French people you meet that you’re interested in their language and culture.

French Conversation Phrases that Make Speaking Easier

They say that speaking French is hard.

In reality, it’s not the speaking bit that’s hard (that’s the goal!). The tricky bit is when you try speaking, but you get stuck.

For example:

  • When you don’t know (or forget) a French word.
  • When French people reply too fast and you don’t understand what they’re saying.
  • When you try really hard to speak French and they reply in English!

Learning a few strategic French phrases will help you navigate these problems smoothly so you can take back control of the conversation and keep talking.

Voilà 6 French conversation phrases that will help you do that, brought to you by my lovely French teacher, Manon.

Learn these phrases by heart so you can drop them into the conversation quickly when you need them. If you need some help memorising them, here are some flashcards you can download (+ tutorial on how to use them):

6 French Conversation Phrases you Need to Know (Flashcards)
Not sure how to use them? Watch this tutorial

If you’re more of a pen and paper person, voilà a little cheat sheet you can print off and take with you.

French Conversation Phrases (PDF)

Of course, you’ll also need some French people to practice with! Later in this post, we’ll talk about how to find them. First, let’s dive into the phrases in more detail.

French Conversation Phrase 1: “Comment on dit ça en français ?”

How do you say that in French? (literally: how does one say that in French?)

Possibly the most useful French phrase you’ll ever learn. Not only is it a great way to learn some new words, it’ll also help you connect with French people who are normally happy to teach you a few words in their language – especially if you ask them in French!

Also, the fact that you’re learning these words in real life situations makes them far more memorable compared to learning them from a book or dictionary.

Quick tip: Keep a notebook with you (or use the notes app on your phone) to write down the new words you learn.

French Conversation Phrase 2: “Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire ?”

What does that mean?

Use this one when you hear or see a word and you don’t know the meaning. It’s particularly useful question in restaurants – just point to the word on the menu and ask the waiter!

You can also ask: Qu’est-ce que c’est ? (what is that?)

By asking this question in French, people will be more likely to reply to you in French, which gives you an opportunity to keep the conversation going. But even if they switch back to English for the definition, at least you’ve shown the French person that you’re learning their language, which makes it easier to go back to French once you get unstuck.

French Conversation Phrase 3: “Pardon, je ne comprends pas”.

Sorry, I don’t understand 

A handy phrase for if you get lost mid-conversation. A word of warning: try not to use this phrase in isolation because French people may interpret it as a cry for help and switch back to English. If you use this phrase, make sure you follow it up with another request, like:

Pouvez-vous répéter s’il vous plaît ? (Can you repeat, please?)

Pouvez-vous parler moins vite s’il vous plaît ? (Can you speak slower, please?)

This way, the person you’re talking will know how to help you.

French Conversation Phrase 4: “Pouvez-vous répéter s’il vous plaît ?”

Can you repeat, please?

When you just need to hear the phrase again. If they repeat and you’re still having trouble understanding, try to identify the problem and ask another question:

  • Are they speaking too fast? Ask: Pouvez-vous parler moins vite s’il vous plaît ? (Can you speak slower, please?)
  • Is there a word you don’t know? Ask: Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire ? (What does that mean?)

French Conversation Phrase 5: “Pouvez-vous parler moins vite s’il vous plaît ?”

Can you speak slower, please? (literally less fast)

For those times when your French speaking partner is going at 100 mph and you’re having trouble keeping up!

French Conversation Phrase 6: Pouvons-nous parler français s’il vous plaît? J’aimerais apprendre.

Can we speak in French, please? I’d like to learn.

Sometimes you might say something to someone in French, but they reply in English!

There are many reasons this might happen:

  • They’re busy, and using English is the quickest way.
  • They’re not aware that you’re trying to learn French, so they reply in English to make life easier for you.
  • They’re used to dealing with tourists, so they default to English without thinking about it.
  • They want to practice their English!

If you can see that someone is busy trying to do their job and you’re not confident about your ability to speak French quickly (totally normal at first!), it’s probably best to go ahead and use English. There are better ways to practice speaking, which we’ll talk about in the next section.

But in situations like 2 – 4, if the person seems friendly, you can simply explain that you’re learning and ask if they would speak French with you. With this technique, you’ll find that many people are happy to chat to you for a little while in French.

However, if you don’t feel comfortable with this, there are other ways to practice speaking French…

Where can I find French people to practice with?

Lots of advice on speaking French will tell you to just “give it a go” and speak to people in French whenever you get the chance.

If you’re extroverted and you find this easy, c’est super!

But this approach doesn’t work for everyone. In the beginning, it can be tricky to practice speaking French with people you meet randomly – in shops, restaurants or on the train – because these people aren’t there to help you learn French, they’re just going about their day. This puts an extra (unnecessary) layer of pressure on you to be able to have a normal conversation.

When you start speaking French, it’s normal to make lots of mistakes and take ages to string a sentence together, but you might worry that this could be annoying for the French people you speak to.

You just need to find the right people to practice with.

Look for situations where you can set up a “learning agreement” with French speakers. These are situations where the French person knows you are a beginner and they are there to help you speak. This could be:

  1. A language exchange partner: Find a French person who is learning your native language – they can help you practice speaking French while you help them speak your native language.
  2. A conversation tutor: Meet a native French speaker for 30 minutes or an hour of conversation practice and pay them in exchange for their time.

These options take the pressure off because you’re giving the French person something in return for their time and effort – you don’t need to worry so much if the conversation is a bit awkward at first.

Also, they know you’re a beginner, so they’re expecting you to speak slowly and make mistakes!

Related Post: The simplest way to get over your fear of speaking a foreign language

Finding patient French people to help you is one of the most important things you can do to make progress in your speaking.

So where can you find these people?

Online

The best place is to find native French speakers online is italki. Here, you can book 1-to-1 conversation lessons with lovely native speaker tutors – called community tutors. They are usually pretty good value (sometimes less than $10 an hour).

If you fancy giving it a go, you can get a $10 voucher after you book your first lesson here:

Click here to find a tutor on italki and get $10 off

If you find you often put off practicing French because you’re busy, this is a great option – you can squeeze a lesson in whenever you have a spare 30 minutes, from wherever you are (as long as you have an Internet connection).

Alternatively, if you don’t have the budget for lessons, you can also use italki for online language exchanges.

Face to Face

If you’d prefer to connect with French people face to face, look for native French people in your area and set up a language exchange. Here are a couple of tools you can use to find them:

Tandem 
Conversation Exchange

One word of advice – when doing language exchanges, be sure to divide the time equally (e.g. 30 minutes in each language) and be strict about sticking to it so that you both get a fair chance to practice. Remember to ask:

“Pouvons-nous parler français s’il vous plaît? J’aimerais apprendre” (Can we speak in French please? I’d like to learn)

If you’re planning on travelling to France soon, you can use these tools to meet up with the locals. I used conversation exchange when I went to Paris and it was great. I got to practice speaking French with Parisiens who showed me some of their favourite local spots – a French teacher and local tour guide rolled into one!

Conclusion

By learning the few French phrases from today’s post, you’ll be able to keep the conversation going, learn some new words and connect better with French people.

Have you tried using any of these French conversation phrases before? How did it go? Let us know in the comments below!

Related

The 17 best tools for learning French: from beginner to advanced

How I’m becoming fluent in French (from my living room)

The lazy person’s guide to learning French

10 French idioms that will impress the socks off native speakers

DALF C1: How I’m preparing for the scary French exam

I passed the DALF exam! Intermediate to fluent French in 5 months (what really happened)

 

Have you ever spoken to a non-native speaker of your language and been blown away by how well they spoke it?

Aside from good pronunciation, there’s one thing that always makes my jaw drop when I hear foreign people speak English:

Using idioms well.

Most language learners steer clear of them because they’re tricky to learn, and you can get your meaning across just fine without them. But native speakers use them all day long. I’ve already used 6 in this blog post (including the title).

That’s why it sounds so very impressive when language learners get them right.

If you want to sound more native when you speak French, try sprinkling in a few well-placed idioms. To help you get started, Professeur Thomas from Fast French Learning has put together a list of 10 common French idioms that you can start using straight away.

Keep reading to learn:

  • 10 common and useful French idioms that will help you sound more French.
  • Where they come from.
  • Practical examples so you can see how to use them in conversation.

Over to you Thomas.

 

10 French Idioms that will impress the socks off French speakers

Hi everyone, here are 10 common French Idioms explained, with examples. 

I wrote the example sentences in French and the literal translations in English, which sometimes sound a bit odd – maybe it will be funny for you English speakers to read them haha 😉

Importantly, with these examples, I hope to show you how we use French idioms in real life, so you can feel comfortable using them yourself. 

French idiom #1 – A point nommé

Meaning
= at the right moment, at the expected time, at the desired moment, at the right time

The History
Originally the expression A point nommé meant exactly at the designated place, so it had a spatial sense. Over time (I do not know why and how) this expression has moved from a spatial sense to a temporal sense, now it means at the right time.

Here are some examples of phrases with the expression A point nommé.

Examples :
-Nous sommes arrivées sur les lieux de l’accident à point nommé. We arrived at the scene of the accident at the right time.
-Les secours sont arrivés à point nommé. The rescue arrived at the right moment.
-Nous avions besoin de vous, vous êtes venus à point nommé. We needed you, you came at the right time.
-Elles sont intervenus auprès des enfants à point nommé. They spoke to the children at the right time.
-Tu es venu à la maison à point nommé. You came home at the right time.

 

French idiom #2 – Sage comme une image

Meaning
= Quiet, very wise.

The History
The children represented on pictures, whatever they are supposed to do, are completely motionless and silent. If it was not the case, it would be a movie. It is the opposite of the children around you in real life, they play a lot, make noise, are dynamic, alive, sometimes do silly things. We view the children we see on the images as having ideal child behavior. It’s a bit like the English “good as gold”.

Here are some examples of phrases with the expression Sage comme une image.

Examples :
-Elle a été sage comme une image aujourd’hui. She was good as gold today.
-Tes enfants sont sages comme des images. Your children are good as gold.
-Ils sont sages comme des images quand ils jouent aux jeux de société. → They’re good as gold when they play board games. 
-A l’adolescence j’étais sage comme une image. → When I was a teenager I was good as gold. 
-Hier, tu as été sage comme une image. Yesterday, you were good as gold.

 

French idiom #3 – Au ras des pâquerettes

Meaning
= No interest, low level.

The History
In the beginning, the expression Au ras des pâquerettes meant physically very low, the daisy being a small flower. Then comes the figurative sense. The French language tends to use the metaphors of height to speak of things of quality. Thus, an important and good thing will be high as opposed to something mediocre that will be low. Something or someone who would be standing or passing over a field at daisy height would move very close to the ground, which means far from anything of quality, so something of low quality, without interest.

Here are some examples of phrases with the expressions Au ras des pâquerettes.

Examples :
-L’avion est passé au ras des pâquerettes = l’avion est passé proche du sol/proche des maisons. The plane passed close to the daisies (close to the ground / houses).

-Le parapentiste est passé au ras des pâquerettes. The paraglider passed at the height the daisies (close to the ground).
-Il a un humour au ras des pâquerettes. His humour is close to the daisies (in poor taste). 
-Nous avons eu des idées au ras des pâquerettes. We had ideas close to the daisies (Our ideas weren’t up to par).
-Son discours est au ras des pâquerettes. His speech was close to the daisies (His speech wasn’t up to par). 

 

French idiom #4 – Du même tonneau

Meaning
= Of the same kind, comparable

The History
We take two glasses of wine from the same cask, a specialist drinks them, and he does not recognize any difference between the two. It is said that these two glasses of wine are du même tonneau.

Here are some examples of phrases with the expressions Du même tonneau.

Examples :
-Aujourd’hui, beaucoup de films sont du même tonneau. Today, many movies are from the same cask  (from the same mould). 
-Les discours de ces deux hommes politiques sont du même tonneau. The speeches of these two politicians are from the same cask (from the same mould). 
-Le temps entre hier et aujourd’hui est du même tonneau. The times between yesterday and today is the same (the past is much the same as the present). 
-Les examens sont du même tonneau que ceux de l’année dernière. The exams are from the same cask as those of last year (The exams are pretty much the same as last year). 
-Les décorations chez elles et chez moi sont du même tonneau. The decorations at her place and at my place are from the same cask (pretty much the same). 

 

French idiom #5 – Être mal en point

Meaning
= Being in a bad state

The History
The word point means a state, something that can change. On a map or a curve, the point materializes a position, this position can change. A state also marks a position but on a scale of values. Thus, when I do not progress, I remain at the same point in my progression. I am mal en point = I am in a bad state.

Here are some examples of phrases with the expressions Être mal en point.

Examples :
-Hier soir, après la soirée, il était malade, il était mal en point. Last night, after the evening, he was ill, he was in bad shape.
-Ma voiture est mal en point. My car is in bad shape.
-Après mon accident, ma jambe est mal en point. After my accident, my leg is in bad shape.
-Le bateau de mon père est vieux, il est mal en point. My father’s boat is old, it is in bad shape.
-Après notre journée en bateau, nous avions le mal de mer, nous étions mal en point. After our day on the boat, we were seasick, we were in bad shape.

 

French idiom #6 – Croire dur comme fer

Meaning
= Believe very firmly

The History
In the figurative sense, fer takes the meaning of “very robust”, “unshakable”. It is this figurative sense that we find in the expression Croire dur comme fer = an unshakeable belief. This figurative meaning comes from the hardness of the tempered iron (fer) that was used to make knives or armor.

Here are some examples of expressions with Croire dur comme fer.

Examples :
-J’y crois dur comme fer. I firmly believe it. 
-Il est convaincu de ce qu’il dit, il y croit dur comme fer.  He’s sure about what he says, he firmly believes in it. 
-Nous allons réussir notre projet, nous y croyons dur comme fer. We will succeed in this project, we firmly believe in it. 
-Elles réussiront, elles y croient dur comme fer. They will succeed, they firmly believe in it. 
-Vous croyez dur comme fer ce que l’on vous raconte. You firmly believe what people tell you. 

 

French idiom #7 – Etre connu comme le loup blanc

Meaning
= To be very known

The History
Not so long ago, the wolf was a very dreaded animal. The population was afraid of him because of the threat he was supposed to represent for animals and children. For some, he was even the incarnation of the devil. In Europe, he usually had dark fur. When an ordinary wolf roamed around a village, its inhabitants were quickly informed. So we can easily imagine that, if a white wolf (albino or with very light fur) showed itself, the information circulated very quickly due to its rarity.

Here are some examples of phrases with the expression Etre connu comme le loup blanc.

Examples :
-Maintenant qu’il s’est montré sur scène, il est connu comme le loup blanc. Now that he has appeared on stage, he is known as the white wolf  (well-known).
-Dans sa ville, elle est connue comme le loup blanc car elle a gagné la compétition. In her city, she is known as the white wolf (she’s well-known) because she won the competition.
-Tout le village me connait, je suis connu comme le loup blanc. The whole village knows me, I am known as the white wolf (I’m well known).
-Depuis qu’on est passé à la télévision, on est connu comme le loup blanc. Since we’ve been on television, we’re known as the white wolf (we’re well known). 
-Elles ont reçu le prix nobel de la paix, maintenant elles sont connues comme le loup blanc. They were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, now they are known as the White Wolf (now they’re well known).

French idiom #8 – Quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire

Meaning
= We must go after a project we have committed to.

The History
In tirer le vin the verb tirer means “to get out of a container”. So you take the wine out of a barrel, for example. And when the wine is in the glass, we drink it. Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire = when a project has been started, it must continue.

Here are some examples of phrases with the expressions Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire.

Examples :
– Nous avons commencé à construire cette maison, nous irons jusqu’au bout, quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire We started building this house, we’ll follow through, when the wine is poured, we must drink it (we must finish what we started)
Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire, j’irai au bout de mes rêves. When the wine is poured, it must be drunk, I will go through with my dreams = I must finish what I’ve started, I’ll follow my dreams
-Nous avons arrêté à mi-chemin, hey non, quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire, continuons. We stopped half way, hey no, when the wine is poured we have to drink it (we must finish what we’ve started).
-J’ai commencé à lire ce livre, quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire, je le lirai jusqu’à la fin. I started reading this book, when the wine is poured you have to drink it (I must finish what I started)
-Ne vous arrêtez pas en chemin, quand le vin est tiré il faut le boireDo not stop on the way, when the wine is poured you have to drink it (you must finish what you started). 

 

French idiom #9 – Couper la poire en deux

Meaning
= Share / evenly distribute something

The History
Sadly, the origins of this expression are unknown!
Here are some examples of phrases with the expression Couper la poire en deux.

Examples :
-Tu veux partir au bord de la mer et moi à la montagne, coupons la poire en deux, partons une semaine au bord de la mer et une semaine à la montagne.
You want to go to the seaside and I want to go to the mountain, let’s cut the pear in half (meet each other half way) and spend a week at the seaside and a week in the mountains.
-J’avais envie de lire toute l’après-midi et aussi d’écoute de la musique, j’ai coupé la poire en deux, j’ai lu une partie de l’après-midi et j’ai écouté de la musique l’autre partie.
I wanted to read all afternoon and also listen to music, I cut the pear in half (did half-and-half), I read part of the afternoon and listened to the other party’s music.
-Les enfants veulent aller à la plage et moi je veux aller faire les courses, j’ai coupé la poire en deux, on a fait les deux choses aujourd’hui.
The children want to go to the beach and I want to go shopping, I cut the pear in half (I met them half way) we did both things today.
-On peut couper la poire en deux, je l’achète pour moitié prix. → We can cut the pear in half (split the difference), I’ll buy it for half the price.
Coupons la poire en deux, je m’occupe des enfants aujourd’hui, tu t’en occupes demain.
Let’s cut the pear in half (meet each other half way), I’m taking care of the children today, you’re taking care of them tomorrow.

 

French idiom #10 – Etre/Rester de marbre

Meaning
= Be impassive, do not show your feelings. Do not react to important information or provocations.

The History
Generally reserved for luxury art and interior decorations, marble statues are perfectly immobile, with a realistic and pale face, without emotion.

Here are some examples of phrases with the expressions Etre / rester de marbre.

Examples :
-Je suis resté de marbre devant la violence de ce film. I stayed like marble (remained unmoved) by the violence of this film.
-Nous étions de marbre quand nous avons entendu les propos déplacés de Julien. We were of marble (didn’t react) when we heard Julien’s inappropriate words.
-A l’annonce du retard du train, je suis resté de marbre. At the announcement of the delay of the train, I remained marble (I didn’t react).
-Ils sont restés de marbre devant la violence des images à la télévision. They stayed like marble (remained unmoved) by the violence of the images on television.
-Je suis resté de marbre lors du jour de l’élection de Barak Obama. I stayed like marble (remained unmoved) on the day of the election of Barak Obama.

Merci for reading this article! Which French idiom did you like best? How would you use it in real life? Leave a comment and let me know 🙂

Thomas Ricomard

Related posts

The 17 best tools for learning French: from beginner to advanced

How to fall in love with a language: Interview with Carrie from French is Beautiful

I passed the DALF exam! Intermediate to fluent French in 5 months (what really happened)

DALF C1: How I’m preparing for the scary French exam

The lazy person’s guide to learning French

How I’m becoming fluent in French (from my living room)

 

Be honest.

There are lots of things you probably should be doing.

Exercising more. Eating less junk. Learning that language faster.

You know who laughs in the face of should?

The French.

French people don’t do gyms. They wash croissants down with full-fat cafés au lait and eat baguettes dipped in baked Camembert.

They’re not exactly hustlers either. France has one of the shortest working weeks in Europe. If you worked in France, you’d have the legal right to ignore emails outside of office hours. And you could forget about popping out to the shops to pick up an onion on Sundays. They’re closed.

I grew up in an Anglo-Saxon culture where if you wanted to lose weight, you had to stick to salads (without the dressing) and make friends with the treadmill. And if you wanted success, you had to grind away until you got there.

By my culture’s no-pain-no-gain logic, French people should be flabby good-for-nothings.

But they’re not. The women are amongst the skinniest in Europe. And France boasts one of the highest productivity rates in the world.

This ability to flout all the “shoulds” and still get good results is sometimes known as The French Paradox.

What if we stopped should-ing ourselves?

If you’re anything like me, you probably “should” yourself a lot when it comes to learning a language.

  • I should be able to say more than this by now.
  • I should be more motivated.
  • I should understand that person/newspaper article/TV series/film.
  • I should sound more like a native speaker.

And let’s not forget the shouldn’ts:

  • I shouldn’t be making that mistake.
  • I shouldn’t keep forgetting that word.
  • I shouldn’t get so nervous when I speak.

Where do all these “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” leave us?

Stressed.

Guilty.

And often not much closer to our goal.

But the worst thing about constantly should-ing yourself is this: it takes the plaisir out of learning a language.

What if, instead of punishing yourself for not being fluent yet, you just let yourself enjoy the learning process? If, instead of stressing about not remembering fast enough, you went at your own pace and savoured every minute, like a glass of champagne?

You’d probably find yourself wanting to spend more time with the language.

And it figures that you’d get better results. Maybe the French paradox isn’t so paradoxical after all.

How to fall in love with learning a language with Carrie from French is Beautiful

Earlier this week, I caught up with Carrie Anne James from French is Beautiful, who blew me away with her compassionate, yet no BS approach to learning French (or any other language for that matter).

If you have a tendency to put too much pressure on yourself when you learn a language, today’s post can help. We talk about how to put the joy back into language learning and much more, including:

  • Why you’ll never be completely ”fluent” (and why that’s a good thing).
  • The power of treating a language like a close friend or lover.
  • The ways you might be holding yourself back from learning a language + how to stop.
  • When asking for strawberry jam in Paris can get you into trouble (and make you go all rouge!)

We spoke in French too! (turn on the subs to get the English translation).

Get a free gift from Carrie!

On May 12th, Carrie will send you a French surprise. Here’s what to do to claim your gift:

  1. 🇫🇷Post your favorite photo of Paris
  2. Tag @frenchisbeautiful in the caption
  3. Use #parisiscalling 🍾
  4. Sign-up for the @frenchisbeautiful newsletter on the French is Beautiful website ❤
  5. Follow @frenchisbeautiful on Instagram

Everybody wins – all you have to do is follow the 5 steps and you’ll get access to some of Carrie’s exclusive French materials that will help you communicate more naturally in France.

Learn more about Carrie from French is Beautiful

As a fluent non-native French speaker who spent years in the classroom learning grammar and later studying French literature at U.C. Berkeley and La Sorbonne, as well as classical piano at L’École Normale de la Musique in Paris before obtaining real-world fluency, Carrie knows precisely which aspects of the French language are perceived to be the most difficult and focuses on those aspects in order to coach Francophiles to speak French naturally.

She doesn’t believe that our dreams are located in an intangible future somewhere, for us to chase after. She believes that we live each day with our dreams inside of us, ready to be lived.

Stay in touch with Carrie

French is Beautiful Instagram

Facebook 

Ladies’ Book Club

The Paris Lessons Podcast

SoundCloud

Twitter

Pinterest

Vimeo

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Carrie’s advice: Which idea resonates with you the most? How can you apply it to your own language learning? Let us know in the comments!