Have you ever thought about using French TV shows to learn French?

It sounds fantastique – pour yourself a glass of rouge and snuggle up on the sofa while everyone else in your French class drives themselves crazy trying to memorise irregular verbs.

But if you’ve ever tried to watch a TV‌ show in French, you might have come across a few problems. The main one…

They talk really, really fast!

Even if you recognise some words, a lot flies over your head and you might find yourself getting frustrated by the bits you missed.

Another problem – how do you know if you’re actually learning?‌

So in this article, we won’t just give you a list of TV‌ shows and send you off on your way. At the end, you’ll find a step by step guide that will help you:

  1. Choose the right series so you can get addicted to French TV – and to learning French!
  2. Know what to do when you don’t understand (a problem that’s easier to solve than you might think).
  3. Feel your French improve with study activities to use alongside the shows.

Can I really learn French by watching TV shows?

There are loooads of advantages to watching French TV shows.

The main one is learning how people actually speak. Textbooks and learner materials tend to spoon feed you a simplified version of the language, so when you get out into the real world and hear French people talking to each other, it can be a bit of a shock.

With French TV shows, you can train yourself to understand how French people talk, in the comfort of your own home. No need to worry about looking awkward and saying pardon 18 times – when you don’t understand, you can just rewind!‌ You can also pause and switch on subtitles.

It’s also a great way to pick up common words and grammar structures in a fun and natural way, by hearing them used in context.

So we’ll start by looking at 30 fantastique French TV shows on Netflix and Youtube. Once you’ve chosen your shows, remember to stick around for the guide below on how to use them to boost your French level.

Allons-y!

37 French TV shows to learn French

Call my agent (Dix pour cent)

J’adore this series! It’s a deadpan comedy that follows the lives of movie star agents as they try to keep their famous clients happy. Between fierce competition and unexpected romances, they have to band together to steer the agency through a series of crises.

I especially like the cameos from real French movie stars who play themselves. It’s heartening to see these big stars being good sports and poking fun at themselves in the stories. And a great way to learn a little more about French celebrities and culture.

Where: Netflix

Tintin

There’s something très relaxing about kicking back and watching cartoons, especially when, like Tintin, they’re loved by adults too.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that they’re simpler than normal series – the characters use advanced vocabulary and speak at a natural speed. In some cases, cartoons are actually trickier to follow because the actors put on voices, which makes the words more difficult to make out. This isn’t meant as a discouragement, but rather to let you know that if you find cartoons difficult, it doesn’t mean that your French isn’t as good as you thought.

At the time of writing this, there are lots of episodes on Youtube. Luckily, many have autogenerated subtitles, which while not perfect, are fairly accurate and can be a big help in understanding.

Pro tips:

1. You can turn the subtitles on by clicking the settings cog, clicking on subtitles, then choosing French.

2. A lot of the episodes are available in English and French. If you need a little extra support, try watching the English one first to help you understand the story. This will lighten the load when you come around to watching it in French.

Episode 1: Tintin in America:

Épisode 1: Tintin en Amérique:

3. To find similar series on Youtube, select an episode of Tintin in French, then look over to the left and you should find suggestions for other cool french language cartoons, like Astérix.

Where: Search Youtube for Tintin épisode complet français.

The hookup plan (Plan Coeur)

This series follows a group of twenty somethings as they try to help a friend get over her ex. It has the same feel-good vibe as the 90s sitcom friends, but without being so annoyingly wholesome: to help their friend, they bring in a male prostitute and things start to get interesting.

Great acting, relatable characters and lots of dry humour. It’s a nice way to pick up some modern French slang too.

Where: Netflix

Family business

This series follows the lives of a French Jewish family as they convert their failing kosher butcher shop into the first marijuana coffee shop in Paris.

It’s refreshing to see Netflix continue to break decades of typecasting with with characters from different cultures being explored in all their depth. Like the previous entry on this list, it’s one of those well done comedies that hits the delicate balance of staying light, while addressing poignant topics.

Where: Netflix

Chef’s table, France

Multi Michelin-starred chefs reveal their secrets. How did they learn to cook and become innovators in their industry?‌ With inspiring food stories, beautiful cinematography and close ups of drool worthy dishes, if you’re a gourmand, you’ll love this series.

Tip: don’t watch while hungry!

Where: Netflix

7 jour sur la planète

If you’re looking for something a little more educational, check out this series on Youtube. Every week they bring in an expert to talk about current social, cultural or political issues. The interviews are interesting and perfect for learners as they:

  • Last around 20 minutes (not too overwhelming).
  • Come with subtitles, so you can look up words you don’t know.

If you’re preparing for an exam, this series is ideal as you’ll find lots of formal vocabulary and expressions that you can use to impressionner the examiners.

Related posts:‌

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).

Fais pas ci, Fais pas ça

In this mockumentary series, two middle-class families take part in a TV show about how to raise children. One family is straight-laced and conservateur while the other is laidback and hippyish, known as bobo in French.

One of France’s best loved comedies, this series ran for ten years. It’s light and feel good, perfect for vegging-out on the sofa.

I haven’t been able to find a version with subtitles yet, so this series is better for upper-intermediate onwards, when you can pick out enough to get an idea of what’s going on.

Where: At the time of writing, you can find lots of full episodes on the official Youtube channel.

Nailed it, France

In this cookery show with a twist, three contestants compete to recreate complex desserts. The twist?‌ The contestants are all amateurs who have a history of being really bad at baking.

Where: Netflix

Fary Hexagone

This is actually a stand up comedy episode, rather than a series, but it’s well worth getting on the sofa for. Fary has a warm, self-deprecating sense of humour as he gets into race, politics and other issues of modern society in France and around the globe.

Where: Netflix

Plus belle la vie

Every evening over 5 million French people sit down to catch the latest episode of this soap opera, set in the Mediterranean port of Marseille.

With over 4000 episodes, you won’t run out of viewing material with this one!‌

Where: On Youtube, search: Plus belle la vie episodes

Cosita Linda (versión français)

If you’re a soap opera fan, you might also enjoy vegging out to the French version of Cosita Linda. Originally a Spanish-language telenovela, the French dubbed version is available on Youtube.

Warning: this may be the cheesiest thing you’ve ever seen, but it’s actually a pretty good stepping stone to understanding French TV, because the language is simpler compared to grittier, more realistic dramas.

Whatsmore, the hammy acting and over the top dubbing make it a lot easier to follow. For more help following the dialogue, you can also turn on the autogenerated subs which, while not perfect, can be a big help.

Where: On Youtube, search for: Cosita Linda (versión français)

Mythomaniac (Mytho)

Working mum Elvira feels undervalued by her partner, who she suspects is cheating. After a false alarm, she ends up lying about her condition and pretending to be gravely ill.

Where: Netflix

The Chalet (Le Chalet)

A group of friends find themselves stuck in a remote village in the French alps after a landslide destroys the only bridge that connects them with the rest of the world. With no phone or internet connection, they are cut off from the rest of the world, together with the last six members of the village. The series gets spooky as strange things start happening, leading the friends to suspect each other.

Where: Netflix

The Mantis (La Mante)

A number of worrying copycat crimes lead a police department to collaborate with the original killer, The Mantis, who resides in prison decades after her crimes.

Carole Bouquet is great as the icy, cardigan-wearing female serial killer, who agrees to cooperate, as long as she is allowed to work alongside her estranged son and detective, Damien.

My French teacher recommended this one to me – I highly recommend it if you like a good crime drama.

Where: Netflix

Osmosis

What if you could matchmake people by reading their brain data? In this sci fi series a new app called “Osmosis” helps people find partners with 100% match by doing exactly that. But what happens when customers use technology that can see into their minds?

Where: Netflix

The returned (Les revenants)

Based on the 2004 French film of the same name, Les revenants follows the lives of residents in a small French town, where previously dead people begin to return alive and normal, as if they had never been away.

This supernatural drama became a global success, winning an International Emmy for Best Drama Series.

Where: Apple store, google play

Caméra café français

Eavesdrop on the conversations of French office workers as they get their daily coffee. A mockumentary of sorts, filmed from the camera of a coffee machine, the characters talk about everything from who stunk out the toilet to their messy divorces.

The scenes are short (usually around 3 minutes), which makes it easy to practice your listening in bursts without getting overwhelmed. They’re also ideal for working with a tutor or language exchange partner:‌ try to watch one of the scenes, take notes, then ask your tutor to explain the things you missed.

Lots of the episodes have auto-generated subtitles which although not perfect, can help you understand a lot on your own.

Where: Search for the Caméra Café (francais) channel on Youtube.

The break (La Trêve)

In this nerve-wracking Belgian series, police investigator Yoann Peeters begins investigating a murder case in his hometown, after suffering a devastating personal loss. Expect edge-of-your seat moments and sharp dialogues.

Where: Netflix

Criminal: France

Set almost entirely in an interrogation room, this 3-part series shows French investigators as they put psychological pressure on their suspects in an attempt to solve their cases.

Where: Netflix

The bonfire of destiny (Le Bazar de la Charité)

Inspired by real events, this series follows the lives of three women in the aftermath as they try to cope with – and get to the bottom of – what happened in the 1897 Charity Bazaar fire in Paris.

With clear and slow-ish paced speech, this is another great introduction to watching French TV shows, especially if you turn on the French subs.

Where: Netflix

Les Anges

Confession time: I’m a big fan of watching reality TV to learn foreign languages. It’s nice not to have to worry about complicated storylines, because my mind is already busy enough trying to understand the language. It’s a guilty pleasure without the guilt – you’re learning French, after all.

Another advantage is that they’re perfect for training yourself to understand natural French: there’s no script so you get to hear how people speak spontaneously. And unlike sci fi or police dramas, the participants tend to use words that are useful for everyday conversations.

Les Anges takes a bunch of French reality TV stars and puts them together in a house in a glamorous location, such as LA. Follow them as they try to make it in their chosen careers: becoming actors, models, sports players, chefs etc.

Where: Youtube

Hollywood girls

While we’re on the subject of trash TV, if you like reality TV shows, you might enjoy this series too. It’s basically a bunch of French reality TV stars acting in a very low budget soap opera in California – so ridiculous that it’s great fun to watch!‌

Where: Youtube

Twice upon a time (Il y était une seconde fois)

In this quirky drama, Vincent tries to drown his deep regret over a break up with parties and short-lived affairs. Until one day, a mysterious parcel appears at his house…

Where: Netflix

Un gars et une fille

This popular French comedy follows the daily lives of couple Alex and Jean (“Loulou” “Chouchou”) as they fight, make up and find themselves in silly situations. You’ll hear everyday language and casual, fast speech so it’s great for training your listening. Also, the episodes are only around 7 minutes long, perfect for learning French in bite-sized pieces.

Where: It’s quite tricky to find online these days, but at the time of writing you can find a few episodes on vimeo.

A very secret service (Au service de la France)

In this surreal comedy, a young trainee officer joins the French secret services at the height of the cold-war in 1960s France. The series is well written, with a dry sense of humour and great actors.

Where: Netflix

Black spot (Zone Blanche)

After a body is found hanging from a strange tree, prosecutor Franck Siriani arrives in a small French mountain town to investigate why the murder-rate is six times higher than the national average, and begins digging up the mysterious past of the local head of police.

Where: Amazon prime, Netflix

La Source

A young student and babysitter is contacted by the French secret services to spy on the family that she works for.

One great thing about this series is that it’s really easy to find – at the time of writing, it’s available on Youtube with autogenerated subs, which can make the dialogues easier to understand.

Where:‌ Youtube. Hint – look over to the right and you should see lots of similar Youtube videos that have been uploaded.

Unit 42 (Unité 42)

In this Belgian series, a police investigator and former hacker team up to chase cyber criminals who are wreaking havoc across the country.

Where: Netflix

Marseille

Long serving mayor of Marseille finds himself in competition with his young protégé. The story unfolds amongst a backdrop of political corruption, drugs and gang warfare.

It’s a bit over the top, but the beautiful scenes of Marseille make it very watchable. As one viewer said “if you watch it alone, you can wallow in the gorgeousness and shrug at the silliness”.

Where: Netflix

Mortel

Two teenagers Sofiane and Victor gain superpowers to help them solve the murder Sofiane’s brother. They join forces with classmate Luisa as the three attempt to untangle themselves from the grip of the supernatural underworld. If you’re a fan of misfits, you might like this one too.

Where: Netflix

Marianne

In this French horror series, best selling author Emma Larsimon discovers that the terrifying characters from her novels exist in the real world.

Where: Netflix

The Frozen Dead (Glacé)

Adapted from the novel of the same name, police officers in the French Pyrenees discover the DNA of a serial killer on the crime scene of a decapitated horse. But this serial killer is already locked up in high security prison.

Where: Netflix

Hold on a second, there were only 32 shows here – didn’t the title say 37. Oui, you’ll find a few more in the section below: what to do when you don’t understand.

But first some bonus shows…

TV series dubbed in French

As well as French language originals, you can get French listening practice by watching (or rewatching!)‌ your favourite shows dubbed in French.

It’s a good idea to choose a TV series or a film you already know and love, as this way you’ll follow the storyline better while you train your listening skills.

Here are some examples:

  • Friends
  • Orange is the new black
  • Grace and Frankie
  • Stranger things
  • Westwing
  • House of cards
  • Madmen
  • Disney films

Whatever your favourite shows are, you should be able to find a few dubbed in French. Try opening them up on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sky (or any other platform you use), clicking on the language settings and checking to see whether the audio is available in French.

You can also check the covers of old DVDs you have at home and see what languages are available. If French is on there, change the language settings and you’re ready to go!

How to learn French by watching TV shows

So you find a French TV show that looks good, you start watching but then… je ne comprends pas!‌

Don’t feel disappointed if you can’t understand much at first – it’s actually quite normal, even at advanced levels. Why?‌ French TV shows are designed for native speakers, that is, people who’ve spent their whole lives – at least 105120 hours for an 18 year old – listening to spoken French.

This means that, even if your level is pretty good, you’ll probably need lots of practice before you can comfortably understand TV shows. Pas de problème, you can still enjoy French TV‌ shows at all levels, you just need a few extra strategies in place.

In the rest of this article, you’ll learn:

  • How to choose the right TV shows for your level.
  • A plan of action for when you don’t understand.
  • Activities to help you make progress as you watch French TV shows.

Which French TV show should I choose?

To choose the ideal French show, keep two things in mind:‌

  1. How much do I like the show?‌
  2. Is the language useful and appropriate for my level?‌

The first point is important because if you like the show, you’ll have more motivation to put in the work and try to understand it. You’ll won’t mind pressing pause to look up vocabulary because you’ll really want to know what they’re saying! Also, you’ll probably spend more time doing it, which means more French listening practice for you.

Another thing to keep in mind is the difficulty and kind of vocabulary used in the show. For example, even if you love courtroom dramas in your native language, you might struggle to understand all the legal jargon in French. And if your goal is to chat to people in cafès on vacation, you probably don’t really need to know it.

On the other hand, if you speak advanced French and you’re about to start a degree in law at a French University or take an advanced exam, that vocabulary could be quite useful!

Your ideal show will be depend on your level and goals in French. Take some time to think about those and keep them in mind when choosing.

How to choose a French show at the right level

The best way to find out whether a French TV show is the right level for you is to take it for a spin!

Ideally, look for one which has subtitles in French. These are important, especially in the beginning, because you can read what you’re hearing, which helps you follow the story and learn new vocabulary. Even if you find you need to keep pausing to read the subtitles, that’s not a problem – it’s actually a good learning strategy.

Once you’ve found a show that looks interesting, play an episode.

How did it go? If you managed to get the general gist of what was going on, génial! You can now use this show to learn French. Either relax and watch the series (still great practice!) or if you’re feeling up to it, pause to write down new words or add them to a flashcard app to help you memorise them.

Pro tip: Don’t look up every new word because this will make the show clunky and difficult to watch. Just do it for:‌

1. Words that you need to understand the plot – without this important word, you have no idea what’s happening.

2. Any word or phrase you feel drawn to, that you think might be useful in your own conversations.

Keep it up over a long period of time and you’ll gradually get faster at understanding, to the point where you don’t need to pause much any more. Eventually, you’ll be able to get rid of the subtitles altogether. However, don’t pressure on yourself to do this too soon – TV shows are super advanced listening, and you can still learn a lot with the subs on.

Je ne comprends pas! What to do when you don’t understand

If you found it really difficult to follow, don’t worry, that’s normal at first. In this section, you’ll learn activities that you can do to help yourself understand.

Use the Language Learning with Netflix extension

There are two main reasons you might not understand French TV shows:‌

  1. The words or phrases are new to you.
  2. They speak so fast!

There’s a brilliant Chrome extension that gives you a solution for both of these things. Language Learning with Netflix has interactive subtitles that you can click on to get the definition in your native language and pauses automatically after every line to help you keep up.

There are loads of other settings designed to help you learn too, for example:

  1. Press the back key to hear the same line as many times as you need.
  2. An optional sidebar to quickly compare the sentence with the translation in your native language.

If you only do one thing after reading this article, start using Language Learning with Netflix – if you use it regularly, it will transform your French!

Use French TV shows as a study resource

French shows might be too difficult if you try to watch them on the sofa like normal TV‌, but that doesn’t mean you can’t watch them at all!‌

As long as you have subtitles (almost all the Netflix shows do), there are lots of activities you can do with the shows to help you learn. For a list of ideas, check out this post:

5 smart ways to learn a language by watching TV and films

You may not get to put your feet up with this one, but it’s still more fun than sitting in a classroom memorising words for kitchen appliances.

Use French shows designed for learners

If shows for native speakers are too overwhelming at the moment, you can start with simplified ones aimed at learners. They are normally pretty cheesy, but they’re watchable and a great stepping stone to real series. French Extra is a good place to start:

Voilà a few more you might enjoy:‌

If you prefer something a bit more natural, check out Easy French. On their Youtube channel, you’ll find street interviews with French and English subtitles to help you understand. You can also try their Super Easy Series where they speak more slowly.

Boost your learning with French TV shows

Watching French TV to learn French feels magique. You can cosy up with a glass of vin rouge or some chocolat and learn French at the same time. It’s a win.

But you might start to wonder…

  • Am I doing enough?
  • Wouldn’t I learn more if I was “studying” harder?

Watching TV on its own is already a great activity to boost your listening skills, and get used to the vocabulary and grammar. But if you want something that feels more focused, there are lots of things you can do to boost your learning.

And the best bit – they still involve watching TV!

Check out the post below for some handy study strategies you can use to learn French with TV shows:

5 smart ways to learn French by watching films and TV.
For more ideas on how to use these French TV shows (and to find out how I learned French with reality TV), you can watch my talk at the polyglot gathering in Bratislava:‌

Over to you

Have you tried watching French TV shows to learn French before? Have you got any other good ones to add to the list? Any more tips for learning French from TV? Share them in the comments!‌

You might like these too…

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

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

I passed the DALF exam! Intermediate to advanced French in 5 months

Have you ever noticed how cheesy the dialogues in French textbooks sound?

They use the same words and grammar as French people do in real life, but something doesn’t sound quite right.

One of the reasons is that textbook dialogues forget to include a few important little words that French people use all the time, like “bon”, “ben” and “euh”. These are called French filler words – they don’t add meaning but they give French its characteristic sound.

The good news is, they’re very easy to learn and you can use them to instantly sound more French.

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • 9 French filler words that will help you sound more fluent.
  • An easy trick to stay in “French mode” even when you’re stuck for words.
  • The little word you should avoid using.
  • Bonus: How French people greet each other – which cheek should you kiss first?

What are French Filler Words?

Filler words are little words like “er”, “kind of”, “so” and “well”. They’re called “filler words” because we use them to “fill” the time while we gather our thoughts and decide what to say.

Every language has their own filler words. A few examples in French are:

  • Bon
  • Bref
  • Euh
  • Alors

Why should I use French Filler Words?

French filler words are great for a few reasons:

They buy you thinking time

When you start speaking French, you might feel worried about long silences while you try to find the words.

But even natives hesitate sometimes, that’s why they have filler words! If you can use the same words French people do when they’re thinking, this will help you stay in “French mode” while you decide what to say next. You’ll sound more French, even when you’re stuck for words!

They help you sound (and feel) more French

Filler words give your speech a French flavor – it’s like sprinkling your sentences with French condiments.

They improve your listening comprehension

French people use filler words all the time. If you can recognize them, this will help you understand spoken French better.

9 French Filler words (and how to use them)

I can’t think of anyone better to teach you how to sound natural in French than Carrie from French is beautiful, my favorite American in Paris who brings French to life by using real materials (like films and quotes) in her lessons.

So I invited her to give you a little lesson on French filler words, and luckily she said “oui!”.

Below the interview, you’ll find:

Voilà some notes from Carrie’s lesson. Here you can download the PDF version of these notes so you can take them with you and study them whenever you like (you’ll also find links to other handy French stuff inside).

1 – 3: Bon, fin, bref

Used in isolation, these filler words mean:

  • Bon =good
  • Fin = end
  • Bref = anyway

Used together, they signal the end of a story, a bit like “so anyway” or “long story short”.

Imagine you were telling a story about how you lost your keys, at the end, you could say:

Bon, fin, bref… elles était dans mon sac.

Long story short… they were in my purse.

4 – 5: Bon, ben

  • Bon = good
  • Ben = uhm

Used together, these filler words mean: “OK, well…” or “so, then…”.  They’re often used just before you’re about to wrap up a conversation. For example:

Bon, ben… on s’appelle ce week-end?

OK, well… shall we call each other this weekend?

6 – 7: Donc, Alors

  • Donc = Then, therefore, so
  • Alors = Then, so

“Donc” and “alors” are often interchangeable. They have a similar meaning to “bon, ben” (OK then, so then…) but they’re a little more sophisticated.

Donc… on s’appelle ce week-end?

Alors… on s’appelle ce week-end?

So then… shall we call each other this weekend?

8: Euh

This is the sound French people make when they’re thinking. It’s like the English “er” or “uhm”.

As Carrie mentioned, our ears like to stay in the same “sound universe”. If you’re speaking French and you suddenly pronounce “err” the English way, it breaks the flow of the conversation.

Learning to pronounce French sounds, like “euh” when you’re thinking keeps you in French mode – it’s an easy way to instantly sound more French.

You can also use “ben”, which has the same meaning, but sounds a little more sophisticated.

9: Hein

“Hein” is the French equivalent of “huh?”. This little word is great to understand, but best avoided in the beginning stages as it can be perceived as impolite in some contexts (just like “huh?” in English).

More polite versions are:

  • Pardon?
  • Comment?

Bonus: “La bise”

In this lesson, Carrie talked about “la bise”, which is the French word for that kiss on the cheek that French people do when they meet each other. A couple of tips:

  1. French people don’t literally kiss the cheek, they just touch cheeks and make a kissing sound.
  2. If you both wear glasses, it can be a good idea to quickly take yours off so you don’t get tangled!

Conclusion

Et voilà, 9 little words that will instantly help you sound très French. Have you used French filler words before? Do you know any that we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments, s’il te plaît!

More from French is Beautiful

If you’d like to keep learning French with Carrie, you can find her here:

You might like these French posts too

 

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!

Imagine waking up in a remote town in the French countryside, where no one speaks English. Would you be able to get by in French?

If your answer is “non”, you’re in good company.

French is one of the most studied languages at school, yet most people can only remember a few random phrases like “Où est la bibliothèque?”

That’s because at school, you usually learn grammar, vocabulary lists and phrases, but no one teaches how to actually use them in conversation. The result: you end up sounding like these guys.

If, like most people, you studied for a few years and didn’t get very far, you’d be forgiven for thinking it must take decades to speak fluent French.

Luckily for us, that’s simply not true.

Using the wrong tools makes things seem more difficult than they really are. Trying to learn a language the way most of us did at school is like trying to chop wood with a kitchen knife: it’ll take you a lot longer than it should and you’ll get very frustrated along the way.

The right resources for learning French

There is no one size fits all, best way to learn French. Lot’s of different methods work. But from what I’ve seen, they all have two things in common:

  1. They don’t spend a disproportionate amount of time learning grammar and vocabulary for the sake of it.
  2. They help you learn by doing.

It makes sense really. Speaking French is a practical skill, like riding a bike or learning to swim. Just as you can’t learn to swim by reading a book, you’ll never be able to have a conversation in French by memorising a few verbs.

You’ve got to practise using French in realistic situations.

The best resources for learning French are geared towards helping you speak and understand French in real-life contexts. They should:

  • Teach you how to build new sentences so you can express yourself.
  • Show you realistic examples.
  • Give you the chance to practise.
  • Help you understand how French is spoken in the real world.

These 17 resources for French learners will do exactly that, from beginner to advanced level:

Picking up the basics: French resources for beginners

The best French resources for beginners show you how to build sentences right from the start. The tools in this list will help you pick up words and grammar easily through repetition and show you how to apply what you learn in new situations.

1. Michel Thomas French

The Michel Thomas method is probably the best resource I know of for picking up basic French in a flash.

The audio-only course helps you remember grammar painlessly by organising verbs into groups that are easy to remember and most importantly, shows you how to use these verbs to build useful sentences.

The course also shows you how to take advantage of the 30% of English words that have a French equivalent (known as cognates), like information, conversation, animal, original, distance, importance… Of course, the pronunciation is a bit different, but all you have to do is put on a French accent and voilà – you know loads of French words!

I’ve used Michel Thomas to get off the starting block for French, Italian and Spanish and I’m always surprised by how much I can say after only a few hours of listening.

2. Coffee Break French

The Coffee Break French series is a lovely, relaxing way to pick up French. The fun and interactive lessons help you learn the basics at a nice pace and presenter Mark Pentleton throws in lots of cultural anecdotes, which make the lessons a pleasure to listen to.

But don’t let the laid-back tone fool you – the Coffee Break French series is a very efficient way to learn basic French.

And there are enough episodes to take you further along your French journey – the series goes from beginner right up to advanced, and the podcasts are free.

Getting conversational

Now you’ve picked up the basics, you can practise using French in real-life situations. It’s time to jump in and have a go at speaking (even if you don’t feel ready yet!) and gradually start doing stuff in French that you enjoy doing in your native language.

As you venture into the world of real French, you’ll need plenty of support from subtitles, and slow, clear speech. You’ll also need a good dictionary and a way to remember all those new words!

3. Language exchanges

When you first start practising your speaking skills, it can feel a bit awkward to strike up a conversation with a French person – what if they reply too fast and you don’t understand what they’re saying? What if you forget a word mid-sentence?

Language exchanges are the perfect training ground for speaking French because your partner knows you’re a beginner (be sure to tell them!) and they’re there to help. This takes the pressure off as they don’t expect you to be able hold a full conversation yet: it’s OK if you don’t understand what they’re saying or forget a word mid-sentence!

However, there are a few pitfalls to watch out for. For example, if you’re a native English speaker and you team up with a French person who speaks brilliant English, it might feel easier to speak in English most of the time. To get around this, you should set a specific time, say ½ hour French, then ½ hour English. If you find a partner who keeps speaking English when they should be helping you with French, it’s time to look for a new one.

I’ve had some brilliant experiences with language exchanges: as well as helping you practise your French, they’re a great way to get to know French people and learn more about French culture.

If you go to France, I highly recommend setting up a language exchange at your destination. I did this in Paris and I met some lovely Parisiens who took me to their favourite hangouts – a fab way to learn the language and get off the beaten tourist track!

To find language exchange partners at home or abroad, try www.conversationexchange.com.

4. Italki

If you like the idea of improving your speaking skills quickly and cheaply without leaving your living room, you should give italki a try.

It’s a website where you can get one-to-one, online conversation lessons with French conversation tutors – called community tutors – sometimes for less than $10 an hour.

And you don’t need to worry about speaking slowly, making mistakes or sounding silly – tutors are there to help you learn and most are friendly, patient and used to working with beginners.

If you’d like to try italki, you can get a free lesson by clicking any of the italki links on this page. All you have to do is sign up, book your first lesson and you’ll get the next lesson free (up to $10).

I don’t get any commission if you buy through this link, but I do get a free lesson with my French conversation tutor on italki, which helps me save money and spend more time writing articles like the one you’re reading now – merci!

Italki is also handy if you want to work on your writing skills: you can post your writing on the “notebook” section and a native speaker will correct it for you.

If you like the idea, but you’re not sure where to start, voilà a tutorial on how to use it:

italki: How to learn a language with an online tutor

I usually practise my speaking skills on italki, a website where you can book conversation lessons with native speakers.

5. News in Slow French

News in Slow French makes a refreshing change to the boring and overly simplistic topics usually on offer for learners. The presenters cover the week’s news in a light and entertaining way, in French that’s slow (hence the name!) and easy to follow.

6. Journal en Français Facile

Although the name translates literally as “The News in Easy French”, this news show by Radio France Internationale is a lot more challenging than News in Slow French. Often, the pace doesn’t seem that different to the normal French news, but that makes it great way to challenge your listening. On the Journal en Français Facile website they have the transcripts so you can check your understanding and read along as you listen.

7. Easy French

Follow the presenters of Easy French “on the streets”, as they pose interesting questions to French passers-by such as “What would you do to make the world a better place?” The interview format is perfect as you hear the same question over and over, and the answers are usually entertaining. To help you follow along, there are big subtitles in French and smaller subtitles in English. It’s the perfect way to ease yourself into listening to real, spoken French.

8. Wordreference

Once you start engaging with real French, you’ll need a good dictionary to look up the new words you come across. Wordreference is one of the best: it gives you examples of how the word is used in real sentences, which helps you understand how to use the word yourself later on. There’s also a “verb conjugator”, which shows you how to use French verbs in different tenses.

9. Memrise

As well as a good dictionary, you’ll need a way to remember the new words you learn. The Memrise app helps you learn French words faster, using a method known as spaced repetition.

It’s based on scientific studies which show that we remember information better when we learn it a few times over a longer period of time, compared to many times within a short space of time. The app quizzes you on words you’ve learnt at specific intervals which optimise learning.

Memrise is huge in the language learning community and you’ll find lots of French courses with ready made vocabulary lists already on there. However, it’s better to make your own course with example sentences that you’ve already seen or heard being used in real life, for the following reasons:

  1. Learning words in sentences (rather than in isolation) helps you understand how to use them later.
  2. Learning words that you’ve already come across in real life helps you form stronger memory associations.

Advanced

Now you can hold a conversation and understand simple spoken French, it’s time to hone your skills by listening and reading things intended for native speakers. Moving onto native speaker materials is a great feeling – you can:

  1. Really start to understand how French speakers communicate with each other.
  2. Learn a lot about French culture.
  3. Improve your French while doing things you enjoy, like watching films or reading the newspaper.

Here are a few of my favourites.

10. France 24

The France 24 website is packed with French videos. It’s a news channel, so they have lots of programmes about current affairs, but they also cover other topics including art, science, culture and travel. The presenters usually speak quite slowly and clearly, so it’s a great resource to bridge the gap between intermediate and native speaker materials.

11. Your web browser

With the Google Translate Chrome add-on, you can turn any French website into an interactive French dictionary. When you click on a word you don’t know, the English translation pops up on the same page, so you you can read websites without constantly stopping to look up words.

12. Le monde

Le Monde is one of the most famous newspapers in France. On the website, you can catch up on current affairs with articles, videos and blogs. The YouTube channel is particularly good because they have 3 minute videos that explain important issues in current affairs or little snippets of French culture. And they have French subtitles, so you can turn them on and read anything you missed in the listening.

13. Le Gorafi

If you prefer something a little lighter, try reading le Gorafi. It’s a parody newspaper with fake news articles, like the French version of The Daily Mash. If you enjoy this kind of humor, it’s a brilliant resource for stretching your French reading skills. Riina, a member of the joy of languages Facebook group, recently said that you can say you’re fluent in a language “when you can understand jokes”. If you get this kind of satire, you can be confident that your level of French is pretty good.

Le Gorafi also gives you loads of cultural insights about France, from small details, like how people in the South often drink pastis, to more serious things, like the decline in popularity of the Socialist Party.

14. Buzzfeed

If you’re after something even lighter, have a go at reading French BuzzFeed. The “listicle” style articles with pictures are a great way to practise reading real French, without having to get your head around large amounts of text.

YouTube

Now you’re advanced, the whole world of French YouTube is open to you. Here are a few channels to get you started:

15. Un gars et une fille

This Quebec sitcom shows short scenes in the life of a couple who are often getting into funny squabbles. They speak very fast but the videos are only a few minutes long, so it’s a great way to train your listening in short but intense bursts. And as the subject is very light, it leaves your brain free to concentrate on the French.

16. Cyprien

Cyprien is one of the most popular YouTubers in France. He’s a comedian who likes to point out the silly in everyday situations. Here’s his take on “people on the internet”.

His channel is fab for advanced level French listening. Like most YouTubers, he speaks inhumanely fast, but that’s actually quite good for pushing your listening skills: once you can understand Cyprien, French conversations at normal speed will be a breeze! He has subtitles in French and in English, which means you can read along in French if the audio alone is too tricky, and use the English ones from time to time to check your understanding.

If you enjoyed that Cyprien video, you might like Norman and Squeezie’s channels too.

Thanks to Christine for recommending these French YouTubers in the comments section of my last post: how I’m becoming fluent in French from my living room.

17. Simplissime

The simplissime cookery channel, with the tag line “the easiest recipes in the world” is another great resource to ease you into listening to native speaker materials. The narrator speaks slowly and the words often appear on screen, which makes things a lot easier to follow for us non-native speakers. To see what I mean, watch this quick video on how to make a chocolate mousse.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TmN1cf7CBY

And as a bonus, you’ll come away with some cooking tips too!

E voilà! Those were my 17 best resources for learning French from beginner to advanced, I hope you found them useful.

Over to you

  1. Which of these resources do you think is the most useful for learning French? Why?
  2. Can you add any more to the list? I’m on a French mission at the moment so I’m always looking out for new resources – recommendations in the comments please!