The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in the culture as much as you can, whether it’s watching French movies, talking to other French speakers, or reading French books—even children’s stories.
Of course, Rosetta Stone’s Dynamic Immersion® method will also have you immersed in the French language. Our program teaches you new words and phrases based on real-life scenarios in which they’re used, so you’ll be prepared to have an actual conversation that doesn’t follow a textbook script as you build your conversational skills.
I’ve included an approximate guide for how to pronounce each of the phrases in this post based on phonetic English. Although this is no substitute for listening to recordings or native speakers pronouncing the words, it’ll help you get started.
I’ve used ‘j’ to represent the French ‘j’ sound. But be aware that in French, it has a soft pronunciation, not like the English ‘j’ in ‘John’.
For a more detailed look at diving into pronunciation, you can check out my comprehensive French pronunciation guide.
A Note On ‘Tu’ And ‘Vous’:
French, like many other languages, has two ways to say “you” depending on your level of familiarity with the person you are speaking to.
The basic rule is:
- When you’re speaking to strangers, especially people who are older than you, you should use vous.
- When you’re speaking to someone you are on familiar terms with or when you speak to children, you can use tu.
- In my list, I’ve given the form you are most likely to need for each phrase. Where you might need either, I’ve included both.
Finally, in very informal spoken French, tu es and tu as can be abbreviated to t’es and t’as respectively.
While this might not be considered strictly ‘correct’, it is quite common . So I’ve used this form in my list for a couple of the more informal expressions to show where you might come across it.By the way, if you’re interested in informal language, you can also check out this post on 23 colloquial French phrases for impressing the locals.
First, let’s look at the basic greetings in French. These are fairly simple. And you no doubt already know at least some of them.
- Bonjour! – Hello! (the standard greeting in French)
- Bon soir! – Good evening! (replaces bonjour in the evening)
- Salut! – Hi! (a more informal greeting)
- Enchanté(e)! – Nice to meet you! (a standard expression when meeting someone for the first time)
- (on shon tay)
Common French Phrases For Continuing The Conversation:
After greeting someone, you’ll want to move the conversation on with some small talk. Here are a few of the standard questions and answers.
- Ça va? – How are you? (the basic way to enquire how someone is)
- Ça roule? – How’s it going? (a much more informal way to ask the same question, to be used with people you are on very informal terms with)
- Comment vas-tu/comment tu vas? Comment allez-vous? – How are you? (a slightly more elegant version of ça va? in both the formal and informal forms)
(komon va too, komon too va, komon tallay voo) – the ‘n’ is nasal and not pronounced strongly
- Ça va/je vais bien – I’m well (the first version is the same as the question but with different intonation. The second is another way to say it)
(sa va/juh vay byan)
- Et toi? – And you?
- Ça va le travail/le boulot/le taf? – How’s work? (boulot and taf are much more informal words for ‘work’ that you may hear)
(sa va luh tra vai, luh boo low, luh taff – the last syllable of travail rhymes with ‘eye’)
- Comment va ton père? Ton père va bien? – How’s your father? (two ways to express this)
(komon va ton pair, ton pair va byan)
- Tu fais quoi comme travail/c’est quoi ton travail? – What’s your job?/What work do you do? (can also be used with the vous form)
(too fay kwah kom tra vai/say kwah ton tra vai)
- Must-Know French Phrases For Being Polite
Next, here are the basic expressions of courtesy that you need to know right from the start.
- Merci – Thank you (the standard word for this)
- Merci bien – Thank you (the bien adds some extra politeness or friendliness to the expression)
(mair see byan)
- Merci beaucoup – Thank you very much (when you want to express extra gratitude)
(mair see bo coo)
- De rien – It’s nothing (the standard reply to merci)
- Il n’y a pas de quoi – It’s nothing/don’t mention it (another, perhaps stronger, way to respond to merci)
(ill nee ah pah duh kwah)
- Excusez-moi/pardon – Excuse me, sorry (both can be used to apologise or when trying to get past)
(eh skyoo zay mwah/pah don)
- Excusez-moi?/Comment? – Sorry? Excuse me? Pardon? (used when you don’t hear what someone says. Note that the French word pardon shouldn’t be used for this)
(eh skyoo zay mwah/komon)
- Je suis desolé(e) – I’m sorry (a stronger apology than excusez-moi/pardon)
(juh swee dehsolay/ pah don)
- Vas-y, Allez-y – Go on, go ahead (a way to tell somebody to advance, move forward; also to tell someone they can do something: vas-y, sers-toi! “Go ahead, help yourself!”)
- (va zee, allay zee, sair twah)
- Basic French Phrases For Dealing With Problems
- Paris tuileries garden
French Question Words
Learning the basic question words can get you a long way, even if you don’t know much else of the language. Here they are in French:
- Quoi? – What?
- Quand? – When?
- Qui? – Who?
- Comment? – How?
- Combien? – How many?
- Où? – Where?
- Pourquoi? – Why?
- Quel(le)? – Which? (this question word agrees with the noun. The four possible forms are quel, quelle, quels, quelles – but they are all pronounced exactly the same)
You’ll be amazed by how far these greetings, questions and basic courtesy phrases will get you in your first conversation with a French speaker.
With this list, you’ll be able to greet a French speaker politely, introduce yourself, get to know them better, and deal with any problems that might come up. So now, all that remains is for you to go find someone to talk to in French. Armed with this list, you’ll never be lost for words again. And maybe, it might just be the start you need to go on to learn to speak French fluently!
If you’re a beginner or false beginner in French and want to learn to speak the language confidently, then I recommend my French Uncovered course. It’s a complete beginner program that teaches you the power of a story. So not only will you improve your French quickly, you’ll have fun doing it!