French is one of the most beautiful and widely spoken languages around the world. It is considered one of the “Romance languages”, along with Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian. Today, French is spoken in 29 countries on nearly every continent, including Europe (France, Belgium, Luxembourg and parts of Switzerland), North America (eastern Canada/Québec), Africa (which has more French speakers than anywhere else), and the Caribbean (Haiti).
A short history of the French language
The French we know today developed over centuries, with influences from a variety of sources including Gaul (an ancient region that once included modern day France and Belgium), Latin (from the Romans) and Germanic (after the collapse of the Roman Empire). Modern French developed from a dialect spoken by the elites in northern France and Paris. Today, Parisian French is the standard model that is taught in schools.
Traveling to a French-speaking country
Most people include France on their bucket list of places to visit. In fact, the country is one of the world’s leading international tourist destinations, welcoming around 200 million visitors every year. That doesn’t even include those who travel to France for business. French is also the official language in Belgium and Luxembourg, andis spoken in parts of Switzerland.
If you travel to Québec in eastern Canada you’re more likely to run into French speakers than English speakers. Likewise, many countries throughout Africa have French as the official language.
French words and phrases you need to know
No matter which French-speaking country you visit, you’ll want to be prepared with some simple phrases to help you communicate essential information. While you are likely to find English speakers in tourist areas, it’s always a good idea to have at least some knowledge at your disposal. The locals in those countries will appreciate the effort as well.
Pronouns- When referring to people
- You / Tu (informal) or vous (formal). Vous is also used when addressing a group “you all”.
- Me / Moi/oe
- We/Us / Nous/on
Interrogatives – To find out information
- How (as is “how do I get…”) / Comment
- To / à
- When / Quand
- Where / Où
- Which/What / Quel/ Quoi
Greeting and Phrases
- Yes / No – Oui / Non
- Hello – Bonjour (You can also use a more casual greeting salut, which can mean “hi” or “bye” depending on the context.)
- Goodbye / Au revoir
- Please / S’il vous plaît (formal) S’il te plaît (informal)
- Note: If you approach a stranger asking for directions or some other information, start with, “Bonjour. S’il vous plaît…” which literally means “Hello, please…”
- Thank you / Merci
- What’s your name? / Comment vous appelez-vous ? (Formal) / Comment t’appelles-tu ? (Informal) /
- How are you? / Comment allez-vous ?(formal)/ Comment vas-tu ? (informal)
- Excuse me / Excusez-moi/ Excuse-moi
- Sorry / Pardon
- Hotel / L’hôtel
Food and Drink
- To drink / Boire
- To eat / Manger
- To buy / Acheter
- Breakfast / Le petit-déjeuner
- Lunch / Le déjeuner
- Dinner / Le dîner
- Water / De l’eau
- Wine / Le vin
- Milk / Le lait
- Cream / La crème
- Coffee / Un café
- Tea / Un Thé
- Iced Tea / Un thé glacé
- Credit card / Carte de crédit
Places and Transportation
- Shops / Des magasins
- Supermarket / Le supermarché
- Bathroom / Les toilettes
- Museum / Le musée
- Train station / La gare
- Airport / L’aéroport
- Car La voiture
Most useful phrases for travelers
- What time is it? / Quelle heure est-il ?
- Where is the bathroom? / Où se trouvent les toilettes ? or Où sont les toilettes ?
- What is the price? / Quel est le prix?
- How much is it? / Combien ça coûte ?
- Do you take credit cards? / Acceptez-vous les cartes de crédit ?
- Where is _____? / Où se trouve ____ ?
- How do I get to the train station? / Comment aller à la gare ?
- How do I get to the airport? / Comment aller à l’aéroport ?
- How do I get to the museum? / Comment aller au musée ?
- What is the address? / Quelle est l’adresse ?
- I don’t understand / Je ne comprends pas
- What does that mean? / Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire ?
- How do you say ___ in French? / Comment dit-on __ en français ?
- I’m looking for ¬¬¬¬¬_____ / Je cherche ______.
- Could you speak more slowly, please?/ Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement, s’il vous plaît ?
- Could you repeat that, please? / Pouvez-vous répéter, s’il vous plaît ?
- Please, I’m looking for____ / Excusez-moi, je cherche ____
- Do you have _____? / Avez-vous ____ ?
- Do you have room for two? / Avez-vous une chambre pour deux personnes ?
- Where are there some restaurants? / Où est-ce qu’on peut trouver des restaurants ?
- We want to go _____ / Nous voulons aller à ___.
- Could I have the bill please? / L’addition, s’il vous plaît ?
- A table for two / Une table pour deux
- I’m not feeling very well / Je ne me sens pas bien.
- Could you call be a taxi? / Pouvez-vous m’appeler un taxi ?
- Where can I find a taxi? / Où puis-je trouver un taxi ?
- What’s the weather going to be like today? / Quel temps va-t-il faire aujourd’hui ?
These essential phrases will help you get around in a French-speaking country and they will also enhance your trip.
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Kristin Wallace is a USA Today Bestselling fiction author and advertising copywriter who is addicted to learning and writing about language, culture and art around the world. She lives and works in sunny Miami, Florida.