With the French language spoken in France and other countries around the world, travelers may want to learn a few French words or phrases before their trip. Language barriers can be a daunting challenge when visiting a new country, but taking the time to learn the local lingo can boost your independence and confidence.
You can also use your language skills to meet new people and explore the local culture. Technology has made it easier to learn a foreign language through the use of apps, websites, and games. However, sorting through the French language can be difficult when you’re trying to choose which basic words and phrases to learn before you take a trip abroad.
Our article makes it easy by providing you with the need-to-know French words and phrases, so you can travel like a pro. With the addition of phonetic spellings, you should think of this as your essential mini French language guide or survival kit.
Countries that speak French:
- Algeria – Arabic is official, French is secondary
- Belgium – Dutch, French and German are three official
- Canada – Quebec Province
- Cote d’Ivoire – French is official
- France – French is official
- Haiti – French is official
- Madagascar – French and Malagasy are official
- Mauritius – Mauritian Creole, which is a French-based language
- Monaco – French is official
- Switzerland – French, German, Italian and Romansch are official
- Tunisia – Arabic is official, but French is popular
Pronouns are used to identify and speak about ourselves or others. One of the first things you need to memorize are your French pronouns because they will help you convey an idea or ask a question.
Locals will also appreciate your effort towards learning their language when you try to identify them, yourself, or others by a pronoun title because it shows your respect to the language, culture, and people.
You should feel comfortable when using pronouns. However, one challenge of the French language is that both informal and formal pronouns are used. You might not know which pronouns to use, but when in doubt, formal should be the default. A person may later say that it is okay to speak to them informally.
- I, Me — Je
- You (Informal) — Tu (too)
- You (Formal) — Vous (vu)
- You (Formal and Plural) — Vous (vu)
- She, Her — Elle
- He, Him — Il
- They, Them (Masculine) — Ils
- They, Them (Feminine) — Elles
Formal vs. Informal
Similar to other romantic languages, the French language uses an informal and formal “you”. When using the word “tu” (too), you are speaking in an informal way, which is suitable to use with friends, family members, or someone who is younger than you. “Vous” (vu) is the formal version of “you” in French and it is spoken to people that you do not know or to someone who is older than you. People who are in a position of power should also be addressed formally. When speaking about a group of people, you will always use the formal and plural version of “you”, which is also “vous” (vu).
Masculine vs. Feminine
For travelers who are serious about learning French or becoming fluent, one aspect of the language that you’ll be required to use is the masculine and feminine nouns. Many of the romantic languages use gendered nouns, which can be difficult for travelers to learn if they speak a language that is gender neutral. In French, masculine and feminine nouns can be identified by the article or ending.
“Il” is the masculine adjective in French, which is used to describe a person (male). “Un” is the masculine adjective in singular form and when it is used to describe objects. The French feminine adjective is “elle” for a woman or “une” for an object.
Travelers are curious and curiosity leads to questions. When you’re in a foreign country, it is important to know how to ask a question. Question words in English can be easily translated to French. These question words can be used to help you navigate and ask for directions, recommendations, or local information.
- Who? — Qui?
- What? — Que?
- What? — Qu’est qué?
- When? — Quand?
- Where? — Où?
- Why? — Pourquoi?
- How? — Comment?
Even if you are traveling solo, a big part of travel consists of interacting with the world around you. Whenever you meet new people or are greeting old friends, it is important to know how to properly greet others. Greetings are not only polite but they can also help you make new friendships on your wanderlust adventures.
- Hello — Bonjour
- Good morning — Bonjour
- Good Afternoon — Bonne après-midi
- Good evening — Bonsoir
- Good Night – Bonne nuit
- Nice to meet you — Ravi de vous rencontrer
- Nice to see you — Ravi de vous voir
- Welcome — Bienvenu
- What is your name? (Informal) — Comment t’appelles-tu?
- What is your name? (Formal) — Comment vous-appelez vous?
- My name is… — Je m’appelle…
On the opposite end of greetings are farewells. You shouldn’t walk away mid conversation or without saying goodbye. As a courtesy, you can use these phrases to say farewell to the people around you and exit a conversation. These are the most common ways to say farewell in French.
- Goodbye — Au revoir
- See you later — À plus tard
- See you tomorrow — À demain
- Have a good day — Voir passer une bonne journée
- Have a great day – Passez une excellente journée
- >Have a nice day – Passez une excellente journée
- Take care — Bonne journée
- Take care (Informal) — Prend soin de toi
- Take care (Formal) — Prend soin de vous
Small Talk – Feelings
After you’ve made your greetings, you might want to ask a person about how they are doing or what they have been doing. Most people would call this small talk and it is a great way to advance a conversation and show that you are interested about a person. There are quite a few ways to converse in French, but to keep it simple, we have listed the most common phrases used for small talk.
- How are you? — Comment ça va?
- How are you? (Informal) — Comment vas-tu?
- How are you? (Formal) — Comment allez-vous?
- How have you been? — Comment avez-vous été?
- I am good – Je vais bien
- What’s up? — Quoi de neuf?
- I am fine, how are you? (Informal) — Je vais bien, et tu?
- I am fine, how are you? (Formal) — Je vais bien, et vous?
- Good, and you? (Informal) — Bien, et tu?
- Good. And you? (Formal) — Bien, et vous?
Small Talk — More Responses
Travelers will find that quite often their conversations will go deeper than a simple, how are you? These are the times when it is useful to know how to respond in more detail. These responses will help you explain exactly how you feel if someone asks how you are doing. Sometimes you might not always be feeling your best and these phrases will help you explain if you feel tired or sick.
- I am very well — Je vais très bien
- I am so-so — Je vais bof-bof
- I am a little tired — Je suis un peu fatigué
- I am sick — Je suis malade
Being polite and having manners can go a long way when you’re traveling and you should be conscious to show respect to your local host by using common courtesy words. These words can help you show your appreciation for traveling within a country and exploring its culture. Locals will appreciate a “please” or “thank you” and using these words will help you make new connections and friends.
- Please (Informal) — S’il te plaît
- Please (Formal) — S’il vous plaît
- Thank you — Merci
- Thank you very much — Merci beaucoup
- You’re welcome — Je vous en prie; De rien
- I am Sorry — Je suis désolé
- Excuse me — Excusez-moi
- Mister — Monsieur
- Misses — Madame
- Miss — Mademoiselle
Madame vs. Mademoiselle
Many people have heard the French word, “mademoiselle”, but what might surprise you to find out is that the word is falling out of favor with the French. In France, women are no longer required to indicate their martial status by title on official documents and any woman of any age is now commonly identified solely by “Madame”. While you might hear “Mademoiselle” in a conversation or on the streets, it becoming less and less common in French speaking societies.
These common phrases are natural in conversations when locals may ask questions about who you are, where you come from, and what you find interesting. On the flip side, you can use these common phrases while traveling to ask about local products, for directions, or give salutations.
- How old are you? — Quel âge avez vous?
- Where are you from? (Informal) — D’où vienes-tu?
- Where are you from? (Formal) — D’où venez-vous?
- I am from… — Je viens de…
- What time is it? — Quelle heure est-il?
- How much does this cost? — C’est combien?
- How much does this cost? — Combien ça coûte?
- Who are you? — Qui êtes vous?
- What is this? — Qu’est-ce que c’est?
- Do you understand? — Comprendez-vous?
- Do you speak English? — Parlez vous anglais?
- Where is the bathroom? — Où sont les toilettes?
- I need help — J’ai besoin d’aide
- Have a good trip — Bon voyage
- Enjoy your meal — Bon appétit
- Cheers — Santé
- Well done — Bien joué
- Don’t worry — Ne t’inquiète pas
Common and Useful Words
Ultimately, vocabulary is essential to navigating the world. If you have never studied French or any foreign language before, you will quickly learn that even if you are not able to say complete phrases, a mental list of common short phrases and vocabulary can still help you while you travel. With these common phrases, you can start your journey and begin to communicate with native French speakers.
Travelers who take the time to expand their vocabulary will find that it is easier to learn French, which means that you’ll be speaking in complete sentences faster. These common phrases can also assist you in getting around a city or town.
- Yes — Oui
- No — Non
- Of course — Bien sûr
- Always — Toujours
- Sometimes — Quelque fois
- Maybe — Peut être
- Never — Jamais
- Left — La gauche
- Right — La droite
- Stop — Arrêtez
- Hotel — Hôtel
- Taxi — Taxi
- Food — Nourriture
- Water — L’eau
- Check or bill — La compte
Learning the basic colors in French is also useful to travelers because you can use color to identify or describe an object or place. Many locals will also give directions to tourists and use colors in their descriptions of local buildings or landmarks.
- Red — Rouge
- Orange — Orange
- Yellow — Jaune
- Green — Vert
- Blue — Bleu
- Purple — Violet
- Pink — Rose
- Black — Noir
- White — Blanc
- Grey — Gris
- Brown — Marron
- Brown — Brun
Days of the Week
Most travelers are very conscious of keeping to a schedule because they have specific plans or reservations. You should learn the days of the week in French to help you manage your schedule and eliminate any confusion that may occur when you are making new reservations.
- Day — Le jour
- Week — Le semaine
- Monday — Lundi
- Tuesday — Mardi
- Wednesday — Mercredi
- Thursday — Jeudi
- Friday — Vendredi
- Saturday — Samedi
- Sunday — Dimanche
Finally, these are some other phrases that you might need to use or may encounter on your travels. While it is impossible to learn French in one day or even a week, you can begin to slowly build up your personal dictionary with new vocabulary words and common phrases to help you travel with ease or become fluent in a foreign language.
- Okay — D’accord
- Come here — Venez ici
- My love — Mon amour
- I love you — Je t’aime
- What are you doing? — Que fais-tu?
- Very good — Très bon
Practice Makes Perfect
For any traveler, navigating a country with a language barrier can be scary. However, you can ease your intimidation by learning basic French words and phrases. While it isn’t likely that you’ll nail your first conversation, mistakes are okay and common. You shouldn’t let the fear of speaking French stop you from learning the language.
Practice makes perfect and in time, the more you study French and perfect your pronunciations, the more fluent you will become. So, don’t hesitate to ask questions and make statements because in no time, you’ll be able to converse and communicate with native French speakers.