La France - also nicknamed "l'Hexagone" by the French thanks to its unique six-sided shape - has retained its crown as the most visited country in the world for the last two decades, and it's easy to see why. It's not always about Paris (as stunning as it is) - the whole country is home to rich European history, medieval towns and castles, historic remnants, incredible cuisine, beautiful culture, and a contagious "joie de vivre," all of which harmonize to make this romantic euro-paradise so utterly appealing to all.

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Plus, it's also a nation of contrasts - picturesque rural towns and farmlands, towering mountains, modern-meets-old-world cities, and postcard-worthy beaches that all beckon travelers to discover this perfect European destination. Whether French first-timers or seasoned Francophiles, this essential language guide will help vacationers get the most out of their stay in France. And, if any readers struggle with French reading and pronunciation (it can be a mouthful for beginners!) simply copy and paste any of the French words and phrases in this guide into Google Translate and click the audio button to hear a clear recording of each.

Introductions And Greetings

Even travelers who don't speak any level of French should at least be able to offer polite introductions - doing so will open so many doors and make interacting with French people that much easier, more fun, and more pleasant! Don't forget - politeness is key, and when holidaying in any nation, manners are important. Always use pleases and thank yous, and address people appropriately - more so if they're a stranger - using sir and madam (these may sound too formal in English, however, in French these titles are very normal and used in everyday interactions).

  • Bonjour (Hello)
  • Bienvenue (Welcome)
  • Salut (Hi) - note that this is very informal
  • Je m'appelle... (My name is...)
  • Ça va? (How are you?)
  • Ça va, merci (I'm fine, thank you)
  • Et vous? (And you?)
  • Monsieur (Sir)
  • Madame (Ma'am/madam)
  • Je voudrais (I would like)
  • S'il vous plaît (Please)
  • Merci (Thank you)
  • Merci beaucoup (Thank you very much)
  • Je vous en prie (You're welcome)
  • Pardon (Pardon)
  • Excusez-moi (Excuse me)
  • Au revoir (Goodbye)
  • À tout à l’heure! (See you later!)

Destinations And Places

France as a vacation destination offers a diverse range of attractions and things to do. There's everything from bustling metropolises, quaint old towns, and vast green countryside with rolling vineyard fields, to snowy capped mountains and glistening beaches. Whatever the plan is, these destination and place-related words might come in handy and will be useful to know for further sections in this guide.

  • La ville (the town/city)
  • Le parc (the park)
  • Le centre-ville (the town/city center)
  • Les magasins (the shops)
  • La cathédrale (the cathedral)
  • L'église (the church)
  • Le commissariat (the police station)
  • Le bureau de tourisme (the tourism office)
  • l’hôpital (the hospital)
  • L'hôtel (the hotel)
  • La gare (the train station)
  • La gare routière (the bus station)
  • Le métro (the metro)
  • L'aéroport (the airport)
  • Le train (the train)
  • La plage (the beach)
  • La mer (the sea)
  • La campagne (the countryside)
  • Les montagnes (the mountains)

Related: This Is Why The Tidal Castle Isle Of Mont-Saint-Michel In France Is So Iconic

Language Help

Many French people - particularly in larger cities and touristic towns - can speak some level of English. So for travelers who're really struggling, there's never any harm in asking if someone speaks English. Also, the French really appreciate it when foreigners at least try to speak their language - they're a very proud and patriotic people, and seeing visitors try their best to speak French really does make them appreciative, and gets travelers much further than those who give the barest minimum of effort.

Plus, they'll be more inclined to help those who put effort into speaking some French - even if it's only a little bit. Even if mistakes are made and a tourist butchers the sentence a bit, they'll probably still understand the gist of what's being said, and they'll love the fact that a foreigner is at least attempting to speak in their language rather than barging in and making demands in English - it's truly the thought and effort that counts. With this in mind, here are some helpful phrases that'll assist with any efforts to speak French to French people:

  • Parlez-vous anglais? (Do you speak English?)
  • Je ne comprends pas (I don't understand)
  • Parlez lentement, s’il vous plaît. (Speak slowly please)
  • Répétez, s’il vous plaît (Please repeat)

Related: A Travel Guide To France: 11 Things To Know While Planning Your Trip

Transportation

France has a very reliable transportation system, especially in its typically European (and gorgeous!) cities and towns. The TGV is like the bullet train of France and is a convenient and quick way to get around the country with regular departures from cities and towns all over France. Public transport is less frequent and reliable in countryside villages in comparison to towns and cities, but they are still served. If buses, coaches, and trains are proving to be difficult - particularly in rural areas - there are always taxis available to take folks wherever they need to go.

Here are a few handy words and phrases that could prove to be useful when trying to get around:

  • Le train (the train)
  • Le bus (the bus)
  • Le taxi (the taxi)
  • Le car (the coach)
  • La voiture (the car)
  • L'avion (the plane)
  • Le ferry (the ferry)
  • Le bateau (the boat)
  • Où est le guichet? (Where is the ticket window?)
  • Où est la gare? (Where is the train station?)
  • Je voudrais aller à... (I would like to go to...)
  • Quel train/bus dois-je prendre? (Which train/bus should I take?)
  • À quelle heure va-t-il arriver? What time will it arrive?
  • À quelle heure va-t-il partir? (What time will it depart?)
  • Je voudrais regarder l’horaire s'il vous plaît (I would like to look at the schedule please)
  • Je voudrais réserver un billet s'il vous plaît (I would like to book a ticket please)
  • Je voudrais acheter un billet aller simple/aller-retour (I would like to buy a one-way ticket/a round-trip ticket)

Directions And Asking For Help

Any vacationer has gotten lost or found themselves in a geographical pickle whilst abroad - it's almost expected, even in the era of GPS and mapping apps. Instead of wandering around like a scared tourist with an uncalibrated internal GPS system, it's always better to ask someone local for some help. It's also a great opportunity to practice some French!

  • Pourriez-vous m’aider s'il vous plaît? (Can you help me please?)
  • Je cherche... (I'm looking for...)
  • Où est/Où sont... (Where is/where are...)
  • Où sont des toilettes? (Where are the toilets?)
  • Où est un restaurant/un café? (Where is a restaurant/a café?)
  • Où est la plage? (Where is the beach?)
  • Où est le centre-ville? (Where is the city center?)
  • Où est l’hôpital? (Where is the hospital?)
  • Où est le commissariat? (Where is the police station?)
  • Où est le métro? (Where is the metro?)
  • Je cherche la banque (I'm looking for the bank)
  • Je cherche l'aéroport (I'm looking for the airport)
  • Je cherche la gare (I'm looking for the train station)
  • Je cherche l’hôtel (I'm looking for the hotel)
  • Où sommes-nous? (Where are we?)
  • La gauche (the left)
  • La droite (the right)
  • C’est à gauche (It's on the left)
  • C’est à droite (It's on the right)
  • C’est tout droit (It’s straight ahead)
  • Est-ce que c’est loin? (Is it far?)
  • Est-ce que c’est proche? (Is it close?)
  • C'est combien de kilometres? (How many kilometers away is it?)

Related: 10 Etiquette Tips To Know Before Traveling To France

Shopping

In large French cities and smaller towns, there is no lack of shops. Visitors can find everything from extravagant designer outlets, high-end jewelry, and luxury fashion, to cutesy second-hand stores, vintage antique shops, and quirky souvenir stalls. There are also the usual staple stores that everyone needs in their town - such as pharmacies, bakeries, butchers, and supermarkets (Leclerc, Super U, Hyper U, and Intermarché are France's major supermarkets).

However, a really unique and cultural shopping experience that visitors should at least try once is a "brocante" - a second-hand market in which vendors and everyday local people sell all kinds of pre-loved items (and junk!). It's possible to find antiques, rare stuff, jewelry, video games, vinyl records and CDs, electronic appliances, and collectibles, along with tons of shoes and clothing.

Whilst it may not be everyone's "tasse de thé" (cup of tea), a brocante is a staple of French culture and a popular pastime throughout the country. To find a brocante near you, search online, ask a local, consult with the local tourism office, or simply explore the area - many a time there are signs displayed in and around a town indicating the date of the next brocante in that particular area).

To help with shopping ventures, these phrases might just do the trick:

  • e veux faire du shopping (I want to go shopping)
  • Je veux faire les courses (I want to go food/grocery shopping)
  • Où sont les magasins? (Where are the shops?)
  • Où est le centre-commercial? (Where is the mall?)
  • Je voudrais aller au boulangerie (I would like to go to the bakery)
  • Je cherche la supermarché (I'm looking for the supermarket)
  • Où est le boucherie? (Where is the butcher's?)
  • Où est la pharmacie? (Where is the pharmacy?)
  • Est-ce que je peux payer par carte de crédit? (Can I pay by credit card?)
  • À quelle heure est-ce que c'est ouvert? (At what time is it open?)
  • À quelle heure est-ce que c'est fermé? (At what time is it closed?)
  • C'est combien? (How much is it?)
  • Combien ça coûte? (How much does it cost?)
  • C’est trop cher (It’s too expensive)
  • Je voudrais retourner cet article pour un remboursement (I would like to return this item for a refund)

Restaurants

French cuisine is undoubtedly unique and delicious. Sumptuous cakes and pastries, indulgent cheeses and breads, savourous seasoned meats, and flavourful wines and champagnes that all tempt the tongue. Of course, if escargot and tartare de boeuf are too adventurous, many French towns and cities offer a whole host of other delightful local and international dishes as well. Whenever a visitor finds themselves hungry in France, these following phrases may just enhance the flavor of a restaurant visit.

  • Je voudrais la carte/le menu, s’il vous plaît (I would like the menu/fixed-price menu, please)
  • Je voudrais un café (I would like a coffee)
  • Je voudrais un thé (I would like a tea)
  • Je voudrais une grande/petite bière (I would like a large/small beer)
  • Je voudrais du vin rouge (I would like some red wine)
  • Je voudrais du vin blanc (I would like some white wine)
  • Je voudrais de l’eau (I would like some water)
  • Saignant (rare)
  • Bien cuit (medium to well done)
  • Très bien cuit (very well done)
  • L’addition, s’il vous plaît (The bill, please)

Accommodation

Most people book hotels and accommodation in advance, but not always - some folks love to wander and choose where to stay once they're there (backpackers for instance!) No matter the budget - whether that of a five-star hotel or a low-cost hostel - consider keeping the following French phrases handy when conversing with hotel staff.

  • Avez-vous de disponibilité aujourd'hui? (Do you have availability today?)
  • C'est combien par nuite? (How much is it per night?)
  • Je voudrais une chambre pour deux (I would like a double room)
  • Je voudrais une chambre familiale (I would like a family room)
  • Je voudrais deux lits simples (I would like two single beds)
  • Je voudrais un lit double (I would like a double bed)
  • Je voudrais une chambre avec salle de bain attenante (I would like a room with an ensuite bathroom)
  • Je voudrais une chambre avec une douche (I would like a room with a shower)
  • Je voudrais une chambre avec une baignoire (I would like a room with a bathtub)
  • Est-ce qu’il y a de climatisation? (Is there air conditioning?)
  • Est-ce qu'il y a de chauffage? (Is there central heating?)
  • Je voudrais annuler ma réservation (I would like to cancel my reservation)
  • À quelle heure est-ce qu’il faut régler la note? (What time is check out?)

And finally:

Il y a des cafards dans la chambre! (There are cockroaches in the room!) - yes, this happened once to the writer of this article - whilst on a road trip through France...

Next: 10 Places You Must Visit In France Before You Die