Heading out without enough time to dive deep into learning the language through Rosetta Stone, DuoLingo, or Mango? We’ve got you covered! Whether you’re headed to Belgium, Paris, or an African country where French is the primary language, here are some popular French phrases and words that will be essential along your journey (and how to use them properly)!
“Parlez Vous Anglais?”
The French phrase many people learn at the beginning of their language journey is “Parez Vous Francais?”, “do you speak French?” However, that is hardly helpful when you probably won’t understand the response on the other end of that conversation. “Parlez vous Anglais?” is a great way to find out quickly if the person you’re approaching knows English. Often, they do and often, they will respond in a language you can understand! Or they will apologize, say no, and point to a friend nearby that may be able to help you. One thing you’ll often find in most cities is that many people are more willing to help tourists than you might assume; especially, if the tourist is willing to meet them halfway! “Parlez vous Anglais?” is a great way to do just that!
This is an obvious French word to know, but understanding the culture behind the word is even more important. As you enter any store or restaurant, it is expected and imperative that you will be greeted with a “Bonjour!” As a tourist, it is highly recommended that you respond with a kind and confident “Bonjour!” in return. To follow up, you may also say something like “How are you?” or “Hello!” in English, to show right off the bat that English is a more comfortable language for you. “Bonjour! Hello!” is a perfectly warm and inviting greeting to anyone you may meet!
"As-tu Besoin D'un Sac?"
With a touch to pay and your limited words, you will likely be able to get by with basic shopping transactions. However, a lot of tourists will find when they are shopping in other countries that merchants will almost always ask if you need a bag. This happens everywhere from markets to grocery stores to boutiques. In most places, accepting the offer for a bag comes at an additional price of a couple of pence or Euros. For this reason, it is wise for a traveler to carry an empty bag in case you do some shopping - to fill with groceries, souvenirs, or otherwise (you will see all the locals doing it, as well)! It is also important to be familiar with the phrase "As-tu besoin d'un sac?" ("Do you need a bag?") so that you can politely decline and save a few euros!
Of course, when traveling, there are likely moments when you will need an extra hand, whether it be for directions or carrying a heavy suitcase downstairs at the Metro. The ability to ask for help is of high importance in these situations and others! In French, there are several ways to ask for help. If you are needing a conversation or detailed instructions, it may be more helpful to ask if the person speaks English. This way you can set the basis for that conversation. However, if you are just needing help with a simple task, often offering a simple "S'il vous plait" is enough. The most common phrase and literal translation of "Can you help me?" would be "Pouvez-vous m'aider?". And, if you find yourself in an urgent situation or an emergency, you can say "Au secours!" which literally means, "help!!"
"Merci!" / "S'il vous plaît"
"Merci!" is a phrase you will hear and say many times throughout your journey through a French country. When someone hands you a croissant, when someone brings you your meal, when you leave a store without buying anything; "Merci!" is your go-to departure and sign of gratitude. "S'il vous plaît" is another phrase that you will hear often. While it is the common way to say "please", it is also often said as "if you please." This is a phrase you will often hear when a merchant hands you your shopping items or someone brings your food. It is kind of a way to say "here you go!" When you hear this, you can respond "Merci!" and be on your merry way!
Any good adventure deserves a proper goodbye. In France, it's a kiss on the cheek, a warm embrace, and a cheerful "Au revoir!" Au revoir is more than just a goodbye, it is a cheerful expression of good wishes, with the underlying meaning of "Until we meet again!" Some more casual dismissals and goodbyes you may hear in French include "Bye-Bye!", "Bonne journee!", and "à toute!"
Wherever you're headed, these French phrases are sure to help you along your journey! While many people in these regions will have some experience in English, they often prefer and enjoy you to at least try to show an attempt at their language. You may even consider getting some tips on pronunciation to help you out both speaking and understanding the language. Whatever French destination is best for you, these phrases will help you get by as you travel these beautiful regions and meet beautiful people! Meilleurs Voeux!