Parlez-Vous Francais?: How To Speak French Without Really Knowing the Language

Want to be able to speak French on your excursion to Paris, even if you don’t know the language well? Here’s your primer!

Nothing is worse than being in another country on vacation and not speaking a lick of their language.

However, when the alternative is slaving over grammar books for months before the trip, many would prefer to jump in blind.

The good news is you don’t have to do either. With these phrases, in fact, you’ll be able to find your way around Paris, Marseille or Colmar without batting a lash.

Give them a try so you can speak French on your trip. You’ll be surprised at how handy they are.

The Benefits of Learning

Individuals who can speak multiple languages quite literally have differently structured brains.

Learning a new language forces you to interact in a way few other things do, finding patterns and meaning as you navigate through a different communication system.

As a result, your decision-making abilities and memory improve and you become more proficient in your native tongue.

Learning a new language may even stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Conversational French

The following list is by no means everything you should know if you want to speak French fluently. But learning the basics of conversational French and the commonly-uttered sentences or questions you’ll hear can really lend you some mobility.

Furthermore, the benefits of learning the language in this way are enormous. You don’t have to read and memorize information from a book; you’ll learn in an ever-adapting environment that utilizes all of your senses.

Just remember: it doesn’t take much time, and the small bit of time it does take is completely worth it.

Speak French

It’s not that hard. We promise. If you learn the following sentences, questions, and phrases, you’ll be able to hold conversations with the right people and find your way to the next adventure.

Common Phrases

These are must-knows. Without these, you’re going to be as lost as Dory looking for her family.

  • Oui/Non – Yes/No
  • Bonjour – Hello
  • Bonsoir – Good evening
  • S’il vous plait – Please
  • Merci – Thank you
  • Je voudrais . . . – I would like . . .
  • Au revoir – Goodbye
  • Un hotel – A hotel
  • L’aeroport – The airport

On top of these easy terms, save yourself some embarrassment: know how to pronounce the places you would like to visit. Read more now about the proper pronunciations of France’s top 20 destinations.

Overcoming the Language Barrier

The French have a bad reputation for being haughty or rude to foreigners, but if you show you’re trying to dive into their culture (regardless of how silly you may sound), they truly appreciate it.

The words in this section will help you broaden your French vocabulary, find someone who speaks English and clarify information. Ultimately, you’ll be able to speak French well enough to make the most of your vacation.

Parlez-vous Anglais? – Do you speak English?

Finding and speaking to someone in your own language can be invaluable in complex situations. If you think this is an impossible task, don’t; over half of Europeans speak more than one language.

Je ne comprends pas. – I do not understand.

It’s fine to admit it. In fact, you’ll save yourself and the person you’re talking to a headache.

Que veut dire . . . ? – What does [insert word or phrase] mean?

This is an excellent way to learn new words and vocabulary.

Quel est le mot francais pour . . . ? – What is the French word for [insert word]?

It’s intensely annoying when you just can’t remember that one word. For these times, this is the go-to question.

Parlez lentement, s’il vous plait. – Speak slowly, please.

Have you ever listened to a native French speaker? Just like Americans, sometimes they can speak fast. Really fast. Use this phrase to slow down the speed lingo.

Pouvez-vous m’aider? – Can you help me?

Say it with big eyes and you’re sure to have someone stop and help. In emergency situations, this phrase can come in handy, too, but you should always plan ahead for a safe trip.

Getting Around

Traveling in France is no joke. Most seasoned visitors recommend using the Metro, but the constant rush of new experiences and locations can quickly become overwhelming. For these times, we suggest knowing the following.

Ou est-ce que je peux trouver un plan de la ville? – Where can I find a city map?

According to the New York Times, “Real adventurers read maps.” While the GPS is certainly handy, you’d be surprised what you’re missing out on without a good old-fashioned map.

Ou est . . . ? – Where is [insert location]?

It’s better to ask than to face possibly deadly repercussions. Just consider the man who recently froze to death after losing his way back to his room.

Ou sont les toilettes? – Where are the restrooms?

Hey, when you have to go, you have to go.

Je cherche . . . – I am looking for [insert item or destination].

If you are looking for a place, person or thing, this is an excellent phrase to help find it. It’s also very useful when shopping.


Do you plan to shop? Of course you do! But it’s good to know a few sentences and questions first.

Before anything else, however, know this: France’s currency is the Euro. Rates fluctuate, but currently one Euro is worth $1.23.

Je voudrais acheter . . . – I would like to buy [insert item].

In small shops, it is a normal custom not to touch objects. However, if you’re ready to buy an item, simply let the clerk know.

Combien ca coute? – How much does it cost?

Combien cela coute-t-il? – How much does that cost?

Alternatively, you can also ask only “Combien?” when looking at an item. All of these are acceptable ways to ask about price.

Est-ce que vous acceptez les cartes etrangeres? – Do you accept foreign credit cards?

Many shops may have a fee for American cards, so be sure to ask if you are unsure.

Adventure Calls

Learning these sentences and questions won’t take days, and if you carry a pocket English-to-French dictionary in addition to knowing these, you’ll be all set for your trip.

No more stressing. No more hours of reading. Just speak French.

Ready to get lost in Paris? Check out our article about the five must-have experiences in the City of Light.

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