French, as romantic as it is, can be a challenging language to learn if you only have two weeks to go before your trip to Paris. Upon arrival, you can probably get by speaking English, but that doesn’t mean the locals don’t appreciate tourists putting in an effort by starting conversations with a word or two in French.
Always open with a polite bonjouror bonsoir,depending on the hour of the day (bonsoirmeans “good evening”). Even if you’re only going to ask a quick question, it’s respectful to acknowledge and greet the person first. It doesn’t matter if you butcher the pronunciation—the fact that you’re trying is often greatly appreciated. Plus, once they hear your foreign accent, most people tend to switch to English anyway. Don’t forget the merciafter receiving help, either!
Here are a few sentences that could be good to have up your sleeve (or saved on your phone) if you do happen to face a language barrier—or simply want to practice a bit of French (click the phrases for audio pronunciations):
Parlez-vous anglais?= Do you speak English?
Pouvez-vous m’aider?= Could you help me?
C’est combien?= How much?
Je vais prendre…= I will take… (when ordering in a restaurant)
Il y a…= There is/there are…
Je ne comprends pas.= I don’t understand.
Je ne sais pas.= I don’t know.
You’re also guaranteed to hear the various French expressions for “no problem” while in Paris. This sentiment can be delivered in what seems like a million different ways, but try one of these the next time the waiter accidentally bumps your chair:
There are also those expressions that you’ll hear over and over again in the streets of Paris, and they’re probably not the same ones your high school teacher or trusted guidebook once taught you. See if you can throw in one or two of these commonly used words and phrases—perhaps you’ll even be able to fool a local, if only for a second, and get mistaken for a true parisienor parisienne.
C’est super!= That’s great!
Allez-y.= Go on. (Perfect to use if you’d like to let someone know if it’s okay to pass, etc.)
On y va?= Shall we go?
Ça marche.= That works.
C’est vrai?= It literally means “it’s true” but is often used as a question to keep a conversation going. You can also throw in a pas, making it C’est pas vrai!instead, a grammatically incorrect but familiar way of saying “No way!” You can hear older men carry on a whole conversation by just repeating this little phrase. It really gets the other person going, often replying with Oui oui, c’est vrai!
C’est sympa.= It’s nice.
Bien sûr.= Of course.
C’est-à-dire…= I mean…
En fait…= In fact…
Pas du tout.= Not at all.
You might think that French clichés like voilàand oh là là(both in a negative and a good way) are just that, but they’re actually used all the time by French people—even if they’d like to deny this every now and then.