Top 17 French phrases to learn before Paris

Terrorizing Paris with my inability to speak French The last time I spoke French, I…

French phrases to learn before Paris
Terrorizing Paris with my inability to speak French

The last time I spoke French, I managed to fail my Year 9 course at High School with a rough rendition of introducing myself and then staring blankly at the teacher when he asked me further questions.  This time I vowed to do better and practice French phrases to learn before Paris.  

So before our trip to Paris, I popped into the local public library and borrowed the Learn French for Dummies guide.  I skim-read it for about an hour or two a night and tried to learn to help us order our morning pastries and baguettes.

Below are our top French phrases to learn before Paris that we found helped us the most when we were cycling and wandering the streets of Paris.  Now I am no expert, so while I have tried to explain how you say them and the translation, be prepared that the Kiwi accent that we have probably didn’t help us out too much!  However, it does sound like it is spelled (in the brackets), and every time you say a line, you will gain confidence, so keep practicing.

French phrases to learn before Paris

Whenever you meet someone on the street and every time you walk into a shop, make sure you acknowledge the person with a simple greeting such as:

Bonjour (Boh(n)-zhur) Translation:Good morning and hello


Bonsoir (bohn SWAHR) Translation:Good evening

Throw in a little Monsieur or Madame to spice it up a little bit.  Usually, you will get a similar response at this stage, followed by a barrage of French while you stand there with your mouth hanging open and a blank expression on your face.

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Now is the time to close that mouth, smile, and break out a quick note to mention you have no idea what they so eloquently said:

Je ne comprends pas (ZHUHnuh kohm-PRAHN pah) Translation: I don’t understand.

French language in Paris
I got by with enough French to enjoy breakfast

The person you are speaking to will usually switch straight into English, and you won’t have any more problems.  However, I found this a bit annoying as I often wanted to practice my french rather than rely on English.  So when they would answer in English, I would speak a little bit of French in each sentence if I could.

Even if it was just agreeing with or disagreeing with what they were saying:

Oui (wee) Translation: Yes

Non (non) Translation: No

You can also ask them whether or not they speak your native tongue.  Surprisingly we never had anyone that we were not able to communicate with effectively or that could not talk a little bit of English:

Parlez-vous anglais? (par-layVOO Ong-LAY?) Translation: Do you speak English?

Often after the initial introduction or entrance, it is polite to ask:

Comment ça va? (koh-mahn sah vah)Translation: How are you? 

And if they ask you in return, then reply with a simple:

Bien, merci (bee-uhn, MEHR-see) Translation: Fine, thank you. 

Mona Lisa
Some old bird

A good one to use when you are wandering the Louvre with your eyes flicking back and forth between the artworks while bashing into everyone is:

Je suis Désolé (Zhuhswee DEH-soh-LAY); Translation: I am sorry


Excusez-moi (ehk-SKEW-zayMWAH) Translation: Excuse me

Another one that really helped a lot that we used when trying to find something, buy something, or just ask a question was usually to begin with:

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Je voudrais… (zhuh voo-DREH…) Translation: I would like…

And if your Mum ever taught you properly, then make sure that when ordering that coffee or croissant make sure you ask politely with a:

S’il vous plait Translation:Please

The French are very polite, so make sure you never forget to use this phrase after someone has helped you.

Merci! (Mehrsee) Translation: Thank you!

Finally, on your way out, make sure you leave the same way you entered by giving them a “Cheerio” (preferably not) or:

Au revoir (oh rer-vwahr)Translation: Goodbye


Bonne nuit (bohn NWEE) Translation:Good night

And no matter what, even if I felt like I had offended them or they were rushed we would always finish with a quick:

Bonne journee (BOHN-zhuh-nay) Translation: Have a nice day

This always, without fail, seemed to generate a smile out of even the most sour-faced baker at the local corner store.

One of the best ways to learn from here is just practice, practice practice.  I made a few mistakes, but I felt like we got by.  One of the most valuable things we did was to write the French phrases to learn before Paris on to little post-it notes, which I stuck around the room so that every time I passed them, I  could practice them before we left.

I usually also ran through the French phrases in my head (yes, I am a weirdo) if I was heading down to the Hotel Lobby or just before going into a shop so that I would say the right things. You would be surprised how often a smile and a quick attempt at speaking French would get us, rather than just butting in with, “Hey you, how do I get to that big famous metal tower?”


Getting my daily fix

What have your experiences been with learning a new language or visiting a foreign-speaking country? And how did you cope?

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Oh, and if you are struggling to order something in the local patisserie store, then just ask for “le pain aux raisins” (les pahn oh ray-sayn).  I had two a day, and they were delicious!