People like to joke about the French often, but the truth is that France is the most visited country in the world with 89 million tourists each year. And there’s good reason for it. If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with all things France and lived in Toulouse for a summer. Knowing a few key phrases for any country you visit is a great practice, and in France, these will come very much in handy. The French are known to be nicer to tourists who at least attempt French. If you’re traveling to France, here’s a quick lesson in basic French for travelers. (Scroll to the bottom for free worksheets!)
Why learn French for a trip to France
I could go on for years as to why learning a foreign language is a worthy pursuit, but let me just share several reasons. First off, you will connect with a culture and place better if you know a few words. You can pick up on words on the menu, street signs, brochures and beyond, and it is one of the most satisfying feelings. Here are 7 ways to learn any foreign language.
Another reason to learn some basic French for travelers is simply respect. France welcomes millions of tourists each year from many countries, but France has a culture of its own, one that it fights to preserve, one it’s proud of. By learning even a few French words, you are showing the locals that you respect their culture and aren’t an obnoxious American who thinks the world revolves around her. Most likely, the French will be kinder and more helpful toward you if you just attempt French. Seriously, a little goes a long way.
Goodbye: Au revoir
Thank you: Merci
With pleasure: Avec plaisir
Good evening: Bonsoir
Good night: Bonne nuit
Bread: Le pain
Cheese: Le fromage
Cake: Le gâteau
Grilled ham and cheese sandwich: Un croque-monsieur
Wine: Le vin
Tap water: L’eau du robinet
Orange juice: Le jus d’orange
Hot chocolate: Un chocolat chaud
Ice cubes: Les glaçons
Ice cream: La glace
Baguette: La baguette
Fries: Les frites
Metro: Le métro
Bus: Le bus
Car: La voiture
Road: La rue
Taxi: Le taxi
By foot: Au pied
Ticket: Un billet
Eiffel Tower: La tour eiffel
Mona Lisa: La Joconde
Louvre: Le Louvre
Museum: Le musée
Restaurant: Le restaurant
Bakery: La boulangerie/la pâtisserie
Deli shop: La charcuterie
Sea: La mer
Mountains: Les montagnes
Shop: Le magasin
Market: Le marché
Park: Le parc
Pool: La piscine
Bathroom: Les toilettes
I would like ___: Je voudrais ___
Excuse me, can you help me? Pardon, est-ce que vous pouvez m’aider?
I’m lost: Je suis perdu(e)
Where are the bathrooms? Où sont les toilettes?
We would like to go ___: On aimerais aller
I need: J’ai besoin de ___
I don’t want ___: Je ne veux pas ___
May I have directions? Est-ce que je peux avoir les indications?
Best resources for French language learning
If you’re wanting to learn basic French for travelers, I cannot recommend taking an in-person class enough because it truly is one of the best ways to learn. There are chapters of Alliance Française across the nation, and these organizations have a wide range of levels and ages. Taking an evening course at a local college is also a great option.
If you don’t have the time or money for taking an in-person or online class, no worries. There’s so much you can learn for free and on your own before your leave for your trip. My mom downloaded Duolingo to learn French for our trip to France (unfortunately canceled by COVID) where she started learning from scratch. Although languages are learned best with native speakers, Duolingo is an incredible supplemental resource.
Also, if you’re looking hone your pronunciation — French pronunciation is funky because you only pronounce half the letters — Google Translate has a “speak” option. Let me quickly follow up and say that Google Translate is not the best resource for vocabulary and conjugation. Sure, all of your foreign language teachers told you that in high school, but it really is true.
The best resource for learning French in terms of vocabulary, definitions and conjugations is WordReference. This online dictionary is aimed at people learning other languages instead of native speakers. WordReference gives examples, multiple definitions and every single verb conjugation!
Want a way to practice all you’ve learned? I made some free worksheets to help you practice these vocab words.