Heading to a French-speaking country any time soon? Overwhelmed at the thought of navigating the country when you don’t know the language? If so, there are some travel phrases in French you need to know. Don’t count on the idea that “everyone” speaks English!
After taking my family to Paris France recently, I believe it is absolutely imperative that you know how to say some travel phrases in French. Often times, the French won’t let you know they speak English….until they see you are trying French! Luckily, this beautiful language is pretty easy to learn. And with a few key phrases (detailed below) you should have a more successful and less stressful time in France.
If all you know of French are the tawdry lyrics to Lady Marmalade, you’ll want to get a quick refresher of some key travel phrases before you head to France, Quebec, St. Martin, Ghana or one of the many other French-speaking regions around the world. Twenty-nine countries across the world have French as an official language. And with about 300 million French speakers across the world, it is no wonder native French speakers expect you to know at least a little French.
3 Reasons You Need Some Travel Phrases in French
1. French people will like you more.
I have found that with many French-speakers, especially in France, you will be treated nicer if you at least make an attempt to converse with them in their own language. In my experience, particularly when asking for something, starting in French, no matter how poor it is, always ALWAYS got me better results. Otherwise, you may just come off as the stereotypical American. (And that’s not good overseas FYI.)
2. You might make friends.
One of the best ways to make friends when traveling is to have a common language to converse in. Even if you only know a few words, most likely that’s enough to start a conversation. This is especially helpful in France. The French are fiercely loyal to their country (generally speaking) and if you don’t speak their language, it almost seems insulting to them. if you’re lost, need help, or are confused about something, reaching out, even badly, can win you some goodwill and maybe even friendship.
3. You can probably save some money.
I have found menus in English are different than menus in French. I have seen higher prices for the same food on the English menu. This could also be because there is a different cost for sitting at the outside tables of a café as opposed to sitting inside. Those details are not noted in the English menu. Plus, if you have some French, you can read signs indicating deals or be able to ask for them.
Check out this article from TravelingMom Angela Tiftin who says you should include learning a language as part of your family fun.
I am not a native French speaker. I studied it from 7th through 12th grade, and it was my minor in college. However, I am long out of college. Leading up to my recent trip to Paris with my family, I decided I needed to revive my French. Knowing how to say simple things and have a basic sense of understanding the French language really helped me get along in Paris.
How I Used Travel Phrases in French On My Paris Trip
1. Ask questions.
I asked questions about what was included in the Paris Pass, the sightseeing attractions pass. Though the staff spoke some English, I obtained the information I needed by asking directly in French. I also found our way there by asking for directions in French!
2. Communicate information.
Since we rented an apartment through HomeAway as opposed to a hotel, I had to ask questions and understand rules and other information — in French. Between my limited French and his limited English, the house manager and I managed to communicate very well.
3. Order at a restaurant.
I ordered at a restaurant what I wanted. When a waitress, who didn’t speak English, told me they were out of chicken, I helped her understand I didn’t eat beef or pork. She understood and helped me find an alternative.
4. Read signs.
Whether navigating through the maze of the Eiffel Tower or finding our way to the meeting point for our Fat Tire Bike Tour, reading signs were so helpful. Simply knowing how to find the “exit” signs in French made a difference.
5. Be friendly.
I exchanged niceties with those around me. It was wonderful knowing how to say hello or thank you and just being polite in French.
Useful French Travel Phrases
To get you started on learning travel phrases in French, see below for a quick cheat sheet with translation and pronunciation. While this is not a definitive list, it can help get you started on how to say the things you need for your next overseas trip to a French-speaking country.
How To Say…in French
French Phrase Pronunciation English Translation
Ou est la toilette? Ooo-[long a]-la-twalet Where is the bathroom?
Eau plat, s’il vous plait. Oh-plat-see-vou-play Still water please.
Je suis perdu. Je-swee-perdue I’m lost.
Je ne parle pas francais. Je-ne-parl-pa-fransay I don’t speak French.
Combien ca coute? Comb-be-en-sa-cout? How much is that?
Sortie Sortee Exit
Ca va? Sa-va How are you?
Bonjour Bone-jur Good morning/Hello
Bonsoir Bone-swar Good evening
Merci Mare-see Thank you
De rien De re-en You’re welcome.