Basic French Phrases to Survive Any Conversation
Building positive connections in France can be a rewarding experience. When learning French, it helps to know a few phrases that will help maintain the conversation or nurture your connections with the French people.
Learn the essential french phrases (as well as expressions) to use particularly on situations when responding to a good news, when you want to say "just kidding!", when greeting or meeting a person, and ways you can say goodbye. We'll also learn how to politely ask a person to repeat what they said, how to express agreement or motivation and most importantly how to manage when you're caught in conversations that leads to either being right or wrong.
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Et toi ?
Which sentence do you think is necessary to survive any conversation?
Bonus Material: Download the Transcript
French is a difficult language to learn especially if you want to become 100% fluent. But do you need to be 100% fluent in order to have an interesting conversation?
Good news: you don’t!
Of course, the more you learn, the better you can get at making meaningful connections and express your ideas and feelings. But there are a few shortcuts you can use to get a conversation going, to sustain it, and to survive your close encounter with French people.
Which shortcuts? Let’s find out right now!
I’m Géraldine. Bienvenue sur Comme une Française TV, Sound French, even to the French!
1. Meeting someone
OK let’s start with the fundamentals before going further. When you meet someone, whether it’s a friend or a neighbour or a coworker or a clerk, you have to say a greeting. We covered greetings in an earlier episode — you can find it on the blog below this video—but anyway you know the most common one: Bonjour, hello.
If you don’t say bonjour you’re being rude and people will look at you strangely.
If you know the person, you should also follow up with Ça va ?or “How are you?”
It’s basic small talk. By the way we’ve also covered small talk in a previous episode that you’ll find on the blog as well, and it might help you in your everyday life in France.
2. Reacting to good news
When someone shares a piece of good news, you can feel excited. By the way, remember that excité means being aroused! Don’t make this embarrassing mistake! Instead, you can use enthousiaste, or content, to mean “excited.”
But really, you won’t use these adjectives to react anyway. We’d rather say “Super !” or “C’est super !” – “That’s great.” Or similarly, “Chouette !” or even “C’est cool !”— “That’s amazing.” All of these are somewhat colloquial, but that’s how we speak.
If you want to be even more enthusiastic, you can even say “C’est génial !” or “Fantastique !” You can also use all of these expressions when you’re being impressed. For instance, if they show you the amazing paintings they’ve done, or something that takes skill.
To be honest, French people are less enthusiastic about things generally than, for example, American people. Don’t feel bad if you don’t get the hyper-positive reaction you expected for something, we’re just not as effusive in general.
Finally, let’s take an example: “Je t’ai pas dit? J’ai réussi mon examen !” (Did I tell you? I passed my exam!) “Super ! C’est chouette ! Je suis trop contente pour toi !” (Awesome! That’s great! I’m so happy for you!)
3. Just kidding!
Some conversations aren’t so smooth. You try to make a joke that fall flat, you try to tease someone but they take it more seriously than you expected, and they just don’t get your irony…
Sometimes you need a way to say “I’m just kidding!” It happens. There are a few ways to say that in French, but the most common is: Je déconne !, I’m pulling your leg, I’m just kidding. It’s colloquial, it comes from a dirty word, but the verb generally gets a pass. And it’s very useful to understand it! But don’t say it in front of an Academician or your grandmother though.
For example: “Et c’est pour ça que je déteste le camembert… Non je déconne !” “And that’s why I actually hate camembert… No I’m just kidding of course!”
If you’re really interested, I cover more about this word in the Everyday French Crash Course. This is my free 10-lesson course which you can find on the website.
Another great sentence to know is of course: Je suis désolé ! / Je suis désolée ! I’m sorry.
Don’t apologize for everything though, be confident, but learn when you should just admit you’re wrong.
Which leads us to...
4. Being wrong and being right
OK, so here’s the secret to hack directly into French people’s hearts:
Tu as raison. You are right. And Ah c’est vrai, j’ai tort. That’s true, I’m wrong.
This is very powerful, since we don’t say it very often.
Coupled with Je suis d’accord, “I agree,” you have three sentences to say to befriend someone very quickly, and you’ll appear to the person in front of you as a very sensible, reasonable, and highly intelligent person! So much that you could theoretically have a whole conversation with very little more than these sentences–and pass as completely fluent in French for a long time before being found out!
5. Let’s do this!
There are some instances when “being right” is enough in a conversation: you also want action. As in, when they’re suggesting something to do like going to a restaurant or setting up a meeting. You can express your agreement and motivation with:
Ça marche, or ça roule, which means “OK let’s do this.” Or C’est parti ! - Let’s go. You might hear about “Allons-y,” but that’s not something we really say naturally in our day to day speech.
A final expression, which might have been popularized by a comedy movie, is also Faisons comme ça. It’s a joke in the context of the movie, but it’s also actually a useful sentence to know.
“On se voit demain 10h, ça te va ?” ”Let’s meet tomorrow at 10 then, is it OK for you?” “OK ça marche, faisons comme ça.” “OK, that works, let’s do it that way.”
6. When you don’t understand
Sometimes you get genuinely lost in a French conversation. Often, really. You might get some advice from one of our previous episodes, “How to keep a conversation from switching back to English.” As usual, it’s in the video description on the blog.
But for a quick rundown, let’s focus on two problems and their solutions.
First, when you didn’t understand a word or a sentence: you can use “Tu peux répéter ? “Can you repeat that please?”
As in, for instance: “Excuse-moi, tu peux répéter ? Je n’ai pas compris ta dernière phrase.” “Excuse me, can you repeat? I didn’t understand your last sentence.”
But sometimes the problem lasts, they’re actually speaking too fast for you to understand! You’re just trying to understand the beginning of their first sentence when they’re already starting the third sentence. So, what to do? Say “stop” in a sweaty panic? Faint with your breakfast croissant in hand? No! Don’t worry! If they’re speaking too fast then they feel like you’re one of us already. So, actually, congratulations! Smile first.
Then, you might consider asking: “Tu peux parler plus lentement ?” Can you speak a little slower? Or “Excuse moi, tu peux ralentir un peu ?” Can you slow down a bit? This could work for a while, but you should know that in a longer conversation they’ll probably get back to talking fast at some point. So. you’ll need to ask again. The only sustainable way to get out of this position is to get incrementally more fluent, I guess.
Another problem you’ll face is when you can’t express yourself clearly. You need to use a word in your own language but you don’t know the French translation for it.
It’s a pivotal learning moment!
So always ask: “C’est quoi en français... ?” What’s this word in French?
Or “C’est quoi le mot français pour... ?” What’s the French word to mean…?
It’s always useful! Never hesitate to ask!
For instance: “C’est quoi le mot français pour dire “digital” ?” What’s the French word for “digital” ? “On dit “numérique” ! “Digital” c’est seulement pour parler des doigts. Une révolution digitale en français c’est se tourner les pouces “It’s “numérique.” In correct French, “digital” only means something about fingers. “Révolution digitale” means to twiddle your thumbs.”
Just as we say “Bonjour,” you need to say “Au revoir” or goodbye. There are also more subtleties if you want that you’ll find on the Greetings episode as well. I find it useful to also know, “À bientôt !”, see you soon, and “À très vite !” for see you very soon, which are both applicable in most occasions.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a poetic goodbye I once heard someone say, to avoid the guilt of saying goodbye forever:
Le monde est petit et la vie est longue. The world is small and life is long. Now this is not something that we usually say, but I still wanted to share it.
Et toi ? Which sentence do you think is necessary to survive a lot of conversations?
Tell me in the comments section, I’d love to hear from you!
If you’re on Youtube, you’ll find a link below this video to the blog CommeUneFrançaise.com. On the site, I read all the comments and answer all your questions too!
Want more? Like an exclusive lesson on “7 ways to agree, that the French actually use”? Subscribe now to join my “Everyday French Crash Course.” It’s a free 10-day mini-course to sound French, even to the French. It’s super easy to join. Leave me your first name and email, and you’ll receive Lesson 01 immediately. Best of all, it’s free!
Merci for watching Comme une Française TV, sound French, even to the French.
Allez, salut !
Bonus Material: Download the Transcript