So you’re having an uncomfortable pause in a French conversation.
Maybe you didn’t understand what the other person just said.
Maybe you’re thinking about your next sentence in French, but it takes more time than expected.
Whatever the case, here’s how you can keep your French conversation flowing.
Want all the vocabulary of the lesson ?
1. When you didn’t understand everything
When a French person is talking too fast, or when a French sentence is not clear, you can try to rephrase what you did understand. With something like:
Attends, tu es en train de dire (que)… ? = Wait a minute, so you’re saying that…?
For example: Attends, tu es en train de dire que le musée du Louvre est à nouveau ouvert ? = Wait a minute, so you’re saying that the Louvre museum is open again?
Or if you only understood a few words: Attends, tu es en train de dire quoi sur le musée du Louvre ? = Wait a minute, so what are you saying about the Louvre Museum? (informal spoken French)
That’s everyday spoken French. You can also use the tag C’est bien ça ? = Is that right?
For instance: Tu cherches le meilleur restaurant à Grenoble, c’est bien ça ? = So you’re looking for the best restaurant in Grenoble, is that right?
In general, sharing what you understood is better than staying silent and looking dumbfounded. If you’re totally confused, you can ask to repeat – but be careful! If you ask Est-ce que tu peux répéter plus doucement ? = Can you repeat more slowly? then it’s ambiguous, because plus doucement can mean “slower” but also “softer, quieter.” And that’s not always what you want!
→ The unambiguous way to ask that question is: Est-ce que tu peux répéter plus lentement ? = Can you repeat more slowly?
Throw in a s’il te plaît somewhere and you’re good to go. Unless they randomly switch to English!
You can also try Je suis pas sûr d’avoir compris. = I’m not sure I understood correctly. And Corrige moi si je me trompe, mais… = Correct me if I’m wrong, but…
2. Preventing a switch back to English, and the art of French conversation
I made a whole lesson about on that topic.
Click here to access:
How to prevent a French conversation from switching back to English
The maine take-away sentence is simply Je voudrais pratiquer mon français alors je ne veux pas passer en anglais. = I’d like to practice my French, so I don’t want to switch back to English.
That way, the other person won’t think you don’t like their English.
Even if you did understand everything, you might need some time to think about your next sentence in French. Don’t let the rhythm die down too much!
That’s part of l’art de la conversation = the art of conversation. This art plays an interesting part in French culture. Learn more with:
- Y a-t-il un art de la conversation ?– a podcast on French public radio FranceCulture
- L’art de la conversation – French Wikipedia page
- Ridicule – a fantastic 1996 movie by Patrice Leconte, in the court of Versailles
- La Conversation comme manière de vivre – a conversation about French conversation (with Edouard Baer) [really advanced learners!]
3. Keep your French conversation flowing when preparing the next sentence
Even when you do understand what’s going on, it’s hard to answer du tac au tac (= immediately.) Even if you have something to add, you might need some time to build your sentence in French. But you can still say something that will show you want to speak!
You can start with something as simple as:
- “Oui, mais, en fait…” (= Yes, but really…)
- “Oui, non, je crois…” (= Yes, no, but I think that…)
- “Non, c’est que…” (= No, it’s rather that…)
People will see that you have something to say and wait for you to deliver it.
These sentences will also launch you into your next sentence.
Or you can be more explicit with something like “OK. 2 secondes. Je réfléchis.” = OK, give me a sec, I’m thinking.
That’s something that I use in my everyday life!
Sometimes you want to show that you’re interested, but you just need to take a step back.
It’s this kind of authentic sentence structure that will help you keep your French conversation flowing. Other tools you can use:
Some conversations flow naturally because they’re always the same. Like : “Coucou, ça va ?” “Ça va, et toi ?””Ça va super. Quoi de neuf ?” = Hi, how are you? I’m good, and you? I’m good; what’s up / what’s new?”
Pick two items in the list, and practice them over and over until you can use them automatically!
And now you’re ready to join your next French conversation!
Or at least, you have the tools to help you improvise the rest. Because after all, we all improvise in everyday life conversations.
Now you can go the extra mile with:
Understanding Spoken French
Quand Même – another conversation filler that’s very common
Prevent your conversation from switching back to English
À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!
→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂
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