Best French TV Shows to Learn French: Engrenages (Netflix)

Salut !

If you’re someone who loves watching crime dramas on TV, like Law and Order, Criminal Minds, or NCIS — you will LOVE today’s episode!

I want to introduce you to a French legal drama based in Paris that will help you understand real spoken French while also learning more about French culture and the lives of real French people … Okay, maybe the dramatized lives of Parisian police officers, lawyers and judges.

Allow me to introduce you to Engrenages, or Spiral in English. I’ll tell you more about this award-winning show, and we’ll break down a scene together so you can practice listening to fast spoken French.

C’est parti.

1) Understanding Fast Spoken French with “Spiral” : The Show
2) Understanding Fast Spoken French with “Spiral : Full Subtitles
3) Understanding Fast Spoken French with “Spiral” : Vocabulary
4) Understanding Fast Spoken French with “Spiral” : Fast Spoken French Pronunciation
5) Understanding Fast Spoken French with “Spiral” : Process

Want all the vocabulary of the lesson ?

1) Understanding Fast Spoken French with “Engrenages (Spiral)” : The Show

Engrenages (or Spiral in its international release) is a French TV show about the French justice system, and the gritty lives of the police, judges, lawyers and prosecutors. It started its run in 2005, and is now in its eighth season.

They kind of tried to capture the feeling of the American show The Wire (called Sur Écoute in French) – but based on the French judicial system.

The show won several international awards. It was kind of the first “big” French TV show to have success abroad, so I often recommend it in my older lessons.

Nowadays, of course, you can watch other fun French TV shows like Dix pour Cent (= Call My Agent), Le Bureau des Légendes (= The Bureau), or now L’Agence (= The Parisian Agency). But Engrenages is still ongoing, with an eight season in 2020 and a new one coming soon.

In the video lesson, you’ll find a complete breakdown of a specific scene from the show (from the final episode of season 2, that aired in 2008.)

The scene shows l’avocate (= the (defense) lawyer), played by French actress Audrey Fleurot, who reveals to le juge (= the judge), and le procureur (= the prosecutor, the district attorney), that she’s been misled.

2) Understanding Fast Spoken French with “Engrenages (Spiral)” : Full Subtitles

Here are the full subtitles for the scene that I introduce gradually in the video lesson.

For each line, you’ll find:

  • The written version of the sentence.
  • The actual way it is pronounced in the scene (if it’s not already the same), with “eaten” or “contracted” letters underlined and replaced with apostrophes.
  • The English translation.

I’ll give you a vocabulary and pronunciation guide just below that!

Full subtitles:

J’ai été trompée. Ce matin quand mon client m’a avoué que tout était faux, Je ne vous cache pas que… je suis désolée.
– J’ai été trompée. C‘matin quand mon client m’a avoué que tout était faux, j’vous cache pas que… j’suis désolée.
I’ve been misled. This morning, when my client confessed that everything was false, I won’t hide that I… I’m sorry.

Quand vous dites que tout était faux, c’est quoi, tout ?
When you say “everything was false,” what do you mean by “everything” ?

Il n’y a pas eu de violences illégitimes ! Même le témoin qui est censé avoir assisté aux violences commises par la capitaine, eh bien, il n’existe pas. Mon client voulait avoir des dommages et intérêts, il a trouvé que les choses allaient trop loin, il a pris peur et, il a retiré sa plainte.
Y’a pas eu d’violences illégitimes ! Même le témoin qui est censé avoir assisté aux violences commises par la capitaine, eh bien, il n’existe pas. Mon client voulait avoir des dommages et intérêts, il a trouvé qu’les choses allaient trop loin, il a pris peur et, il a r’tiré sa plainte.
There wasn’t any illegitimate use of violence! Even the witness who was supposed to be there when the captain used violence, well, he doesn’t exist. My client wanted to claim damages, he felt that things were going too far, he got scared, and, he dropped the charges.

C’est incroyable. Les gens font n’importe quoi.
That’s incredible. People can do anything, random crazy things.

Monsieur le juge, j’ai causé beaucoup de tort à la capitaine, je… m’en excuserai auprès d’elle, mais j’espère que vous voudrez bien la rétablir dans ses fonctions.
– Monsieur l’juge, j’ai causé beaucoup d’tort à la capitaine, je… m’en excuserai auprès d’elle, mais j’espère que vous voudrez bien la rétablir dans ses fonctions.
Sir, I caused a lot of wrong to the captain, I… I’ll apologize to her, but I hope you’ll be kind enough to reinstate her in her functions.

Vous êtes gentille, Maître ! La justice, ce n’est pas un self-service !
You’re too nice (Madam Lawyer), but justice isn’t a DIY process!

Monsieur le procureur, dites quelque chose…
– Monsieur l’procureur, dites quelque chose…
Mister Attorney, please say something…

3) Understanding Fast Spoken French with “Spiral” : Vocabulary

Part of the immersion comes from the technical terms about the judicial process in French, with vocabulary like:

  • Avouer (= To confess)
  • Le témoin (= The witness)
  • Les dommages et intérêts (= Damages, compensation)
  • La plainte (= A complaint or charges)
    See for example : Porter plainte (= Pressing charges)

It’s a scripted show about the workplace that tries to feel realistic. They’ll use both formal French (because the court is a formal place,) and informal French – because they sound like real French people, who speak fast. It’s messy, but that’s life. And the kind of mixed level that you’ll hear in France!

The formal French vocabulary comes from mostly three angles:

  • Saying “vous” (= vouvoyer) instead of “tu” (= tutoyer).
    Click here to learn more : Tu or Vous ? How to choose “Tutoyer” or “Vouvoyer”
  • Using formal address for their professions, like Maître (= “master”, honorific for a lawyer) or Monsieur le juge (for the judge) or Monsieur le procureur (for the district attorney.)
  • Using specific, more or less “technical” terms of the profession. Like Violences illégitimes (= illegitimate violence, formal) instead of Une bavure (policière) (= common French for “police brutality, violent mistake.”)

Finally, the lawyer is especially formal when talking about the remorse she feels: she uses the elegant “Je m’en excuserai auprès d’elle.” instead of a more common turn of phrase like “Je lui demanderai pardon.” (= I’ll tell her I’m sorry, I’ll apologize to her.)

4) Understanding Fast Spoken French with “Spiral” : Fast Spoken French Pronunciation

The characters are speaking fast spoken French: and they eat or contract a lot of letters!
For instance, almost all the one-syllable words in “-e” lose their vowel before another word – even before a consonant!
So they’ll cut letters in words like “De” (→ pronounced d’), “Ce” (→ c’), “Que” (→ Qu’ / K’), “Le” ( → l’)… And here’s how the “correct” subtitles actually sound in the scene:

  • Ce matin → “C’matin
  • De violences → “D’violences
  • Monsieur le juge, monsieur le procureur → Monsieur l’juge / Monsieur l’procureur
  • Que les choses allaient trop loin → Qu’les choses allaient trop loin

Especially, you can notice this for “Je” as well, as in :
Je suis désolée. → “J’suis désolée.” (I’m sorry)

And you can add removing the “ne” in a negation on top of that:
Je ne vous cache pas… → “J’vous cache pas… ”(I’m not hiding the fact that…)

Another shortcut is cutting the impersonal pronoun “il”, especially in:

  • Il y a (there is)“ya”
  • Il n’y a pas (there isn’t) → “ya pas

And as we’ve seen in a previous lesson, words that start with “Re-” often get the “e” removed.
Il a retiré sa plainte → “Il a r’tiré sa plainte.” (= He dropped the charges.)

These are all very common tricks of fast spoken French, that you can keep in mind to better understand anyone in France, be it a waiter or a friend, a cashier, or even a lawyer!

But informal French also comes in the grammar, as in:
“C’est quoi, tout ?” (everyday French) = What do you mean, by “all” ?
= Que veut dire “tout” ? / Qu’est-ce que c’est, “tout” ? / Que voulez-vous dire par “tout” ? (formal!)

Or with la reprise, repetition of the subject, like:
Le témoin, il n’existe pas. = The witness doesn’t even exist.

Or with some vocabulary and with words borrowed from English, like:
un self-service = a self-service restaurant, meaning here “you can’t pick and choose the justice process that’s convenient.

5) Understanding Fast Spoken French with “Spiral” : Process

In the video lesson above, I lead you into watching the scene five times:

First time: full speed, no subtitles
→ What do you understand?

Second time: 0.75 speed, no subtitles
→ What more did you catch?

Third time: 0.75 speed, with French subtitles
→ Which words did you not understand? Look up their translation and write them down.

Fourth time: 0.75 speed, with English subtitles (and French if possible)
→ What did you misunderstand before? Which translation surprised you?

Fifth time: Normal speed, no subtitles (like the first time!)
→ Check that you understood everything. Revisit the words you didn’t hear, or the strange pronunciation!

Now that was a few minutes of work, on one scene. But if there’s one thing you should take from this lesson, it’s that you can do that work yourself.
Of course, this scene is part of a much longer arc throughout the second season. You can spend more time with the character of lawyer Joséphine Karlsson and the other protagonists by watching the show… And stop when you find an interesting scene, so you can do this whole process yourself, now that we’ve seen how it can work together!
Whenever you take time in your day to practice French, you can take a scene of a French movie or TV show that you like. And break it down, until you’re fully confident in your comprehension and pronunciation.
For now, click on a link to find your next step towards understanding real spoken French:

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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Join the conversation!

  • I agree that there aren’t a lot of French shows like that available on streaming in the US. (Like NCIS, a recurring series but one in which each episode has a more or less self-contained storyline, though larger story arcs can carry on). Maybe the closest thing to that that you’re going to find is movies in French. There are some that are closer to an hour and a half, though admittedly not so many than are an hour or less. Personally I prefer the lengthier series.

  • Salut à tous, à mon avis, le Sur Écoute est l’une des meilleures séries télévisées jamais réalisées. Je voudrais regarder Engrenages aussi. Merci Géraldine.

  • Wow ~ I think you must be psychic Géraldine ..
    Yesterday, in one of UK’s national dailys there
    was a two page feature on this very subject.
    Its headline reads : Mon Dieu ! My fave French
    farce is a hit … in English.
    Yep, it’s all about Dix Pour Cent / Call My Agent,
    which apparently gets going this Thursday on
    Amazon Prime titled Ten Percent – all in English !

    Ok ok, so this is no use whatsoever in helping
    anyone to improve their French comprehension,
    and personally I won’t actually be watching it
    anyway. I’ve seen some of Engrenages in the
    past, thought it was fabulous, and will seek
    out more of it in the future. I’ve never liked
    copy-cat or remake productions of anything
    really, be it movies, music or whatever.
    They did a version not so long ago of that
    classic ’70s British gangster movie Get Carter
    (Michael Caine was the eponymous Carter),
    and the remake starred Sylverster Stallone.
    Absolutely dreadful !!

    So …

    These comprehension lessons are superb
    Géraldine ~ they really are, and you’ve hit
    the nail on the head in terms of what’s
    actually important here. I would guess that
    over the many years countless UK schoolkids
    have sat through French language lessons
    only to emerge absolutely none the wiser !
    They’d then turn up in France unable to say
    anything of any use, much less understand
    what they were hearing.

    Great stuff Géraldine ~ as they say. You’re
    bringing it all to life for us. Many many thanks
    teacher ………… 🙂

  • Merci Géraldine, j’adore la série Engrenages et j’ai regardé les 8 saisons (mais avec des sous-titres). En Australie, la série est sur la chaîne SBS. Le même avec The Bureau, sans doute le meilleur drame d’espionnage de tous les temps!

  • Je regarde France TV 24 et ‘News In Slow French’ et quelques d’autres. Parce que je regarde les nouvelles quotidienne, ça aide à comprendre.

  • Neither “Engrenages” nor “Le Bureau des Légendes” is currently available on Netflix in the U.S.

    However, Netflix in the U.S. does have “Dix pour cent” and “Lupin.” I also just finished the first season of “Standing Up.” I have really enjoyed all of these shows. They feature plenty of slang, verlan, expressions, etc.

    If you like serious police dramas, I can also recommend “Unité 42” from Belgium.

    I also just recently installed an extension for Netflix in my Chrome browser called “Language Reactor.” It makes learning French via Netflix even easier. It has all sorts of features and options with subtitles, translation, and online dictionaries, and you can even set the playback speed from 0.5x to 1.5x if you need to. There’s also a handy optional auto-pause feature that stops playback after each subtitle so you won’t miss anything.

  • Hello.
    Thanks for this.
    I hope to get round to watching an episode of Capitaine Marleau (via TV5 Monde)
    I just want a French TV series which is over in an hour like NCIS or Law and Order: Criminal Intent and not something I have to watch like a soap or novella.

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