Spoken French vs School French: The Big Differences

You struggle to progress with your French because you focus on the wrong things. But it’s not your fault. If you first learned French in a classroom, your teachers taught you proper, written French: school French. And they were right to do that!

However, to improve at speaking and understanding everyday French, you need to focus on learning spoken French instead.

Once you “get” this concept, improving your French becomes much easier… so I thought I’d show you what I mean in a lesson almost all in French!

C’est parti!

1 – Lesson in French (with English translation)
2 – Vocabulary

1) Lesson in French (with English translation)

Certaines méthodes enseignent le français dans le mauvais sens, à l’envers.
Some methods teach French the wrong way, backwards.

À cause d’elles, vous passez du temps à apprendre toutes les conjugaisons du subjonctif – mais vous ne comprenez rien à ce que dit votre serveur parisien.
Because of them, you spend time learning all the conjugations of the subjunctive – but you can’t understand a thing your Parisian waiter says.

Vous pouvez lire un paragraphe en français et comprendre en gros ce qu’il dit – mais vous n’arrivez pas à suivre les sous-titres de votre série française préférée. Sans même imaginer pouvoir vous passer de sous-titres !
You can read a paragraph in French and mostly get what it’s saying – but you can’t keep up with the subtitles of your favorite French TV show. Don’t even think about doing it without subtitles!

Enfin, vous pouvez passer des heures sur Duolingo avec discipline – mais quand c’est à vous de parler, les mots ne viennent jamais. Vous êtes complètement perdus dès qu’apparaît une vraie conversation en français.
Finally, you could spend disciplined hours on Duolingo – but when it’s your turn to speak, the words just never come. You’re completely lost as soon as an authentic French conversation starts.

Et c’est terrible.
And that’s terrible.

Mais heureusement, il y a quand même de bonnes nouvelles, malgré tout.
But fortunately, there’s still good news after all.

Déjà, ce n’est pas de votre faute ! Tous les adultes qui apprennent le français traversent les mêmes problèmes, quels que soient leur âge et leur expérience. Le problème, c’est que vos efforts sont orientés vers le français écrit.
First of all, it’s not your fault! All adults learning French face the same problems, regardless of age and experience. The problem is that your efforts are geared towards written French.

Par exemple, en français écrit, on écrirait : “Quel est cet appartement ?”
For example, in written French, we would write: “Quel est cet appartement?”

Mais en vrai français du quotidien, en français oral, on dirait plutôt : “C’est quoi cet appart ?”
But in real everyday French, in spoken French, we would say more like: “C’est quoi cet appart?”

En fait, le français parlé est presque une autre langue. Il suit ses propres règles avec son propre vocabulaire. Et c’est ça que vous devez apprendre – si vous voulez avoir des conversations en français, ou si vous voulez simplement pouvoir suivre des films et séries françaises.
In fact, spoken French is almost another language. It follows its own rules with its own vocabulary. And that’s what you need to learn – if you want to have conversations in French, or if you simply want to be able to follow French films and series.

Apprendre le français parlé vous fera progresser bien plus rapidement que rester sur vos méthodes adaptées au français écrit – comme les manuels d’école ou les applications.
Learning spoken French will make you progress much faster than sticking to your methods suited for written French – like textbooks or apps.

Et vous pouvez commencer dès maintenant ! On n’est jamais trop vieux, trop inexpérimenté, ou trop à court de temps pour apprendre une langue. Tant que vous êtes motivé et que vous commencez à vous concentrer sur la bonne langue, vous verrez que vous pourrez faire de grands progrès.
And you can start right now! You’re never too old, too inexperienced, or too short on time to learn a language. As long as you’re motivated and you start focusing on the right language, you will see that you can make great progress.

2) Vocabulary

Let’s quickly review some of today’s French vocabulary! Did you manage to hear the words I used? Did you learn some new words and expressions in French?

1. À l’envers

À l’envers = backwards, or dans le mauvais sens = in the wrong way.
When you pronounce à l’envers backwards, it makes le verlan, that “verlan” slang that creates many French words that only appear in spoken French, like chelou = weird, etc.

Le truc en plus: Here’s an interesting French expression, “sens dessus dessous”, which translates to “upside down” in English, and it indeed conveys the idea that what is on top is placed underneath.

Click here to learn more:

2. En gros

En gros = basically, roughly, more or less.
Globalement = in general.
Plus ou moins = more or less. Attention to pronunciation! We must make the liaison between PLUS and OU: [PLYZ].

3. Quel que soit

Quel que soit = whatever
Quel que soit le temps, j’irais courir. = Whatever the weather, I’ll go for a run.

This expression changes its form with the context, depending on the gender and number of the noun it goes with:
Quelle que soit la météo, j’irais courir. = Whatever the weather, I’ll go for a run.
Here, la météo (= the weather) is a feminine noun and the pronoun “quel” changes its form into the feminine singular.

— The extra mile —
It sounds just like “quelques” = a few
J’achète quelques fleurs chaque mois, quelle que soit la saison.
= I buy a few flowers each month, whatever the season.

4. À court de temps

À court de (quelque chose) = running out of (something).
À court de temps = running out of time.

Quel est cet appartement ? = C’est quoi cet appart ?

Quel est cet appartement ? (written, correct) = C’est quoi cet appart ? (informal) = What is this flat?

Quel est cet appartement ? uses the full version of the word “apartment, flat.” We can also notice l’inversion, the swapping of subject and verb in a French question.

In spoken French, we don’t use the inversion. We would rather say: “C’est quoi cet appart ?” without inversion and the informal shortened word appart for appartement.

And now you can follow the whole video! You can come back to the beginning of this video to see if you can better hear these few words I’m using.

Or you can start learning about the rules and habits of modern everyday French and start understanding everyday spoken French.

Click here to get your next lesson:

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you right now 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 studied French in high school many years ago. But we were never taught how to speak it. I loved it from the very beginning and have been promising myself all these years that one day I will be able to speak French. However that never materialized because I got lazy and

  • Bonjour Géraldine,
    I found you on YouTube 2 years ago and you have changed my life! I watched your weekly recordings and last month, took your 10 day crash course. Now I am doing the 30 day challenge and just joined the conversation club (finally)! My husband and I have travelled all over Europe but France is my favorite country. We hope to get back there next spring and I know I will be much more confident in my ability to speak with locals than I was last year. Tout le monde est chaleureux et accueillant! Merci du fond du cœur!

    • I understood everything except CHALEUREUX et Accueillant.
      Is the last sentence Thank you from the bottom of my heart?

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