Speaking French vs. Reading French for Fast Fluency

The differences between written and spoken French can be challenging.
Let’s look at some examples together so you can fast-track your French fluency.

C’est parti !

1) Vocabulary: formal/informal words

We don’t use the same words in written and everyday spoken French. Learning French vocabulary from textbooks and classic novels won’t make you understand people. You need to focus on more informal vocabulary.

Here are some simple, informal words from everyday spoken French.

  • Je suis crevée =I’m really tired, I’m dead tired.
    It’s an informal word for Je suis très fatiguée. (= I’m very tired) or the more intense (and a bit more formal) Je suis épuisée. (= I’m exhausted)

Literally, Crever = to burst (informal slang for “to die”).
Un pneu crevé = a flat tire.
Crever de = informal slang for “mourir de” (= to die of = metaphor for “really want”)
Je crève de faim. = I am starving. (= Je meurs de faim.)
Je crève de chaud. = It’s way too hot in here. (= Je meurs de chaud.)

  • Je me casse. (informal) = I’m leaving. (“I’m breaking myself”, literally). = Je m’en vais.= Je pars.
    Je me barre = Je me casse. (informal)
    Se barrer = se casser = to leave.
  • Le taf (informal) = le travail = work, or even le métier = work or job, or la profession = the profession.
    Le boulot (informal) = a work, a job, but “le taf” is a bit more informal still.
    Little known fact: “taf” is said to come from “le Travail À Faire” (= work to be done)
  • Je kiffe = slang for J’aime or J’adore = I love it / I love what’s happening.
    Kiffer, = to like, to enjoy, is a typical word for the Millenial Generation.
  • C’est ouf ! = verlan slang for C’est fou ! = That’s crazy. Or Incroyable ! = Incredible.
    “Ouf” is verlan slang, that informal French vocabulary we use by switching around some letters. That’s how Fou = Crazy became Ouf.

Click here to learn more:
French Phrases: Using and Understanding Verlan (You Didn’t Learn This In School)

Je suis crevée. = I’m tired.
Je me casse. = I’m leaving
Le taf = work.
C’est ouf ! = That’s crazy!
Je kiffe. = I’m enjoying it.

We don’t use them in job interviews or school textbooks, but they’re common among friends. “Kiffer” is strictly for informal spoken French and can seem out of place in formal settings. Instead of “la profession,” use “le taf” for informality. We often blend written and spoken French based on preference and situation, making language learning enjoyable and occasionally amusing.

Here are some other common familiar expressions:
–  J’en ai marre = I am sick and tired.
–  En avoir marre de = être lassé ou ne plus pouvoir supporter quelque chose, quelqu’un = to be sick and tired.
–  Ça me gonfle = ça m’agace, ça m’énerve, ça m’exaspère = It annoys me, It’s getting on my nerves.
–  Ça roule ? = Ça va ? Ça marche ? = All good? Does it work?
Ça roule ! = Ça va (bien) ! Ça marche ! = All good! It works!

There are also swear words in French, vulgar or offensive terms used to express anger, frustration, or to insult someone. Here are some examples of French swear words, although I recommend avoiding them in formal or polite contexts:

  • Merde – One of the most commonly used curses in French, equivalent to “shit” in English. It’s better to use “Mince” instead. It’s less vulgar.
  • Bordel – Used to express confusion or chaos, equivalent to “mess” in English.
  • Connard/Conasse – Insults to call someone stupid or unpleasant, similar to “idiot” or “jerk” in English.

Swear words are very impolite and inappropriate in many contexts. Avoid them in formal situations and in the presence of people who might be offended!

To watch contemporary French shows and converse with French friends, you must learn the language of everyday spoken French. Learning passé simple, reading classic novels, or buying textbooks won’t help you achieve confidence and fluency in speaking French. Reading and understanding spoken French are vastly different, especially regarding pronunciation.

2) Pronunciation: speaking faster.

The main difference between written and informal spoken French is that one is… spoken. So, you have to account for pronunciation. La liaison is for both formal & informal, but you can only hear by pronouncing it out loud.

Click here to learn more about “la liaison”:
French Pronunciation Lesson: Use This To Be Better Understood

Il faut que tu achètes du pain. = You need to buy some bread.
That’s how we’d pronounce it “correctly” in a French lesson and how it would be written on the French subtitles of a TV show. But in everyday life, we would say instead: Faut qu’t’achètes du pain ! We removed the “il” and many vowels in the middle, just like that! In everyday spoken French, we change this pronunciation to speak faster!

Here are sentences in written French: try to pronounce them in spoken French.

  1. Elle ne sera pas là demain. = She won’t be here tomorrow.
    In real life, it could be: Elle s’ra pas là d’main.
    First, we almost always eat the “ne” in negative sentences. It doesn’t come up in correct French grammar, but you need to know things like that to understand naturally spoken French.

Click here to learn more:
Memorize This Fast Spoken French Rule: Drop the “ne.”

The second thing is even more common and essential to understanding what French people say: the weak, unstressed “e” sound is often skipped. Here, we have two weak “e” in the middle of words: “Sera” gets pronounced “s’ra”; “Demain” (= tomorrow) becomes “D’main”. That’s not mandatory, though. Depending on the person or the situation, you could hear “Elle sera pas là d’main” or “Elle s’ra pas là demain” or other combinations. The “rules” of everyday spoken French are only guidelines; sometimes, we’re more comfortable keeping some vowels instead of cutting them out.

2. Il n’y a pas de problème. = There’s no problem (literally). OK / No problem / Don’t worry.
In real life, it most often sounds like Ya pas d’problème.
Once again, we cut the “ne”, and we missed the weak “e” here in “de”. You can notice that the construction Il y a / Il n’y a pas (= There is / there’s not) gets shortened into “Ya” or “Ya pas”. That’s an unspoken rule of everyday French!

3. Je suis sûre que tu y arriveras. = I’m sure you’ll manage. I’m sure you’ll succeed.
In real life, it would be Chuis sûre qu’t’y arriveras.
First, we cut the “u” in “tu” before a vowel. Tu y arriveras becomes “T’y arriveras.” We also cut the weak “e” in “Je” and “Que”: Je suis sûre que t’y arriveras.J’suis sûre qu’t’y arriveras. Finally, the first syllable, “J’suis”, is hard to pronounce, so it gets pronounced as “Chuis”. It also happens with Je sais or Je sais pas (= I know, or I don’t know), which sound like Chais and Chais pas.= I dunno. We often mix and match how much we want to shorten words in real life. So you could also hear “Je suis sûre que t’y arriveras.” or “Chuis sûre qu’tu y arriveras.

4. Je prends le train de l’après-midi. = I’m taking the train in the afternoon.
In real life, it’s J’prends l’train d’l’aprem. This time, there’s a catch.
We cut the weak “e” in “Je”, “Le”, and “De”. We also cut the word après-midi (= afternoon) into l’aprem. It’s not slang, but it’s an informal word – sometimes, cutting letters creates a new vocabulary for everyday French that may not appear in dictionaries or school lessons.

Click here to learn more:
Essentials of Spoken French – Cutting words
Understanding Fast Spoken French: Unpronounced letters

Now, all this “cutting letters” and “speaking faster” is a difficulty for you. But on the bright side, everyday spoken French is much easier on one topic: grammar!

3) Simplified grammar

The grammar of everyday spoken French is often a simplified version of the “correct French” grammar you learn at school and in classic books.

a) Negative sentences are simpler
Negative sentences don’t need the “ne: you have to add “pas” after the verb. However, cutting the “ne” is more of a question of fast pronunciation.
Elle ne sait pas. (= She doesn’t know) (formal)
Elle sait pas. (informal)

b) Questions are simpler
Poser une question (= asking a question) gets much simpler:
Dors-tu ? / Est-ce que tu dors? (= Are you sleeping?) (formal)
Tu dors? (informal) That’s the affirmative sentence Tu dors. (= You’re sleeping.) only with an interrogation point at the end.

Le truc en plus: L’inversion (= the Inversion) is more formal than the “Est-ce que” question.
–  As-tu faim ? (formal) = Are you hungry?
–  Est-ce que tu as faim ? (less formal) = Are you hungry?
–  Tu as faim ? or T’as faim ? (informal) = Are you hungry?

Click here to learn more:
Understand Fast Spoken French: Questions Aren’t Obvious.

Here’s a very formal sentence:
Alors, nous voulûmes danser. = Then we wanted to dance.
You’ll never find this sentence “in the wild” way too formal for two reasons: “nous” and “le passé simple.”

c) Conjugation: don’t use the “passé simple”
You don’t need to know “le passé simple”.

Alors, nous voulûmes danser. = Then we wanted to dance.
It’s too formal, because the verb vouloir (= to want) is in le passé simple. Don’t spend much time learning this tense because it’s not used anymore. Le passé simple used to be more common in novels and formal speeches, but it disappeared even there. Instead, we use le passé composé.

Click here to learn more:
–  How to master le passé composé when speaking French
–  How to Know Which Past Tense to Use in French: Passé composé vs imparfait vs passé simple

d) Conjugation: don’t use “Nous”
The second reason is that, in modern everyday French, we rarely use the subject Nous (= We), either. Instead, we use “on”, an informal “We” pronoun that shares the shorter conjugation of the singular third person. Instead of Alors, nous voulûmes danser. We would almost always say: Alors, on a voulu danser. = Then we wanted to dance. (with “on” and “vouloir” in the third person singular of “passé composé” : “on a voulu.”)

Click here to learn more:
Why You Should Never Say “Nous” in Spoken French (Improve Your Fluency).

There is the risk of spending a lot of time learning formal French in old textbooks. If you want to understand modern French, all these efforts could waste time. So, focus on real spoken French and comprehension to reach your goal.

e) Informal grammar: the extra mile

In spoken French only, we sometimes skip random words; recently, I’ve heard more and more people eating the “que” in sentences like:
Je suis sûr qu’il va partir.Je suis sûr il va partir = I am sure he’s going to leave.

We tend to shorten some sentences:

  • T’inquiète ! from Ne t’inquiète pas ! (= Don’t worry!)
  • Pas de soucis ! from Il n’y a pas de soucis ! (= No worries!)
  • Pas de problème. from Il n’y a pas de problème. (= No problem.)

Le truc en plus: You’ll hear the word “Genre” all the time, and it’s something similar to English “like”. It’s used informally to indicate a similarity or type of something without being specific or formal. It’s a versatile word in spoken French that can help express various concepts and comparisons. For example:
Tu veux quelque chose à manger, genre un sandwich? = Do you want something to eat, like a sandwich?

4) Practice at Home:

You can learn and practice everyday spoken French from various angles. If you don’t have French friends, pay attention to grammar and pronunciation in your favorite recent French TV shows. You can also find modern French language novels like Virginie GrimaldiLe premier jour du reste de ta vie or novels by Pierre Lemaitre set in the XXIst century.

I offer courses to help you practice informal spoken French. Spoken French Essentials covers the foundations for better conversation and pronunciation.

My course, French Vocabulary and Pronunciation, helps you sound more confident in real-life situations.

Learn more about my long-form French courses :
French Courses – Comme une Française

Additionally, consider listening to French podcasts at your level to improve while enjoying the content: see below for some suggestions!

5) Extra resources (blog only): French podcasts and movies

Podcasts for French Learners
–  News in Slow French
–  Coffee Break French
–  French Through Stories

French radio podcasts
–  Journal en français facile – RFI.fr → News in easy French.
–  L’accent des autres – France Inter → Conversations with different French accents worldwide.
–  Les émissions et podcasts de France Inter → The main French public radio, with various programs.
–  Les émissions et podcasts de France Culture → The public radio for culture and philosophy and more.

Click here to learn more:
7 Podcasts Parisians and Francophiles Listen To (Learn French)

Movies in French
–  L’Auberge Espagnole (2002)
–  Les Poupées Russes (2005)
–  Casse-tête chinois (2013)
–  Arsène Lupin (2004)
–  Molière (2007)
–  L’Arnacœur (2010)
–  Les Trois Mousquetaires (2023)

You can keep improving your everyday spoken French comprehension on your own or keep exploring modern everyday French with me, and how to understand fast spoken French!

Click here to get your next lesson:

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you right now in the next video!

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Join the conversation!

  • “T’inquiète” is a great way to say “Don’t worry.” What about “ce n’est pas grave” or even something like “c’pas grave”?

    • Bonjour Robert,

      Indeed. “Ce n’est pas grave” can work and means “it is no big deal” in the sense of “do not worry about it.”

      I hope this helps.

      Comme Une Française Team

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