Why You Can’t Articulate The French In Your Head

Do you feel like you know French in your head but struggle to speak it out loud? You’re not alone!

C’est parti!

1 - “Climbing the wrong mountain”: Spoken French is a different language from written French.

“Climbing the wrong mountain” : spending a lot of effort studying written French… instead of the (different) spoken French language that French people actually use.

“Correct” French pronunciation might sound stiff and overly formal. Spoken French has a specific grammar and specific rules that will make you sound more casual and friendly – and less like an XVIIIth century bureaucrat doing a job interview.

A problem of learning French is: freezing. As in: “I don’t understand what they’re saying at all, they speak so fast, I’ll just keep quiet, I’ll never understand, I give up.” And that’s too bad.
Well, knowing the rules of real spoken French will help you with that!

2 - Embrace your mistakes

French is a difficult language. Mistakes will happen, and you’ll never be perfect. And it’s OK!

By the way, you know what? Even French people struggle with the French language! We know it’s hard and complicated – so we love it when you try speaking. (Sometimes, that love means “correcting you mid-sentence” – it comes from the heart.)

Practically speaking: learning how to even say “Bonjour” or “S’il vous plaît” can be surprisingly helpful in France – many French learners find people suddenly more helpful in little and big ways, from asking directions, to customer service.

3 - Typical mistakes

When you’re learning French, you’re often used to reading written French. Conjugation exercises, online articles, books… But that’s not the language that humans use.

Spoken French has more affects, creating different rules.

Typical mistakes:

  • Speaking with formal grammar rules: inversion in questions, using the “ne” in negations, conjugations no one uses…
  • Fretting over useless pronunciation difficulties: don’t worry if your French “R” isn’t perfectly guttural, focus instead on what matters.
  • Using formal pronunciation and outdated vocabulary: French people may not even understand you if you speak like Victor Hugo… Worse still, it doesn’t help you understand real modern spoken French.

4 - Written vs spoken French: examples

No inversion of questions:
As-tu l’heure ? → “Tu as l’heure ?” (Do you have the time? / What time is it?)

Remove the “ne” in negative sentences:
Je ne sais pas → “Je sais pas.” (I don’t know.)
you can simply say “Je sais pas.” It’s faster and easier!

Cut letters and syllables:
L’après-midi → “L’aprem” (the afternoon)
Un appartement → “L’appart” (the flat, the apartment)
+ “Je sais pas.” → “J’sais pas.” (loses the “e” even before a consonant)

It might not be the French that you learned in school back in the day. But it’s not “youth French” either. It’s the real everyday French that people speak: my parents, my 4-year-old son, my friends, my colleagues and the baker.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s great that you learned the fundamentals of French grammar. It’s genuinely useful. But now – you’re ready to move to the next level.

5. Practical Tips to Bridge the Gap

“Fill the gaps”:

Level 1: Talk to your dog/cat/favorite tree in French about your day. Just one way.

Level 2: Put headphones on in the street and fake talking to a french friend in French. You can call her Géraldine if you want. Imagine they’re talking back and you’re the second person.

→ This allows you to fill the gaps in your vocabulary. Write down what’s missing, like: “Hum I realized that I don’t know the word for my job in French.
It will help you find the everyday words that you miss – for your conversations.

Level 3: Reenact everyday situations you’ve lived today, in French. Ordering coffee, helping out a coworker, buying shoes… Random everyday life, in French. And you play both roles.

→ You won’t need to buy yet another French textbook or program, AND you know that nobody will judge you. You’re in your own safe space.


– Concentrate on the essential difficult sounds that will make a difference.
– Get familiar with the pronunciation rules of spoken French.
– Focus on noticing these pronunciations in French movies, TV shows, Youtube videos or podcasts.

For example: “J’sais pas” actually sounds like “Chais pas” – “J’s” turns into “ch.”

Right now:
Here’s one last exercise you can try at home. Describe your family, in French, in 2 min. Out loud, without stopping, with a timer. You can do it right now!

6. Quiz!

Turn these “written French” sentences into spoken French, using what we’ve seen in the video lesson (in more details) :

Elle ne regarde pas le football. (= She doesn’t watch soccer.)
Tu as réussi ! (= You did it!)
Je ne comprends pas ce qu’elle dit. (= I don’t understand what she’s saying.)

Elle regarde pas le foot.” → We cut the “ne” (and often, the end of “football”)
T’as réussi !” → The “u” in “Tu” often gets dropped before a vowel.
J’comprends pas c’qu’elle dit.” → The “e” in “Je” often gets dropped, even before a consonant (and the “e” in small words like “ce” often get cut as well.)

One thing to remember:
→ If you “know French” in your head, but speaking it out loud feels impossible, you need to learn real, everyday spoken French

That’s the kind of thing that you need to practice, so you can understand what French people say. Even better, by practicing daily, you’ll be able to express yourself more fluently, and not sound like an old formal book.

Your turn now – Write down in the comments and tell us:
What’s the one thing that you’re going to start practicing? What rule are you going to remember from this video, or which technique are you going to use for your daily practice?
(In French if you dare ! For example: “Je vais parler français à mes plantes.”)

And now, keep learning with:

  • My French Conversation Club – the program I’m most proud of, where you get a weekly conversation with a teacher and like-minded students, to make you speak French in a friendly setting.

→ Or your next free Comme une Française lesson:
Weirdest and most difficult French pronunciation

À très vite ! 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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