Taking a trip to France? There are a handful of extremely useful French phrases for travelers that you should know.
Many French speak English; it’s even a required subject in high school. But not all the people you meet in France will feel comfortable speaking English. Some may not remember enough English to hold a conversation.
So how can you be prepared? Be sure to practice and take with you some basic but helpful French phrases for travelers that will help you find your way around France.
Start by watching the video below, then keep reading for even more helpful phrases for tourists!
French Phrases for Travelers
1) Parlez-vous anglais?
Parlez-vous anglais? (Do you speak English?)
Oui, je parles anglais. (Yes, I speak English.)
Non, je ne parles pas anglais. (No, I don’t speak English.)
If you don’t know much French, this is a very useful question to be able to ask. If they know how to speak English, they’ll probably switch languages when they respond. If not, even if the person responds with a shake of the head or other obvious gestures, the negative response is still good to know.
2) Je voudrais. . .
Je voudrais… (I would like…)
This French phrase can commonly begin an order in a restaurant or cafe. Many restaurants have set price menus with a choice of main dish, side or drink, and sometimes a dessert. To order, you can say:
– Je voudrais un menu. (I’d like a menu.)
– Je voudrais ce menu. (I’d like this menu.)
– Je voudrais le menu a 11 euros 50. (I’d like the menu that costs 11 euros and 50 cents.)
You can also use this to buy other items, food or otherwise, which you can look up on the spot in a dictionary.
– Je voudrais une baguette. (I’d like a baguette.)
– Je voudrais un chapeau. (I’d like a hat.)
– Je voudrais ce livre. (I’d like this book.)
You can also use this to express what you want to do.
– Je voudrais aller a mon hôtel. (I want to go to my hotel.)
– Je voudrais dormir. (I want to sleep.)
– Je voudrais manger. (I want to eat.)
– Je voudrais manger mon chapeau. (I want to eat my hat.)
Note that technically speaking, the expression “to eat one’s hat,” coined by English writer Charles Dickens, is not native to French, so you may need to explain this last one if you use it. You can, however, replace mon chapeau with various edible delicacies, such as un / du fromage (a / some cheese), du vin (wine), un pain au chocolat (a small bread with chocolate), du fruit (fruit), or de l’escargot (snails).
3) Où est. . .
Où est ________. (Where is _________.)
You can replace the blank with any location to which you might wish to go:
– Où est Montmartre? (Where is Montmartre?)
– Où est la Musée du Louvre? (Where is the Louvre Museum?)
– Où est la cathédrale de Notre Dame? (Where is Notre Dame Cathedral?)
– Où est l’entrée du metro? (Where is the entrance to the subway?)
– Où est le FNAC? (Where is the FNAC?) (FNAC is a very large and popular bookstore in Paris!)
– Où est la toilette? (Where is the restroom?)
Be prepared for the fact that there aren’t a huge number of public restrooms in France, at least not in Paris. There are a few, however; there is one underground outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, for example. If there is no restroom nearby, you may wish to go into the nearest cafe, order a snack or drink, and ask to use theirs.
When it comes to metro lines, Paris’ metro lines are all numbered 1 through 20. So someone may refer to one of the lines as, for example, “le quatre” or “la ligne quatre.” Paris’ RER lines – like a subway fasttrack that also goes beyond city limits – are labeled with the letters A through E. If you’re heading to the Chateau de Versailles during your stay, you’ll most likely find yourself taking the RER C. As a result, you might want to brush up on your French numbers and alphabet before you head over!
If you carry around a map, non-English speaking French who decide to stop and help will be able to more easily show you where you need to go.
4) Où suis-je?
– Où suis-je? (Where am I?)
– Où sommes-nous? (Where are we?)
– Nous sommes ici. / On est ici. (We are here.)
The grammatical construction is a little bit different here than with most of the other location questions so far. If you’re looking for directions, are looking at your map, and can’t find your present location, these phrases can be very useful.
5) Combien coûte. . .
Combien coûte ______? (How much does _____ cost?)
Ça coûte combien? (How much does that cost?)
Very useful if you can’t find a price tag, or need to know a total! In the first example, replace the blank with the item for which you need the price. For example, Combien coûte une écharpe? would translate to, “How much does a scarf cost?”
6) Ça coûte. . .
Ça coûte ___ euros _____. (That costs ____ euros and ____ cents.)
When the vendor responds to #5, of course you will need to understand him! The first number is the number of euros and the second is the number of euro cents. So for example, Ça coûte sept euros cinquante means, “That costs seven euros and 50 cents.” As with the subway numbers, it will be useful to review your French numbers here, as well.
7) S’il vous plaît.
– S’il vous plaît. (Please.) formal / plural
– S’il te plaît. (Please.) informal / singular
When you are asking someone for help, it never hurts to be polite. These few words can go a long way!
8) Merci (beaucoup)!
Merci (beaucoup!) (Thank you (very much!))
“Thank you” is another polite expression that makes a good first impression.
Good luck in your travels, and bring back plenty of good stories for your friends! Every traveler’s adventure is unique, and yours will be, too.
Need to learn more French phrases and vocabulary before your trip? Working with a private French tutor is the best way to improve your French fast. French tutors are available to work with you online via Skype or in-person, depending on locations and availability. Find your French tutor now!
Post Author: Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!
Photo by Justin.li