20 Essential French Phrases For Travel

By OptiLingo • 9 minute read

Learn common French phrases and expressions for essential travel vocabulary

Learn Common French Phrases

Whether you’re saving up money for your next vacation, reading a travel blog, or you’re about to embark on your next business trip, you should know some basic French phrases before you get there. They’ll help you navigate easily, and you’ll receive better customer service and avoid some embarrassing mistakes. Not to mention how much French locals will appreciate your efforts. Here are some basic but useful French phrases and expressions that you can use while interacting with French locals.

20 Essential Phrases in French

There are so many reasons to learn French. But, travel is perhaps the greatest motivation you can find. Whether you’re out enjoying the nightlife of Paris, or you’re joining a sightseeing tour, it’s always worth expanding your French vocabulary. As you’re walking around in France, you’ll surely hear these common French expressions:

1. Bonjour – “Hello”

You can use bonjour in both an informal and formal setting. While there are many ways of saying hello in French, this is the widely used phrase. At night or evening, when having a drink with friends or acquaintances, you can replace bonjour with bonsoir. If you’re keen, there are a lot more useful French greeting you could use to sound like a local in France.

2. Au revoir – “Goodbye”

Whenever you part from your French friend or leave a shop, make sure you say goodbye. It’s very polite to do so.

3. S’il vous plaît / s’il te plaît – “Please”

Saying “please” is very important in French etiquette. When requesting something, remember the basics and start with, “S’il vous plaît or s’il te plaît” to mean, please.

If you are saying please in a formal setting or addressing an older person or a stranger, you should use, “S’il vous plaît.

4. Merci (beaucoup) – “Thank you (very much)”

You’ll hear this a lot in France. French people are very polite, so it’s important that you learn this French phrase. 

5. Comment t’appelles-tu? / Comment vous appelez-vous? – “What’s your name?”

The first thing that you will want to know when meeting someone is his or her name. If you are in a formal setting, you can ask, “Comment vous appelez-vous?” but if your setting is informal or you can ask, “Comment t’appelles-tu?”

On the other and, if someone asks your name, you should say, “Je m’appelle” meaning “my name is.” A simpler version is “Je suis” translated to “I am”

6. Comment allez-vous? – “How are you?

This is a polite way of asking a person how they are in French. While walking in France, you may hear the phrase “ça va?” being frequently used. It is used when you do not need to be formal, but you still need to find out how a person is.

If you are on the receiving end, you should respond to “ça va?” with “ça va bien, ” which means ” I am well.”

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7. Oui/Non/Si – “Yes/No”

When learning any language, you must learn to say yes and no. Yes is “oui,” while no is “non.” Saying ouaip or ouais is typical in an informal setting. It substitutes oui and means “yep” or “yeah.”

Si is a useful word that you should use when saying yes. Use it to respond to a person who has asked you a question that is negatively phrased. For example, if someone asks, “haven’t you eaten pizza?” If your answer is yes, it will not be clear whether you ate pizza or not. French tries to avoid this scenario with the word si. Using the example above, if you answer with si, it will mean that you have eaten pizza.

8. Excusez-moi – “Excuse me”

This phrase is necessary when you want to get a person’s attention. It can be a stranger, a colleague, or even a waiter.

Learn French phrases to speak to French locals

9. Je voudrais parler français – “I would like to speak French”

The French love their language and they’re very protective of it. Sometimes they can reply to your questions in English if you speak imperfect French. It can be a bit frustrating, but if it happens to you, politely but firmly tell the person “Je voudrais parler français.” The only way you will make progress when learning French is if you continuously practice speaking it.

10. Je ne comprends pas – “I don’t understand.”

If you do not understand what the other person is trying to tell you, say, “Je ne comprends pas.” Do not be ashamed of being a beginner. However, do not ask them to translate to English because if they do that, you may never learn. Persevere and try to grasp as much as you can.

11. Pardon – “Sorry”

If you bump into someone when walking, do not be embarrassed about it. Just say pardon, and the person will forgive you.

You can also use pardon when something is not clear, and you want an individual to repeat a statement because you did not understand or hear them. If this is the case, you should say the word with a high-pitched tone to show that it is a question.

You can also use “pourriez-vous répéter, s’il vous plaît?” which means, “could you repeat that, please?”

12. Comment dit-on __ en français? – “How do you say __ in French?”

If a word that you wanted to say in French escapes you, you can ask a person how it is said in French by filling the bank in the sentence above.

13. Comment ça s’écrit? – “How do you spell that?”

Use the phrase above if you want to know the spelling of a French word that you have just learned. Spelling in French is not an easy task because there is a complicated relationship between the pronunciation and spelling of a word. It is easier to know the pronunciation of a word when you spell it, rather than figuring out it’s spelling when you pronounce it.

14. C’est combien? – “How much is it?”

France is not a cheap country. If you are on tour, you wouldn’t want to spend much more than you had budgeted for because you do not know the prices.

You can ask the price of something by saying, “C’est combien?” Alternatively, you can use “Combien ça coûte?”

15. Où sont les toilettes? – “Where are the toilets?”

It would be best if you learned this phrase because you may urgently need it. However, note that public toilets are a bit rare in France, so you might have to search for them for a while. If you find one, you may have to pay before using it.

16. À quelle heure est-ce qu’il faut régler la note? – “What time is check out?”

If you visit any country that speaks French, and check into a hotel, you must inquire about the checkout time. Find out the checking out time by asking, “à quelle heure est-ce qu’il faut régler la note?”

17. La carte/le menu, s’il vous plaît. – “The menu, please.”

You have probably been dreaming of going to France because of its famous wine and food. When wining and dining in France, remember that you can ask for the “menu” in two ways.

A carte is your typical “menu.” It lists the various food options and their prices, so you can select what you want and sum the costs up to get your bill.

A “fixed-price menu” is also available in France and is known as a menu. When ordering from it, you are at liberty of choosing an option for each course and paying a fixed price irrespective of your selection.

Order in French with these basic French phrases and expressions

18. Nous voudrions commander maintenant. – “We would like to place an order now.”

When you want to order something in a hotel or restaurant, you can use the word commander. It would be best if you did not confuse it with ordonner that is usually used when you are ordering a person to do something, for example, in the military.

After receiving the menu or carte, the waiter will give you time to decide. When you are ready to order, you can tell him or her “nous voudrions commander maintenant.”

19. Où est ____? – “Where is ____?”

If you ever find yourself lost, you can ask for directions from French locals. While understanding the response is a different problem in itself, remember, spoken language isn’t the only form of communication. Hand signals and pointing at maps can be just as helpful.

12. Je t’aime – “I love you.”

I love you had to make it on the list. We have all heard that French is very romantic. Who knows? You might find love while traveling and use this phrase.

I love you in French is “Je t’aime”.

There are many other basic French phrases, but these should get you started to ensure that you are having an easy time during your adventure or that business trip.

How to Pronounce Common French Phrases and Expressions

This video is a great learning resource for these essential French phrases. Listen to the video and learn how to pronounce these useful expressions:

How to Learn These French Phrases

Luckily, learning these essential French phrases won’t take long. In fact, you can learn them in a day. With some great last-minute language learning tips, you can conquer French in record time.

  • Read through the French expressions: Understanding the meaning of these French phrases is crucial to remember them. We’ve included translations and some common situations where you’d use these phrases.
  • Listen to the pronunciation: At the end of this list, we included a handy video, so you know how to pronounce these essential French phrases. Listen intently, and try to recreate the sounds of French yourself.
  • Say them out loud: The only way you can build your confidence is by speaking the language. You can become fluent in French quickly if you keep this in mind. Don’t be shy, give these French phrases a go. And don’t worry about your accent. As long as you’re speaking clearly, French locals will understand you.
  • Review often: Spaced repetition is the key to language learning. This means, that after you’ve learned you vocabulary, you need to go back in a few days to review it. This way, you will commit your lesson to your long-term memory effectively.

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