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How to Speak French: The Basics

Learn how to speak French confidently and effectively with these easy French words and basic phrases you can use for your next trip.


It is often said that French is the language of love — appropriately so, because beyond the romance, it is truly a labor of love to learn French. There’s the vocabulary, the accent and the unspoken letters. Even if you learned how to speak French in school — however long ago that was — French words can be hard to remember, especially if you’re not using them every single day.

That said, Lancôme is a French brand at heart, and many Lancôme beauty products have French words in their names. (Teint Idôle, anyone?) So knowing the French translations can be helpful — and just fun.

Tips for how to speak French:

  • Immerse yourself: Visit France, Quebec, or even your locally-owned French café and experience the language around you.
  • Watch movies with French subtitles: Add French subtitles to your favorite films, which will help you get accustomed to reading French translations of English words.
  • Converse: Find a local French conversation group; they are everywhere!
  • Fake it until you make it: Confidence is key! Don't be afraid to make mistakes.

And that’s important, because picking up any second language as an adult takes the four P’s: practice, persistence, patience and passion. And if you want to learn how to speak French, those can go a long way, as can some pointers: the way the r’s roll off the back the tongue, the pursing of the lips with every vowel, and the blending of French words are all characteristics that make it a challenge to learn French.

When in Paris, you might feel like you need to learn the French translation of basic phrases to get by. That’s okay! Despite a sometimes-intimidating reputation, the French respect even imperfect attempts at pronouncing French words. While many are happy to speak English, it is always kind to greet them in French and demonstrate your worldly attitude. With good manners and the French translation for a few essential phrases, you’ll be a very welcome patron in any corner of the country.

Since practice makes perfect, let’s begin. Whether you’re preparing for a trip, serious about becoming fluent in French, or just learning for fun, here’s a quick lesson.

In general…

Bonjour / Bonsoir → Hello / Good evening

S’il vous plait → Please

Merci beaucoup → Thank you much

Je vous en prie/De rien → You’re welcome

Au revoir/Bonne nuit → Goodbye / Goodnight

Conversation starters (formal/informal)…

Comment vous appelez-vous?/Comment tu t’appelles? → What’s your name?

Comment allez-vous?/Comment ça va? → How are you doing?

Vous connaissez qui à la soirée/Tu connais qui à la soirée? → Who do you know at the party?

For Lancôme…

La Vie Est Belle → Life is beautiful

Teint Idole → Absolute red

L’Absolu Rouge → Absolute red

Tonique Confort → Comforting tonic

Hypnôse → Hypnosis

Bienfait → Well-done

In the street…

Excusez-moi, parlez vous anglais? → Excuse me, do you speak English?

Pouvez-vous m’aider? → Could you help me?

Je cherche… → I’m looking for...

In a restaurant…

Un carafe d’eau, s’il vous plait → Some water, please

Je voudrais… → I would like…

Où sont les toilettes? → Where is the restroom?

In a shop...

Combien ça coûte? → How much does that cost?

Est-ce que je peux l’essayer? → Can I try this on?

Avez-vous d’autres couleurs/tailles? → Do you have other colors/sizes?

When making a toast...

Santé! → Cheers! (casual)

À la vôtre! → Cheers! (formal)

Chin chin! → Cheers! (friendly)

When making a toast...

Santé! → Cheers! (casual)

À la vôtre! → Cheers! (formal)

Chin chin! → Cheers! (friendly)

When making a toast...

Merci du fond du coeur. → Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Merci à tous d’être venu. → Thank you everyone for coming over.

C’ést un plaisir de vous avoir parmi nous. → It’s a pleasure having you here.

Season's greetings...

Joyeuses fêtes! → Happy Holidays!

Joyeux Noël! → Merry Christmas

Bonne année! → Happy New Year!

Just for fun...

Je veux gouter tous les parfums des macarons! → I want to taste all the flavors of macarons!

Ma marque de beauté préféré est Lancôme... → My favorite beauty brand is Lancôme…

J'adore Paris. Je ne veux jamais la quitter! → I adore Paris. I never want to leave!

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