Essential French 1

French polite phrases & greetings…

Eiffel Tower and Trocadero

Travelers visiting French-speaking countries can learn and practice 11+ essential French words and phrases here. We’ve posted the first 11 below. Listen.
Record yourself.
Play back and compare.
(See more “Learn and Practice Tips” below!)

The First 11 French Phrases

Learn and Practice Tips

> Click the black arrow to hear the French speaker.
> Click the red dot once to record yourself, click the black square to stop recording.
> When you click the black arrow again, you’ll hear the native speaker and then yourself.
> Do it several times until you sound like the French speaker.
> Then “Choose a Study Mode” and test yourself with one of the Quizlet games! (You may need to adjust your Options with the top right icon .)

Learning the first 11 French words was quite easy, right?
Did you record yourself and work on your pronunciation?
And did you notice that very important French phrase?
“S’il vous plaît”, for “please” – literally: “if it pleases you”.
You’d use it, if you’re not on familiar (“tu”) terms with your conversation partner. (If you are, you would use “s’il te plaît”. )

Why learn these Phrases?

Whenever you travel to a country where you don’t speak the language, you’ll encounter situations when these words will be useful. 
Let’s say you’ve ordered your first meal in a restaurant in France and as the waiter serves you, you say “Merci”.
Even if the waiter knows that you don’t speak French, your effort may make him smile.
And beyond “Please” and “Thank you”, basic greetings really are the staple of first words you should know in any country you visit.
And we’ll end with asking whether your conversation partner speaks any of the languages you (may) speak.

Pronunciation Tips

Mastering the sound of French can be a bit of a challenge for English speakers.
A good start is to practice with words you’ll use frequently, like the essential phrases below.
In French, vowels followed by an -m or -n are nasal. You make their sound by releasing air through your nose. Examples are: “non”, “de rien”, “pardon”, “bonjour”, “bonsoir”. (You’ll notice that the letters -m and -n are not pronounced.)
French “r” has no equivalent in English. It is pronounced in your throat and has a slightly scraping sound. You’ll find it in the words “merci”, “pardon”, “de rien”, and “au revoir”.
Note that French “l” is a “clear l”, produced by touching your tongue to your front teeth. Try it with “s’il vous plaît”.
Finally for here: French “-ui”, as in “oui” and “nuit”. Start with the French “u” sound (by saying “ee” and rounding your mouth) and end up saying “u-ee”.

Good Things to Know

French is a Romance language (like Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian) and is the official language of France.
In Europe, French is also an official language of Belgium, Switzerland, Monaco, Luxembourg, and of the Aosta Valley in Italy.
French is the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union.
Because of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, the vocabulary of English was influenced by French.
They share in fact many true cognates, but also plenty of “false” ones (i.e. words that look the same but have a different meaning).
So watch out for those. For example, “cent” (refers to a unit of money in English) and “cent” (means “hundred” in French).

Walking in the country side…

While there’ll be many opportunities to use basic greetings in French cities, knowing them when you’re outside of a city is even more important.
You’ll certainly notice, that in small towns or in the country side people greet each other.
Being a visitor in a French-speaking country will make you much more welcome, when you make the effort to greet people in French.

The Next 12 French Phrases: Where is…?

In the next installment – Essential French 2– you’ll learn to ask where the bathroom, train and metro station, bank, pharmacy etc. are located.
You’ll certainly have many opportunities to try our “Where…?” questions. Even your smartphone won’t know where the bathroom or the elevator is !

Author: Ulrike Rettig

Ulrike S. Rettig holds a PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures from Harvard University. After a teaching career she worked for Pimsleur Language Programs and co-founded GamesforLanguage.com in 2011. Now, with Lingo-Late.com she offers her experience and insights to language lovers before they travel.

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