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French in Paris... | Help me speak!


Soon I'm off to Paris for a couple of days of work experience and a few days of sightseeing. I've been to Paris twice before, but I've never really spoken French there despite being pretty competent!! Here are my worries....

1. I've heard Parisians aren't very tolerant with non-native speakers. Perhaps this is way too much of a generalisation?? Either way, I'll try not to let that bother me because I won't be having long conversations - just ordering food, getting in a taxi and a few other things. 2. I'm pretty shy about speaking foreign languages to other people, but I've done a Spanish exchange before and got by fine so I know I can do it, but I feel like I'll just start tripping up on my words and having mind blanks! 3. I have no issue whatsoever with listening to French exercises intended for students, but I feel like French listening can be hard when natives speak fast. What if I completely miss their point? To speak, I first need to actually understand what they've said!

If you have any tips at all, I'd really appreciate it. I want to make the most of my time there and build my confidence further.


January 18, 2018



I had to face the same when I went to France in the fall. I'm similar to you in that I do well in reading and writing French, but listening (because natives speak very fast) is difficult, and I tend to freeze up when I need to say something (like in response to a question) that I haven't planned in advance. I've been in France several times, including Paris, and only once did someone pretend not to understand me (and this wasn't in Paris). In my experience, if someone tries to speak and practice French, it will be well-received (since you won't be the stereotype "ugly American tourist.") A couple of tips for you. Have a few stock phrases ready to use in the right situation. For example, when someone is talking too fast, ask "Pourriez-vous parler lentement, s'il vous plait?" If a clerk quotes you a price or amount and your numbers skills are weak, ask, "Ecrivez-le, s'il vous plait". Frequently, a clerk or waiter would respond in English to me (probably thinking it would be easier for me), and if I wanted to continue to try to speak French, I would say something like, "Merci, je veux essayer de parler francais parce que je suis en France." That was always well-received. Think of some situations where you might need some help, and develop a few sentences like these in advance.


Thank you very much! This is really helpful, I appreciate it.


One thing I learned in Paris a few moths ago was not to assume that people working in a hotel was French. One young lady serving me pointed out that she was Portugese. She had assumed that the reason she could not understand my poor French was her poor French!


I hadn't thought of it that way ! Thanks for your response


Have a great time! :D


Thanks very much! Looking forward to pushing my comfort zone a bit


Have you completed the French tree yet? That would be helpful if you did. Tell me what it was like when you get back, OK?


I did complete it a few months ago. :)


I went to Paris on short notice, never having studied the language "officially" (I had picked up the odd thing), no time to practise beforehand except getting a phrasebook to keep in my bag as a talisman. ;-) Turned out that when I tried to speak French, they listened very patiently, with a friendly smile, and seemed happy that I made the effort. It was such a positive experience that a) I decided to learn some proper basics of that language, b) I really want to travel to France again.

Don't be afraid of mistakes! And don't mind spluttering! And besides keeping useful phrases handy, keep your mind open for creative phrasings like "Are the trains ill?" to work around words you don't know or remember.

Enjoy your stay :)


thank you! I appreciate it


I found most Parisians to be fairly patient with non-native speakers. I think there is a generosity of spirit and quite a bit of goodwill extended to a foreigner who at least tries. Some will switch to English when they hear an accent, but if you continue to speak in French most will revert back to French. It is true that many in Paris within the service industry and at tourist sites do speak passably well for basic communication in English, however that can't be assumed everywhere.

Here are some examples: I entered a little restaurant speaking English to others in my party. When the server heard me, she looked a little flustered and asked, "You... eat?" while making hand motions. I answered her, "Oui, je voudrais une table, s'il vous plaît, nous sommes quatre. Merci." Relief flooded her face and she spoke in French the rest of the time and things went well, even with my choppy French. Another time I had to go buy shoes for my son who'd managed to wear out holes in his. I could not for the life of me remember certain words and had to find other ways to describe what I needed, but it was awkward! I began to feel very embarrassed. I tried to apologize to the clerk for my French. He stopped me and told me not to worry about that, my French was better than his English and that he could understand me. Undoubtedly he was being kind, but he stuck to French and so did I. We managed. I learned that it isn't necessary to have perfectly spoken French in order to be understood. It is okay to make mistakes (I made plenty!). It is okay to go briefly blank- just try to express your idea another way. It is okay to ask someone to repeat themselves if you don't understand. Lastly, it is okay to feel uncomfortable; it will pass.

With time your tongue will loosen up. It was much easier toward the end of my trip than at the beginning!

As someone else mentioned, it is a good idea to practice a few phrases ahead of time for common situations in restaurants, hotels, trains, etc.

Bonne voyage !


thank you! this is really reassuring. :)


Let me piggyback on what CommeuneTexane just said. In Lyon, my husband and I went to a restaurant that focused on typical Lyonnaise cuisine. A "tablecloth" restaurant, but not over-the-top Michelin-star fancy. I spoke in French and the waiter was very kind to indulge me. Some of the local dishes required me to take a stealth look at Google to get a better description. A few minutes later, a 4 or 6 person English-speaking group came in, and after being seated, asked immediately, 'Don't you have an English menu?" This is the kind of thing that makes me cringe, but it's an example of how generally, people will appreciate a tourist who makes an effort to speak the language.


I would recommend having Google Translate handy. If you're worried about pronunciation, still have Google Translate handy and use the audio function. I hope my advice is helpful to you, and have a fun trip!


Thanks but I'm not struggling with the language itself. Just how to get over any speaking nerves I may have over there. Thanks anyway.


Everybody gave you great personal advice. Meanwhile you may want to watch some French TV programs on Youtube. You'll get used to the speed of the language. Spoken French is considered the fastest language. However, it depends on many factors. You'll do great and feel terrific after getting over the initial nerves.


Thanks very much :)


If you're on a phone or tablet, try using the bots feature- it really helped me. Sorry you probably have done that already- I'm just trying to think of ideas! Have a wonderful time!


thank you very much :)


My wife is French and something I've learned from her is that the French really appreciate it when you make the effort to to to speak their language. If you get things wrong they'll probably correct you, but they're trying to help, not criticize. Even if you make mistakes you'll learn something and who knows, you might even have a story or two to tell (like the time I went into a pharmacie in Macon to buy some paracetamol for my wife: the pharmacist asked if they were for me, my mind went blank then I replied "non, ils sont pour mon mari"... I only realised what I'd said as I walked out the door).


I can't speak for Paris specifically, but when I was in Nice last year I just about managed to ask for "un café au lait" at the end of a meal, and suddenly it was like the waitress and I were best friends.

So the lesson is: A little bit of French goes a long way.


Here's an idiomatic expression that I learned, that in the right situation (where you can't understand someone), can make them laugh, "Pardon, je parle français comme une vache espagnole." https://nousallonsenfrance.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/je-parle-francais-comme-une-vache-espagnole/

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