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French language

I only have three years of high school French that is pretty much lost. I have begun listening to French on Audio to see if it can jog any memory of the lost language, but being that it has been over 40 years, I am not being hopeful in anyway. Since I am the designated navigator of all trips foreign (not by choice), I am a bit nervous about getting around. We will be in France for two weeks, and although our iteninary has not yet solidified, I am hoping to travel to other regions. Can you recommend a language helper, book, translating app or anything of the sort?

Posted by
378 posts

The DuoLingo app is great for learning or refreshing. They have an online version as well, and it's all free.

Posted by
7606 posts

With the resource you already have you will do alright without knowing French in France as most people in the tourist industry that you will deal with speak enough English. Just always greet someone Bonjour before you talk to them. and Parlez vous l'anglais?

Apart from Canada this would only be an issue if you were going to other parts of the Francophone world like Africa.

I agree with the below Pimsleur recommendation. We have them at our local library.
http://www.pimsleur.com/learn-french

Posted by
2676 posts

If you are outside of big cities you occasionally will hit a language barrier. Give it your best shot, it can be fun! I used Pimsleur listening to CD's while I drove. Never had French before. Got to the point I could ask directions, and occasionally understand the answer, and order food and drinks. Several kind waitstaff and bakery gals complemented me on my butchered French!

Posted by
490 posts

Get a thin phrase book and I recommend a tiny dictionary as well...Langenscheidt makes a great compact one!

That way in small towns etc, you can point to the phrase.

Study road signs before you go.

And learn directions, right left, across, straight ahead, behind you up and down....plus the few nice charming phrases should be enough to start!

Unlike even 20 years ago...More and more French people speak English these days out of necessity due to tourists from all over the world who have NO FRENCH at all....so you will be fine.

J.J.

Posted by
1103 posts

I agree with the people who have replied to your post. We went to Paris in 2012 and were also wondering how our high school French would hold up. A funny thing happened several days into the trip. We were in a museum where all the signs were in French. Suddenly something clicked in my brain and I was able to make sense of the signs.

Posted by
16893 posts

I recommend Rick's French Phrase Book which is more geared to travel needs than learning to conjugate verbs. Agreed than many service people will speak English, especially the latest generation of them.

Posted by
9093 posts

Always say Bonjour madame/monsieur before you talk to anyone. Say merçi a lot.

Google Translate app is excellent. It will say it for you so you can hear the correct pronunciation.

Posted by
2466 posts

Just concentrate on the basic forms of "politesse" - Bonjour, Merci, Au revoir, Excusez-moi parlez-vous anglais, and the most important - "desole" - when you make a mistake.
Don't touch the merchandise unless you are invited to - especially at outdoor markets selling fruit and vegetables. Bags will be available if you are to use them.
Observe meal times - breakfast is over with around 11h30, lunch begins around 12h00 and ends at 14h30, apero time is between lunch and dinner, and dinner begins normally at 19h00 and ends around 23h30.
Don't sit at a table that has silverware and glasses if you just want to drink. Ask for a table that isn't set. Do not re-arrange the chairs or tables - cafes and restaurants can be fined for using sidewalk space illegally.

It will be impossible to recover your long-ago French, even with apps, internet lessons, etc. It takes years...
You probably won't be able to understand much of what a French person says, if he says it in French, either.
If you are taking taxis it's a good idea to print out the complete address of where you are staying, including the Postal Code. This way, there won't be any confusion.

I'd advise getting some detailed street maps - readily available in newsstands - for each city you visit, so you won't get lost.

Posted by
12132 posts

I like Duolingo. I also have Pimsleur in the car. Hopefully your three years of French will start to pay dividends.

I finished all of Duolingo (plus 12 units of Rossetta Stone) - I still feel mostly lost. I totally get Spanish and German, even Italian, but French is tough. A letter is pronounced in some cases but not others and words are pronounced differently/spelled the same or pronounced the same/spelled differently depending on gender and context.

I can get that vin is wine, it's hard to get pronouncing it more like va because vent is wind and it's pronounced more like von.

Not sure if it's age, stress, or the language but this is the most challenging language I've ever studied (and when I was in junior high, I studied Mandarin).

Posted by
80 posts

Usually if you use the proper form of English for certain words you can get by easily. Rick Steves recommends:

"Photo" - for if you want someone to take a picture of yourself and your travel companion

"Toilet" - if you're looking for a bathroom

"Pardon" - if you are passing someone

And this went a long way with me when I was in France, "Jamais..." for I would like

And of course, use "vous" instead of "tu" - merci beaucoup - sil vous plais - au revoir - madame and monsieur when addressing strangers and sales persons

Posted by
8293 posts

Klo162

Jamais in French means "never". If you want to say "I would like" you would say "Je voudrais ..."

Posted by
8293 posts

Woeinparis. Surely you jest! Do you really expect a unilingual anglophone to memorize and correctly pronounce such a flowery and lengthy bit of politesse? You have now scared them all half to death. But maybe you are teasing?

Posted by
463 posts

You'll do fine if you just remember to be polite (start all interactions with "bonjour" for example). I had only 2 years of High School French but we have found French people to be charming and helpful by and large. People want to be helpful, or may just want to sell you that cheese or that hat, so they will take some time to try communicate, sometimes by pointing and gesturing. A lot of the time they speak English better than you speak French, but appreciate it if you at least try to speak French.
As for resources, I have found Pimsleur to be very helpful. The first level of Pimsleur will help you with the basics (outlined by wbfey1 above). I have memorized how to say (in French) "Hello. I don't speak French very well. Do you speak English?" I've had plenty of practice, so sometimes I'm complimented on how good I speak French. Although my limitations quickly become apparent, we've never had any real problems.
As for being the navigator, I'm not sure what you mean by traveling "to other regions" (around France or to other countries?). In France, you should know that directions on road signs will tell you where you're headed (next town or largest town in this direction) but not the route number. Just look ahead on your map and see what towns are next on your route. And if you get lost, no big deal. You're not in remote Afghanistan, you're in France. We've made some lovely discoveries when we were lost. And the people who you next ask for directions will almost certainly be delightful and try to help you get where you're going.
You'll see. It'll be a lot of fun.

Posted by
80 posts

Holy cow Norma, I think you're right...lol oops!

See? I was "jamais"ing myself all over France and no one corrected me!

Posted by
8293 posts

Klo62: either the French were being super polite or they had no idea what you saying. But kudos to you for your efforts. A lot of people won't even try.

Posted by
2466 posts

As for me - I would concentrate on what to pack, instead of wasting time trying to cram in several years' worth of French language.

If you are going to travel to different regions, you'll find the accents are way different from the typical Parisien accent.
Everybody and their maman speaks some English. You'll be fine without the French.

Posted by
11294 posts

I agree with several of the points made above.

1) You don't need French to get around or to have a great trip.
2) Just using a few phrases and bits of politeness will go a long way
and, most importantly,
3) You may feel your "old" French is not coming back now, but just wait until you're there and surrounded by it. In a few days, you'll be surprising yourself with what you can say and understand. Any study you do now, that may seem wasted, will pay off once you're there. So, keep at things like Pimsleur and Duolingo, watch French movies, and practice basic politeness phrases.

And do bring that phrasebook and mini dictionary. I find that for languages I don't know at all before a trip, they're a waste of space. But for languages I do know a bit of, they're very helpful.

Posted by
9093 posts

With the Google translate app you won't need to carry around a phrasebook or a dictionary. Much easier and faster to use the app.

Posted by
54 posts

I agree with the Duolingo recommendations -- they now have flip cards too, with an addictive quiz feature on the iPhone.

Also, for your commute to work or whenever, there's the Coffee Break French Podcast. There is a paid service but the free podcast is really excellent. Good explanations, etc., good practice for your listening and your speaking. Each episode is about 15 minutes long and there are currently four seasons of 40 episodes each. After some basic vocabulary and situations, they focus on learning how to "construct" sentences, etc.

Oh -- Nemo has a decent free app -- basically a flip card type program. Limited but a good start.

I agree with the idea that you do not need to know a lot -- but especially for your trip things like being able to ask and understand directions can come in handy.

Posted by
490 posts

APPS and MAPS.....I like a paper map, and a paper dictionary/phrase book ....it is fool proof, you won't rely on your phone working in all conditions...mountains, while driving etc...and it is much safer to hand book over to someone than your expensive phone....

Posted by
346 posts

You will be fine -- even outside Paris. Do learn numbers up to 10 so you can ask for a table for however many are in your group, for example. Also look up how to say the things you anticipate you might be looking for in a market -- eggs, milk, etc.

Posted by
2 posts

I bought a Collins translator on line it has 5 languages English , French , German, Spanish and Italian. Since you may not always have internet this small compact translated has worked perfect. The translater also gives you phrases for dining business, dining, emergency, and conversing . This translater has worked great for us.

Posted by
2018 posts

This won't help you much in your effort to polish up your French, but before you go, be sure to read "Me Talk Pretty One Day" be David Sedaris.

Posted by
14 posts

My advice is similar to many others here. Greet people with bonjour Monsieur/Madame, use lots of s'll vu plaits and mercis. Learn how to say you speak only a little French and politely ask if they speak English. A smile and showing some genuine appreciation for the great things you'll experience goes a long way. If you have some time, I think Pimsleur is pretty darn good. Rick's phrase book is very useful. You may well start to remember some of the things you learned long ago. If you're going to drive, study road signs and read information on driving in France. I think if you're showing you're polite and appreciative, most folks will be pretty helpful. I always try to learn at least a little language before traveling. FWIW, I find French really challenging. I'm kind of a visual learner and I can't look at written French and pronounce it. That said, it's just a lovely country. Have a great trip.

Posted by
2018 posts

I think if you're showing you're polite and appreciative, most folks will be pretty helpful.

I agree. However, my daughter-in-law had a funny experience in France. She and my son treated themselves to a trip to France to celebrate their graduation from seminary. They went to visit their classmate Didier and his wife, who had moved back to their hometown, a small village off the beaten tourist path.

My daughter-in-law took three years of French in high school and several semesters in college. She felt she was at least functional, if not proficient in the language. In the small village, whenever she'd go into a shop she'd greet them with "Bonjour, parlez vous Anglais?". If they replied "Non", she'd start to ask for what she wanted in French. Often, after 30 or so seconds, they'd say "Stop, just stop! We'll speak English!".