French Conversation Starters: Learning Conversational French

French Language Day is coming, so we thought this guide on conversational French might be useful!

Perhaps you've been streaming Call My Agent and are desperate to make a career pivot into the world of French showbiz.

Or maybe you've watched Amèlie one too many times and are keen to chat up a potential beau of your own.

Whatever your motivations, you'll need to know how to string together a half-decent conversation in French. Luckily for you, we've rounded up everything you need to know to get started.

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Starting a Conversation in French: How Much French Do You Need to Know?

There's a common misconception amongst French learners that you need to speak perfect French before you can embark on conversations with native French speakers.

But actually, this couldn't be further from the truth.

A small amount of basic French will give you enough ammunition to have simple conversations.

But you'll find that any native speaker will be much more willing to engage with you if you're making an effort to use their language.

How do you start a French conversation with a native French speaker?

Just as in English, your method of starting a conversation with a French speaker will depend largely on the context.

If you're in a shop, for example, you'll always begin with a greeting, while asking a stranger a question follows on from a polite 'excusez moi'.

If you're at a party among friends of friends, though, you can be a little less formal and pick up a conversation by asking a question. For example:

Est ce qu'il y a une meilleure fête près d'ici ? - Is there a better party than this one close to here?

Maybe don't ask that.

Of course, on the subject of formality, there's one rule you definitely need to know...

Photo by Dex Ezekiel on Unsplash.

Informal and Formal French: What does this mean?

Before we start with some French conversation starters, it's important to explain why you should know your audience.

One way that French differs from English is in its use of formal and informal pronouns. This can be a little confusing for a non-native speaker.

The formal version of 'you' is 'vous', and it's best to use this when speaking with someone you don't know well or anyone to whom you want to show respect.

In fact, 'vous' is an acceptable form to use in any scenario where you aren't quite sure how best to address a person.

If you're close with someone, though, whether you're good friends or they're a family member, you'd use 'tu' instead of 'vous'.

This casual form implies a level of intimacy that would seem overfamiliar with someone you don't know as well.

Formal and informal spoken French examples

Though there are some minor differences in each Francophone country's use of the language, the formal and informal 'you' grammar rule exists in every variety of French.

That means it's even more crucial to get familiar with the way that 'vous' and 'tu' change the grammatical structure of common sentences.

Here are some examples that you'll see used frequently in small talk or French conversation, with English translations to help you...

  • I don't understand what you said
  • Informal version: Je ne comprends pas ce que tu m'as dit.
  • Formal version: Je ne comprends pas ce que vous m'avez dit
  • What's your name, please?
  • Informal version: Comment tu t'appelles s'il te plaît ? Je m'appelle Margaux.
  • Formal version: Comment appelez-vous s'il vous plaît ? Je m'appelle Margaux.
  • What are you doing tomorrow?
  • Informal version: Qu'est ce que tu fais demain ?
  • Formal version: Qu'est ce que vous faisez demain ?
  • That's true. You are right.
  • Informal version: C'est vrai. Tu as raison.
  • Formal version: C'est vrai. Vous avez raison.

While the grammatical nuances of French might seem endless and baffling, you'll quickly get the hang of them and learn how to alter your words depending on how formal you want to be.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.

French Question Words: What are they and when do you use them?

In English, question words mostly start with w: who, what, when, where, why.

In French, it's all about q. Here are the words you'll need to commit to memory to ask basic questions.

  • Qu'est ce que/Que – What?
  • Quand – When?
  • Qui – Who?
  • Pourquoi – Why?
  • Ou – Where?
  • Comment – How?

Typical French Conversation Topics to learn when studying French

Let's look at some typical French conversation starters and dialogue themes/topics that you should learn when studying French.

These may include, but of course, are not limited to...

Introducing Yourself in French

If you want to become truly comfortable with spoken French, you'll need to meet a French speaker or two.

Whether you befriend a native speaker or team up with a fellow language learner or conversation partner to chat to your chosen tongue, you've got to be able to share a little bit about yourself in your first conversation.

Here's how...

  • Je m'appelle... – My name is...
  • J'ai 21 ans – I'm 21 years old
  • J'habite à... – I live in...
  • Je suis américaine – I am American
  • Je suis étudient – I am a student

French Phrases to learn for Everyday Conversational Use

Functional conversations don't always have to be in-depth. In fact, it's considered rude not to strike up a basic, polite conversation or speak French when you enter or leave a store in France.

While you don't have to start asking after the shopkeeper's family, you should always greet them as you enter and thank them as you say goodbye.

So, these basic greetings (with an English translation) will come in handy for those early morning boulangerie (bakery) stops.

Beyond that, they are also the must-know conversation starters that'll get you on the right track when talking to French friends.

  • Bonjour – Hello
  • Salut – A more casual hello; the French equivalent of 'hi'
  • Au revoir – Goodbye
  • Merci beaucoup – Thank you very much
  • Comment allez-vous ? – How are you?
  • Ça va ? – A handy catch-all phrase that can be a question – like an informal 'how's it going?' – and an answer, too. Kind of like 'it's going!'
  • Bonne journée - Have a good day!
  • Pas de quoi - You're welcome (informal)

Common French Greetings

It's pretty hard to get the conversation flowing without an opening line.

Just as in English, there are plenty of ways to start speaking to someone, whether it's your first time meeting them or you're greeting an old friend.

Here are some commonly-used openers and phrases you'll find useful when you talk to friends in France.

  • Coucou – even more informal than 'salut' is this greeting, which can be used with friends
  • Je suis très heureux/heureuse de faire votre connaissance – I'm very pleased to meet you
  • Bienvenue – Welcome
  • Quoi de neuf? – What's new?
  • Bon matin/Bonsoir – Good morning/evening

Getting to know somebody in French conversation

So, you've found a potential new pal who speaks French – fantastic!

Get to know them, and solidify that burgeoning friendship, by asking them a few key questions about themselves. You might care to find out...

  • Comment vous-appelez vous/Comment t'appelles-tu? – What's your name?
  • D'où venez-vous?/D'où viens-tu? – Where are you from?
  • Quel âge avez-vous?/Quel âge as-tu? – How old are you?
  • Que-est ce que vous aimez faire/Que-est ce que tu aimes faire? – What do you like to do?
  • Quel est votre travail?/Quel est ton travail? – What is your job?

Visiting or booking a restaurant in French

French food is as much of an art form as any of the oils in the Musee d'Orsay. And when you visit, you'll undoubtedly want to sample some of the country's excellent restaurants.

Nothing brings people closer together than a good meal, so you'll want to learn the following foodie phrases...

  • J'ai une réservation au nom de... – I have a reservation in the name of...
  • Une table pour deux s'il vous plaît – A table for two, please
  • Excusez moi – Excuse me. (This is an acceptable way to get a waiter's attention – and you should always remember your s'il vous plaîts and mercis).
  • Je voudrais... – I would like...
  • Santé – Cheers – or, literally, 'health'. (This is a common shorting of 'a votre santé', which means 'to your health').
  • L'entrée – The starter
  • Le plat – The main
  • La carte – The menu
  • Qu'est ce que vous recommandez? – What would you recommend?
  • L'addition, s'il vous plaît – The bill, please
Photo by Camille Brodard on Unsplash.

Visiting the Grocery Store in French

Dining out is great, but sometimes, even in France, we need a night in with a bottle of cheap vin (wine) and a home-cooked meal.

Prepare for your trip to the épicerie, or grocery store, with these words and phrases...

  • Je cherche... – I am looking for...
  • Vous avez...? – Do you have...?
  • Puis-je avoir un sac? – Can I have a bag?
  • Puis-je payer par carte de crédit? – Can I pay by credit card?
  • Je vais payer en liquide – I'll pay cash
  • La boulangerie – bakery
  • La pâtisserie – pastry shop
  • Le supermarché – supermarket
  • Les légumes – vegetables
  • La viande – meat
  • Le poisson – fish
  • Les boissons – drinks
  • Le panier – shopping basket
  • La caisse – cash register

Talking about and introducing family in French

Once you've begun collecting friends in a French-speaking country, your topics of conversation will expand, too.

These are some of the words you need to know to answer questions about your family – or to introduce them...

  • Voici ma/mon... – here is my... (the pronoun gender is decided by the subject of the sentence, not the speaker's own gender)
  • Mère – mother
  • Père – father
  • Belle-mère – stepmother
  • Beau-père – stepfather
  • J'ai un/e... – I have a...
  • Je n'ai pas de... – I don't have a...
  • Frère – brother
  • Sœur – sister
  • Il s'appelle/elle s'appelle... – he is called.../she is called...

French Phrases At the Bank

French banking can be notoriously tricky, and that's mostly because many banks still insist on in-person transactions and meetings in order to open accounts or make transfers.

If you're planning to move to a French-speaking country, you'll need to be comfortable with a few useful requests and phrases, such as...

  • Est ce que vous pouvez m'aider, s'il vous plaît? - Can you help me, please?
  • Compte bancaire – bank account
  • Je voudrais faire un virement – I would like to make a transfer
  • Je voudrais verser un somme à un compte – I would like to pay money into my account
  • Je voudrais ouvrir un compte – I would like to open a bank account
  • Je voudrais retirer de l'argent – I would like to withdraw cash

Visiting a doctor in France: Which French phrases do you need to know?

Nobody wants to get ill or injured abroad, but being prepared for the unexpected will help you out if you get into a sticky situation and need to visit un médecin.

  • J'ai un besoin de voir un médecin, s'il vous plaît – I need to see a doctor, please
  • Je voudrais donner rendez-vous dès que possible – I'd like to make an appointment as soon as possible
  • Le médecin parle-t-il anglais? – Does the doctor speak English?
  • Je ne me sens pas bien – I don't feel well
  • J'ai mal à... – My...hurts
  • Pouvez-vous me donner une ordonnance? – Could you write me a prescription?

Asking for directions in French

Google Maps is great, but sometimes you need to speak to a real-life person to find your way around, whether you're on the hunt for a pop-up Christmas market or looking for the toilets in a sprawling museum.

Here's the vocabulary you need to get the job done...

  • Excusez moi – as always, 'excuse me' is a safe and polite way to get someone's attention and start a conversation
  • Savez-vous où se trouve...? – Do you know where ... is located?
  • Où est-ce? – Where is it?
  • Y a-t-il ... près d'ici? – Is there ... nearby?
  • Est-ce que c'est près d'ici? – Is it close to here?
  • A côté de – Next to
  • En face de – In front of
  • A droite de – To the right of
  • A gauche de – To the left of
  • Derrière – Behind
  • Au bout de – At the end of
  • Prendre/Tournez – Turn
  • Traverser – Cross
  • Continuer – Go straight
Photo by Lindsey Bahia on Unsplash.

Returning Questions in French

One of the easiest conversational tricks you can use in any language is simply returning the same question your friend asks you.

A simple 'et vous?' or 'et tu?' – 'and you?' – does the job marvelously.

Attending a Job Interview in French

So you've picked up enough French not only to have a conversation but also to apply for your first job abroad.

That's an impressive achievement, but job interviews are stressful enough in your native language!

Fortunately, with just a few useful phrases and their English translations in your arsenal, you'll be well prepared to ace the meeting.

And remember – always use 'vous' in this setting, unless your interviewer leads with 'tu.'

You might be asked...

  • Parlez-moi de votre expérience professionnelle – Tell me about your professional experience
  • Quel est votre parcours scolaire? – What is your academic background?
  • Quels sont vos centres d'intérêt? – What are your areas of interest?
  • Quand serez-vous disponible pour commencer? – When will you be ready to start?
  • Quels sont vos points fort? – What are your strengths?

Equally, you should take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions of your own, too, such as...

  • Pourquoi ce poste est-il disponible aujourd'hui? – Why is this role currently vacant?
  • Comment se déroule une journée type? – What does a typical day look like?
  • Avec combien de personnes vais-je travailler? – How many people will I be working with?

Asking to view an apartment in French

Whether you daydream about a sixth-floor walk-up in the 18th arrondissement or a crumbling Provençal villa, you'll need to go house-hunting in person to find your ideal abode.

Once you've booked a rendezvous (an appointment), brush up on these essentials...

  • la situation – the location
  • un agent immobilier – estate agent
  • sur le marché – on the market
  • meublé/nonmeublé – furnished/unfurnished
  • le quartier – the neighborhood
  • J'aimerais emménger rapidement – I'd like to move in quickly
  • appartement à louer – apartment to rent
  • dépôt de garantie – deposit
  • dossier de candidature – rental application form
Photo by Sophie Louisnard on Unsplash.

Getting yourself out of trouble or dealing with problems in French

Even with the very best of intentions, you might find yourself in a spot of bother.

Here's how to turn the situation around...

  • Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement, s'il vous plaît? – Could you speak more slowly, please?
  • Pouvez-vous m'aider s'il vous plaît? – Can you help me, please?
  • Je ne parle pas beaucoup Français – I don't speak much French
  • Je suis perdu – I'm lost
  • Parlez-vous anglais? – Do you speak English?
  • Je suis malade – I'm sick
  • Faites attention – Be careful

FAQs Relating to French Conversation Starters

So you're ready to start learning French – great!

Here are the answers to some questions you might have before you dive in.

What is the best way to study French?

There's no one best way to learn French because the rate at which you learn will depend on your own personal learning style.

You might find it easiest to learn by reading and writing, or by listening and repeating. Or, you might do best in a situation where you can totally immerse yourself in the language.

The best way to find out your style? Try a little bit of everything and see what works best! Enroll in a French class and don't be afraid to talk, find an online teacher, or find an online French course.

Lastly, keep up to date with current events in the French-speaking world and read as much as you can in French.

Where can I practice French conversation?

Not everyone has the ability to drop everything and travel abroad to have French conversations. But that doesn't have to hamper your learning efforts!

There are many ways to practice French conversation online. Lingopie provides a platform through which to learn conversation starters, as well as advanced vocabulary, through watching French TV shows and movies.

You'll become comfortable hearing and using a wide array of sentences, which will help you out the next time you're in a real-life conversation. Great, n'est ce pas?

If are unsure whether this is for you and you want to give it a try, here's an article with a selection of French movies for beginners!

How can I improve my French conversation?

The best way to add sparkle to your French conversational skills is simply by giving yourself as much real-life exposure to the language as possible.

Learning new vocabulary and many words from studying content at home will give you plenty of material to work with.

However, only by practicing French dialogue in actual conversations will you really gain confidence chatting in your new language. You should find a teacher in order to do this.

Where can I talk to French people online?

Social media doesn't have to be a waste of time (and thumb muscles!).

Try following French content creators and talk to them in order to engage in conversation.

Talk to their fans in the comments, or join a Facebook or Reddit group dedicated to language learners and French conversation.

You'll find a conversation partner in no time, and before you know it, you'll be able to speak French fluently...

Photo by Collabstr on Unsplash.

Points to remember when learning a foreign language

Wherever you are in your language-learning journey, there are a few key points you should remember if you want to succeed and have a great time doing so.

Confidence is key

The most compelling people you'll meet aren't necessarily the ones who are the best at what they do.  They're the ones who do it with the most confidence.

You don't need to be able to articulate a news story to have a conversation with native speakers.

Even if you only know a small handful of words, put a smile on your face and take pride in what you know.

The native speakers you meet will respond positively and you'll get more opportunities to learn. And on that note...

Mistakes are inevitable: Don't be afraid to make mistakes

Mistakes can be frustrating, but they're actually golden opportunities.

Every time you get something wrong when you're speaking a foreign language, you're cementing the correct usage in your head. Partly because you won't want to make the same mistake twice!

Be prepared to laugh it off and try again if you don't get it right the first time.

Most people will be patient enough to wait for you to clarify your meaning, just as you'd do for a French person learning to speak English.

Je ne comprends pas: Get used to hearing it!

You'll know when you need to try again because you'll hear this often used phrase: 'Je ne comprends pas', or 'I don't understand!'

Many French speakers are sticklers for correct pronunciation, so sometimes it'll simply be a case of correcting your accent.

Don't take it personally. Instead, use it as a chance to master your chosen language!

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Final Thoughts: French Conversation Starters

Now that you're armed with many of the most useful phrases and words for conversing in French, you're ready to dive into the language of love.

Can't run away to Paris just yet?

Sign up for a free trial of Lingopie to practice your newfound skills and hone your conversational techniques with a huge selection of French movies and TV shows, available with or without subtitles to help you learn French faster than ever.

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