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Conversation in French for beginners

As a beginner French learner, you may already know a decent amount of vocabulary and some important grammar rules. When you start speaking to someone in French, however, you may often get stuck because you lack many of the phrases and expressions French speakers commonly use in normal everyday conversation.

For a beginner, these conversational phrases are a matter of life and death ! Until you master them, it will be very hard to hold even the most simple conversation with a native French speaker (this actually applies to any language you learn).

Let’s review some of the most common and fundamental phrases you’ll need almost every time you talk to a native.  Memorizing and learning to use these phrases will likely get you unstuck and help get the conversation flowing.

As a beginner French learner, mastering these phrases can give the illusion you’re more advanced that you actually are, and encourage the person in front of you to keep talking to you.  If they feel you have at least a minimal French level chances are they’ll be more patient, correct you and help you find the words you’re looking for.

Here goes.

1. A few good French conversation starters for beginners

Pardon me / excuse me …

Pardon, excusez-moi … (audio)

We often use both in the same sentence.  You typically use it when you need to get through and know you’re bothering the person in doing so – you’re apologizing in advance
Do you know if …

Savez-vous si … (audio)

Example : savez-vous si le train arrive bientôt ? (do you know if the train arrives soon ?)
Do you have the time please ?Vous avez l’heure s’il vous plait ? (audio)You can also say alternatively “vous auriez l’heure s’il vous plait ?” (would you have the time please)
Is this seat free ?Cette place est libre ? (audio)If you’re getting on a train or a bus.  Even if it appears clearly the seat is free, this is a typical conversation starter.  The person will likely answer “oui oui, allez-y” (sure go ahead)
Do you mind if …Ça vous dérange si … (audio)Example : “ça vous dérange si je ferme un peu la fenêtre” = do you mind if I close the window a bit ?
May I …Puis-je … (audio)Same example as above : puis-je fermer un peu la fenêtre ?  You may also say “je peux fermer un peu la fenêtre ?” = can I

2. Getting stuck in a French conversation

Sorry, I didn’t really get that …Pardon, je n’ai pas bien compris…This expression is a bit “smoother” than saying “je ne comprends pas” : the latter may suggest you don’t understand anything the person has been telling you, which may discourage the native.  This phrase, on the other hand, makes it sound like you simply missed the last thing they said.
Can you say it again ?Pouvez-vous répéter ?A more relaxed way is to say “vous pouvez répéter ?” without the verb inversion which is more colloquial.  You may also add “s’il vous plait” (please)
I’m a beginner in French…Je débute en Français …Basically apologizing for being a beginner French learner.  Again, saying it this way makes it more “lightweight” for the native speaker
Is that how you say it ?C’est comme ça qu’on dit ?If you’re not sure what you said is right, you can ask for confirmation using this phrase.  Great way to double check or ask  the native speaker to correct you.
How do you say … ?Comment dit-on … ?You probably know this one but it’s good to remind you of it. You may also say in a more colloquial way “comment on dit … ?”, e.g. “comment on dit account manager en français ?”
Thanks for being patient !Merci pour votre patience !As a beginner French speaker, if you’re struggling to get the conversation going and you can see the native speaker is making efforts to help you, it’s a great idea to thank him/her for it.  Another common way to say it is “merci de votre patience” (different preposition)

3. Exchanging basic info during a French conversation

I’m (nationality)Je suis (nationalité)Example : I’m British, I’m American.
I came here to learn FrenchJe suis venu ici pour apprendre le françaisYou may also say “je suis venu en France…” (I came to France) or “je suis en France” (I’m in France) “pour apprendre le français”.
Do you live in Paris ?Vous habitez à Paris ?Another way to ask is “vous vivez à Paris ?”  In this context, “habiter” and “vivre” are synonyms
Do you know (country) a little ?Vous connaissez un peu (pays) ?Example : “vous connaissez un peu l’angleterre / les Etats-Unis ?”  A French native may be reluctant to say s/he knows a country if she’s only been there once or twice because that may come across as pretentious.  The French are always afraid of being immodest. Adding “un peu” helps the person feel more comfortable talking about what they know.
I’m (name)Je m’appelle (nom).Example : “je m’appelle John”.  Note that French speakers don’t always introduce themselves like English speakers do.  Sometimes people talk for a long time and them just leave without saying their name.  Don’t be surprised if the person doesn’t respond by saying their name.
Nice to meet youEnchantéIf the native speaker does introduce him/herself, you can follow up with “enchanté(e)”.
What do you do ?Vous faites quoi dans la vie ?This is asking what the person is doing for a living.  Traditionally it used to be a rude thing to ask, but now the French are increasingly asking the question when meeting someone.  Some older people may not like it though.
Do you travel often ?Vous voyagez souvent ?You may use this structure for other questions like “vous venez souvent ?” (do you come here often?) or “vous allez souvent à Marseille ?” (do you go to Marseille often)
Have you been … for a long time ?Ça fait longtemps que vous … ?Another great way to get a French conversation rolling, which will come in handy for you as a beginner.  Example : “Ça fait longtemps que vous habitez à Paris ?” = have you been living in Paris for long ?

4. Showing interest / agreement in a French conversation

Oh yes I see…Ah oui je comprends…You use this phrase to acknowledge what the person is telling you.  For example : “j’aime bien Marseille car j’ai grandi là-bas” (I like Marseille because I grew up there).  “Ah oui je comprends”
Yes of courseOui bien sûrSame meaning as in English
IndeedTout à faitUse it to mean “I fully agree”, “absolutely”.  Example : “Il y a de plus en plus de couples non mariés, non ?” (there are more and more unmarried couples, aren’t there ?) “Tout à fait”.  You may also use “tout à fait d’accord” (fully agree) or “absolument” (absolutely)
Clearly soC’est clairA more recent expression that has the same meaning as “tout à fait”, “absolument”, “je suis d’accord” (I agree)
Oh really ?Ah bon ?An extremely commonly used phrase in French conversation.  Using this as a beginner French speaker will make you sound a lot more fluent.
Is that so ?C’est vrai ?Literally means “is it true ?” but in fact, it’s just another way to acknowledge, equivalent to “ah bon ?”
That’s greatC’est superA handy phrase to use when someone is telling you something in a French conversation, showing your interest
I wasn’t aware of thatJe ne savais pasAnother way to express your interest in what the native French speaker is telling you.
That’s very interestingC’est très intéressantAlternative to the 4 previous phrases

5. Expressing doubt in a French conversation

I don’t believe soJe ne crois pasExample : “vous pensez qu’il va pleuvoir ?” (do you think it’s going to rain ?)  “Je ne crois pas, non.”
I doubt itÇa m’étonneraitExample : “Vous pensez que l’avion arrivera à l’heure ?” (do you think the plane will get there on time ?)  “Ça étonnerait…”  (I doubt it, I would be surprised)
I don’t think soJe ne pense pasExample : “Savez-vous si la banque est encore ouverte ?” (do you know if the bank is still open ?)  “Je ne pense pas”.
It’s not very likelyC’est peu probableExample : “il y a aura un buffet gratuit ?”  (will there be a free buffet ?)  “C’est peu probable”.

6. Keeping in touch following a French conversation

Are you on Facebook ?Vous êtes sur facebook ?A non invasive way of offering to stay in touch (less so than exchanging phone numbers)
Let me give you my WhatsappJe vous donne mon whatsappSharing your number is less invasive than asking for the French speaker’s.
Let’s keep in touch!On reste en contact!Only use this if you’ve really clicked it with the native French speaker, and you feel confident enough they want to pursue a relationship following your conversation.
Let’s have coffee soonOn prend un café un de ces joursEven more engaged than the previous phrase.  This means you’ve really established a relationship with the French speaker during the conversation.
It was nice chattingC’était sympa de discuterA standard way to part company after a French conversation.
I was glad to meet youRavi de vous avoir connuSlightly more formal than the above.  You typically say this if you’re unlikely to see the person again (“avoir connu” is past tense, like this is over)
See you soonA bientôtYou say “à bientôt” as a standard goobye phrase.  Doesn’t actually mean you’ll ever meet again – although you might.
Best of luck for your …Bon courage pour votre …A little added empathy, referring to some element of the conversation you had with the French speaker.  Example : “bon courage pour votre examen” (good luck for your exam)
Have a good stay !Bon séjour ! 

Wrapping up

As a beginner French speaker, learning the above phrases will go a long way in making your French conversation more flowy and in encouraging the native speaker to keep talking to you.  Make sure to learn them well and start experimenting, you’ll be surprised how well this works.

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