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How to talk French : 6 real-life situations to test yourself

How to talk French

So you've studied French, you have the basics down, you've studied grammar and know some vocabulary. You can read simple text in French, and you can even understand some when someone speaks to you slowly and clearly.

What you really want, though, is to move up to the next level and actually talk French in real life with real French speakers.  You know that's a whole different ball game.

Native French speakers talk fast, contract words, and use tons of colloquial expressions.  Before you can even start to talk in French, you need to train your ear to distinguish these contracted words and everyday phrases.

If you haven't already, read this article with audio for a hands-on tutorial on how to better understand spoken French.

Your next step is to actually start talking.  As you've probably realized by now, listening and speaking, although related, are separate skills. In this article, my focus is on the speaking part.

When it comes to talking in everyday real-world French, you need to start with a foundation of common real-life phrases French speakers actually say day in day out. These phrases and expressions go a very long way in making you sound more French, and come across as a serious French speaking person.

Make sure to read this article with audio on essential phrases you need for basic french conversation.

Once you have a little inventory of real-life French phrases for a number of common real-life situations, your next step to actually talk French is to know how to select the right phrase for the right situation from that inventory, and of course say it correctly.

This post is a little quiz you can use to test how much you've learned so far on this site through both the in-depth audio articles and the video lessons. Hopefully it will help you assess your spoken French level and determine the areas where you need to focus your efforts next.

The following are 6 real-life situation in which your French talk is put to a test.  Let's see how your fare !

 

Talk French : situation 1 - arriving at a dinner party

So you've been invited to a dinner party.  When you arrive at the place, the party boy welcomes you at the door.  Which of the following phrases would you choose to say to your host - assuming it's a relaxed, informal party among friends ?

  1. Salut ! Ça me fait vraiment plaisir de te voir !



  2. Cher ami ! Je suis enchanté d'être ici parmi vous ce soir.



  3. Wouah mec je te jure, je suis trop content de te voir !



Made your choice ?  Let's review the answers.

Here, Option1 would be the best answer in a friendly, informal context.  

Option2 might be appropriate in a very formal reception, say one that's invitation only and with a dress code. 

Option3 is slangy, closer to street talk, as reflected by the phrases "je te jure" and "je suis trop content".  It may be used by teens and hipsters in specific circles.

Talking French means knowing how to select the right phrase for the right situation.  It also means saying it in a French-sounding way.   Let's practice pronouncing the phrase correctly :

Here's the English version of the phrases :

  1. Hey ! I'm so happy to see you !

  2. My dear friend ! I'm delighted to be here with you tonight.

  3. Wow man I swear to god, I'm so psyched to see ya!

 

Talk French : situation 2 - being picked up in a bar

In this situation, you are a nice looking girl having a beer in a pub.  A man walks up to you and offers to buy you a drink.  He compliments you on your looks, and begins to get on your nerves.  The man says to you :

Bonsoir belle dame, vous venez souvent ici ? Je peux vous offrir un verre ?



(Hello pretty lady, do you come here often ? Can I buy you a drink ?)

As you talk back in French, which of the following would be your most appropriate response ?

  1. Foutez-moi la paix, vous me cassez les pieds ! Tirez vous !



  2. Je vous prierai de ne me pas m'adresser la parole ! On ne se connait pas !



  3. Merci mais j'ai déjà un verre, et je voudrais pouvoir le boire en paix.



Option3 would be the most appropriate way for the French speaking woman to respond to the annoying guy. 

Option1 is quite angry and aggressive and could potentially make the situation go bad.

Option2 sounds a bit uptight, and may result in the guy making fun of you and continuing to bother you just to see you get upset.

Here's how you would need to say the Option3 phrase :

Here's the English version of the phrases :

  1. Scram, get out of my sight, you're bugging me !

  2. I'd appreciate it if you would not speak to me, we haven't been introduced

  3. Thanks but I already have a drink, I'd just like to be able to enjoy it in peace.

 

Talk French : situation 3 - long wait at the restaurant

You're sitting at a table in a decent restaurant in Paris with someone.  It's been over 30 minutes since the garçon has come and taken your order.  You're starving and becoming restless.   If you were to talk French, what would be the best way to express your complain to one of the waiters walking by you ?

  1. Alors ce service, c'est pour aujourd'hui pour demain !



  2. S'il vous plait, ça fait une demi heure qu'on a commandé ...



  3. Veuillez nous servir rapidement s'il vous plait.



Option2 is the most common way to complain about slow service, if you spend time in Paris, you're likely to hear it a lot.   Option1 would be from a really irate customer, if you choose to use this phrase you should expect an equally unpleasant response on behalf of the staff.

Option3 is a bit formal, although some French people might talk this way, it's not as common.  Chances as the waiter will not be receptive to such a request.

Again, to really talk French, you have to say the phrase in the right way :

Here's the English version for the 3 options :

  1. What's up with the service ! will it happen today or tomorrow ?

  2. Excuse me, it's been over 30 minutes since we've ordered !

  3. Please serve us our food at the earliest.

 

Talk French : situation 4 - turning down a sollicitor in the street

You're walking down the street to go meet someone, and you're running late.  As you're waiting for the light to turn red so you can cross the street, a young woman starts talking to you in French and asks you to give something to the charity fund for child protection she represents.

Which of the following phrases should you use to let her know you're not interested and you have no time ?

  1. Désolé mais j'ai pas le temps là, je suis très en retard.



  2. Foutez-moi la paix, j'ai assez de problèmes comme ça.



  3. Ce serait avec plaisir mais je ne peux pas maintenant, plus tard peut-être.



In this kind of situation, a French speaker will most commonly use Option1, the phrase will typically just come out of his/her mouth without much thought.

Option3 is also a serious option if feel sympathetic towards either the charity fund or the person talking to you, you want to be nice and not just get rid of her - perhaps you really are interested in listening and helping at some other time.

Option2 is really obnoxious and agressive, you may actually hear it a few times from French speakers with bad temper or having a bad day.  Not a polite choice though, nor a wise one if, in addition to talking French, you want to blend in.

Let's practice the pronunciation for Option1, our first choice :

And for good measure, here's the English for all 3 :

  1. Sorry I don't have time, I'm really late.

  2. Leave me alone, I have enough with my own problems.

  3. It would be with great pleasure but I can't right now, maybe later.

 

Talk French : situation 5 - overcharged by a taxi

You take a cab from your home to the airport, something you do on different days of the week and at different times of day.  The driver takes the usual route which you know well.  However upon arrival, the amount to pay on the meter is more than double the maximum price you ever pay.

Talking in French, which of the following phrases would you choose to say to the driver ?

  1. Non mais ça va pas ! C'est carrément du vol !



  2. Je pense que quelque chose ne va pas, le prix de cette course est trop élevé.



  3. Ah non là c'est beaucoup trop cher, ce n'est pas normal !



Option3 is probably the most natural choice for a French speaker in this situation : "ce n'est pas normal" indicates there's a problem and you're raising a red flag.

Option1 is outright belligerent and a direct accusation.  Some French speakers will gladly go down that path right away, but doing so may quickly lead to a fight, especially with a taxi driver.  This may be counterproductive as you may end up at the police station, or worse at an emergency center.

Option2 is a respectable alternative as well, a polite and moderate one.  However, you may come across as weak or unsure, which may also turn out to be counterproductive as the ruthless taxi driver will likely deny anything is wrong and force you to pay.

Here's the correct way to pronounce and say Option3 :

Here's the English version for all 3 :

  1. What are you nuts ! This is plain stealing !

  2. I think there's something wrong, the price of this ride is too high.

  3. Oh no this is way too expensive now, that's not normal !

 

Talking French : situation 6 - being bumped off at a hotel

You arrive at a hotel where you've reserved a room.  But when you get to the check-in, the clerk at the counter tells you she can't find your reservation.  She adds the hotel is full, and suggests some other hotels for you to check in the area.  As you start talking to the clerk in French, what's the first thing that comes out of your mouth ?

  1. Ça ne va pas se passer comme ça ! Je veux parler au responsable.



  2. Je ne comprends pas, j'étais pourtant sûr d'avoir réservé !



  3. Vous ne pouvez pas me faire ça ! Comment je vais faire !



Most French speakers would probably answer with Option1.  The phrase "ça ne va pas se passer comme ça" indicates you're not going to let this go, you are get ready to fight for your right to that room.  "Je veux parler au responsable" shows you mean business, and you're going to go to the bottom of it.

Option2 denotes weakness and doubt, and gives the impression you may be for some reason at fault for the reservation not being there - e..g. you're realizing you actually forgot to book the room.

Option3 expresses despair and anxiety about the situation. In a way, it indicates acceptance of the fact that the reservation is not there, and makes you sound like you're begging.  This phrase may be the choice of a French speaker unable (or unwilling) to stand up for him/herself.

Let's hear how to pronounce Option1 :

English version :

  1. I won't stand for it ! I want to talk to the manager !

  2. I don't understand, I was sure I'd made that reservation !

  3. You can't do this to me ! What am I going to do !

 

Talk in French : wrapping up

How did you do on the quiz ?  Did you select the best answer for each situation ? If so, you're on the right track. 

And how did your pronunciation compare with the audio ? Keep improving constantly, e.g. by watching the free video lessons in this site.

If you haven't selected the best phrase for most of the above situations, you need more exposure to French talk in real-life context. 

Reading nore articles in this blog and hearing the countless audio recordings they contain is an effective way to familiarize yourself with real-world everyday French talk.

Also, make sure to check back here regularly for more French talk for daily life !

Leave us a comment below if you have any question or suggestion.

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