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A Beginners French Phrasebook

Aidez-moi, s’il vous plait (English: please help me)

This phrase could be useful in a number of situations from finding help with road directions to obtaining help with a genuine emergency of some sort. It uses the polite form of ‘vous’ rather than the familiar ‘tu’ version (which may increase your chances of actually receiving some help). For a real emergency it would also be useful to know some additional French phrases in case you need the key emergency services:

Appelez une ambulance / la police! : call an ambulance/the police!
j’ai besoin d’un médecin: I need a doctor
il y a eu un accident: there’s been an accident

Bonjour, comment ça va? (English: Hello, how are you?)

As Max Eastman (American writer and philosopher) once said: “A smile is the universal welcome” Throwing this phrase in with a winning smile is sure to break the ice and can be useful in situations as varied as buying the daily bread, meeting new business associates or before introducing yourself at a dinner party. “Bonjour” is only used in the mornings and afternoons and switches to “Bonsoir” in the evening. Also, “comment ca va?” is the polite way to say “how are you?”. If you are better acquainted with the person you are talking to, use the familiar term: “comment vas-tu?” or simply “ça va?” (How’s it going?).

Pardon, où est …? (English: Excuse me, where is…?)

This one could be indispensable when it comes to finding your way around a French town or city. It is only of use though if you are also armed with a few key destinations:

la garethe : train station
la gare routière : the bus station
la poste : the post office
la banque : the bank

Also, be prepared for an onslaught of directions:

Gauche : left
Droite : right
tout droit : straight ahead

Je voudrais… (English: I would like…)

Again, another phrase which could be useful in a multitude of situations, from booking a hotel room, getting the table you’d like in a restaurant or buying your favourite pastry from the local patisserie. Even if you are not sure of the French word for the thing you need, it will alert people to the fact that you are requesting something, which is likely to be half the battle. Try to avoid using its less polite cousin “donnez moi” (simply: give me), which may not go down quite as well.

Vous parlez anglais? (English: do you speak English?)

If your French isn’t particularly great, at some point it may come down to this. It may feel like throwing in the linguistic towel, but if you are struggling to get your point across, or if time is of the essence, you may be better off relying on the French knowledge of English. Surveys have revealed that around 34 percent of French people claim to speak no English at all, meaning that about 66 percent speak at least some English. Try “Vous parlez Anglais” even in the smallest French village and its likely someone will be able to help.

Article by Linguarama:
Take a language training with Linguarama to improve your language skills, such one of our French Language Courses.

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