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  • Writer's pictureElsa M.

Native French 101

One of the big challenges of learning French is practicing IN France - most students will notice that the French they learn (or learned) at school sounds very different from the one they hear over there. That is because French people use many expressions, sounds and contractions when speaking, which can sometimes make the understanding part difficult. Let’s take a moment to look at different expressions you will only hear in France! 

1. In France, we do not say nous, we say on. 

When learning English, most students will get into the habit of using nous as a direct translation for we; however, most French natives rarely use this pronoun when speaking. You will most likely hear on being used most often during conversations with friends, coworkers or family. The particularity of on and the reason why so many French people use it is because it’s actually a simpler construction! On is conjugated in the singular form, the same one than il ou elle, which makes phrases less long and complex. Example: Nous allons au restaurant VS. On va au restaurant. 

2. In France, we no longer say mademoiselle ! 

Did you know that? France legally banned the word Mademoiselle from legal documents back in 2013…! But it did take quite a while for people to get used to not using the word. This term was banned after being considered discriminatory on the basis of marital status. It is now madame for every woman in France, married or not. 

3. In France, we do not say voici when handing something to someone, we say tenez (ou tiens) 

Voici, which would translate to here you go, is not used as often when referring to handing things to a person. If a cashier is handing you cash in a French bakery, you will most likely here “Tenez, votre monnaie”. Tenez, or tiens if used in a non-formal way, comes from the verb tenir which means to hold. When someone tells you tenez, it literally means hold this. Interesting, right ? 

4. In France, we do not say la salle de bain when asking for the bathroom, we say les toilettes 

In France, most bathrooms do not have any toilet inside. Actually, toilets are their own room in a traditional French home. That means that it would be wrong to ask someone where is the bathroom when looking to relieve yourself - you will need to be frank, à la française, and ask for les toilettes. Do not be embarrassed, it is completely normal in France ! Remember ! Les toilettes is a plural term, so your question will need to use the plural conjugation: où sont les toilettes ? 

5. In France, we contract a lot of our expressions. 

This is probably the main reason why French seems so hard to understand when in France. Actually, a lot of people tend to contract their words when speaking, which can make a simple sentence sound very different from how we know it. Would you recognize “je ne sais pas” if you heard the French native way, which sounds more like “ch’ai pas” ? Probably not. Another example, “parce que”, will sound most likely closer to “passke”. French is so confusing ! 

A lot of pronunciation and everyday expressions can be learned through listening. When learning a language, it it essential to spend time through immersion - whether going to

France for a little while, or surrounding yourself with the language. Immersion will allow you to not only understand and learn more, but also to give yourself the best chances to a correct accent/pronunciation. We strongly recommend watching French movies, TV shows, or listening to podcasts as a way to immerse yourself without traveling.


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