Do you need to speak French when you holiday in France?

Let’s face it, travelling to a country where you don’t speak the language definitely means you are out of your comfort zone. A lot of people wonder whether you need to speak French when you go on a holiday in France. The short answer is no. But whilst you don't need to be fluent in French in order to enjoy a French holiday, it is certainly helpful to speak and understand some basic phrases.


Blackboard showing Parlez-vous Francais? France

How widely is English understood in France?

The answer to this question varies depending on where you go and how you wish to interact with the locals.

In our experience you will find that English will be understood in most of the bigger French cities such as Paris, Lyon, Nice, Bordeaux and Toulouse. The smaller the city and the more remote the villages become, you can't take it for granted that people will be able to understand and speak back to you in English.

This will especially be the case once you are out of the main tourist areas. Given some of the best cycling terrain in France will be found in the smaller villages we recommend you try and learn a few phrases so you can interact a bit better.


Learn these two French customs in relation to good manners


The French have I think unjustifiably been given a poor reputation for being arrogant to English speakers. In our personal experience this has never been the case – especially if you make an effort to speak a little French with them in the first instance. It also helps to understand a few basic French customs in relation to this. Below are just a couple which will help you greatly on your holiday.


1.   It is customary to always greet a French person with a ‘Bonjour’ (hello) when you first meet them. This is done to acknowledge that you are ‘entering their space’. Forgetting to greet the shop attendant, bus driver, hotel concierge, supermarket cashier etc. with this simple greeting will automatically make you come across as rude.


2.   Remember your please and thank yous! French people always say s'il vous plait (please)and merci (thank you) and if nothing else these two phrases are a must for you to learn and incorporate into your interactions with the French.


French people understand that French is a hard language to learn


One of the main reasons English speakers struggle with French is because it can be a really difficult language to grasp. The French people also understand this – and are even a little proud of this fact too! This also means they are understanding when it comes to struggling with pronunciations and using the right masculine or feminin terms for words etc. But if you make an effort to speak in French you will find that in general, French people will be more helpful towards you. Our personal experience has shown this to certainly be the case. In addition to this, French people will also often point out when you mispronounced or used the wrong word. This isn't to highlight your mistakes. Rather, they want to help you learn the language so don't take offence if this happens to you.


Why do French People answer back in English when I speak French?

Some people get disheartened when they make the effort to converse in French only to be answered back in English. You may think this is an indication that your grasp of the French language isn't great so why bother. This actually is not true at all. As mentioned above, French people understand that it can be really hard to speak French. So why do they answer in English? Generally there are two reasons why they do this.

  • Just as we can automatically tell if a French person is speaking English, the same is true when English people speak French. Often in an effort to make things easier, French people will respond to you in English when they can. This is especially so if you are asking for directions or help.

  • French people want to practice their English! Yes that is right, they want to show they understand the language and also want the opportunity to practice their skills.


So if this happens to you, don't be disheartened. If you want to keep speaking in French simply do so.


Translation apps exist – use them!


The advancement of technology and smartphone apps means most of us will be travelling with our own personal translators already. Translation applications have really advanced in recent years. With the right application you can now, speak or type directly into your smartphone in one language and have your device translate it back into another language. Some translation apps such as google lens means you can even point your phone camera at signs written in another language, and it will automatically translate them back into English. This can be extremely handy to translate signs and menus. We definitely recommend learning how to use these applications before you travel so you can draw on them when on your holiday.


What are the best ways to Learn French?

There are a multitude of resources available which will assist you in learning the French language. From the more traditional Alliance Française formal classes, to handy apps such as DuoLingo for your smart phone or tablet to YouTube French language Vloggers. Ultimately choosing which resources and methods work best for you will depend on your learning style,how much time you have to learn, where you are located and how much of the language you wish to learn. Listed below are some of the language learning tools which you may find helpful in your quest to understand and speak French.

Alliance Française

Globally Alliance Française has a great reputation as being a leading institution for French language learning and culture. Depending on where you are located you may be fortunate enough to be able to find a local chapter which offers formal French language courses. Courses offered such as Bon Voyage, are specifically designed to assist you with speaking French on your holiday. The Alliance Française also has a fantastic cultural network which will connect you with other French language learners, native speakers as well as showcase cultural events such as film festivals.

Duolingo

Duolingo is a language learning platform available online or via an app for your smartphone or tablet. It uses gamification adapted to your individual learning style and pace to assist you with learning the language. It is free to download for both apple and android.

Podcasts

There are various French learning podcasts available which have great content and provide you with the ability to listen and learn the language while on the go. Coffee Break French is a fantastic free podcast which covers off on various French language topics and progressively helps to build up your knowledge and vocabulary. There are four seasons available, each with 40 episodes. Each podcast is short in length and covers off on topics for beginners in season one all the way to advanced learners by season 4. Whilst the podcasts are free to listen to, you can also choose to purchase the premium versions which also give you access to extra content and learning aides.

iTalki

iTalki.com is an online learning platform which connects language learners and teachers using video chat. Finding a teacher is as simple as setting yourself up with a learning profile and putting in your search criteria. You will be able to select from native speakers, professional teachers or community tutors. Each teacher charges a different rate dependent on their experience level and the type of course you wish to undertake. They also have a star rating and reviews which allow you to filter through results easier.

iTalki is a great way to practice your pronunciation and also learn cultural insights which you wouldn't necessarily gain from a textbook. Teaching is done at your own individual pace and tailored to your learning needs at a time and place which is convenient for you. We are both using iTalki to help us improve our French language skills and really recommend it.

YouTube

There are some fantastic YouTube vloggers who have established channels with free content which can be really helpful when you are learning French. We have used these both as learning aids as well as a way to get some better cultural understanding when it comes to the language. Some useful YouTube channels we have found are listed below. Click on the links to discover more:

Not Even French

French Truly TV

Comme une Française

Easy French


Forvo – Pronunciation

Forvo is a fantastic tool which can assist with your pronunciation. It is available either online at www.forvo.com or as a downloadable app for both apple and android phones and tablets. The concept is simple, type in a word to see how it is pronounced. There are often options to hear it spoken back to you by different people which can also be quite handy. Whilst we will all speak a second language with an accent of our own, it can be really helpful to hear the word spoken by native speakers when learning it yourself.


Our knowledge and use of the French language has improved with each visit. A lot of this is down to the fact with each visit we have both wanted to be able to interact with the locals more and truly experience French life. Whilst a lack of being able to speak the language shouldn't stop you from booking your trip, we recommend you learn some basic phrases before you depart.