Speaking French

Speaking French on holiday can be a bit of a daunting proposition. As an English speaker planning a trip to France one of the obvious questions you will have is – how much French will I need to speak and understand? This varies depending on where you go and how you wish to interact with the locals.

Blackboard showing Parlez-vous Francais? France

Do you need to speak French?

Travelling in a country which speaks a different language will at times have you out of your comfort zone. Whilst you don’t need to be fluent in French in order to enjoy a French cycling holiday, it is certainly helpful to speak and understand some basic phrases. 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.

How widely is English understood?

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.

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. This can be as small as just saying ‘bonjour’ (hello). Another must is to always remember your manners. French people always say please (s’il vous plait) and thank you (merci!) and if nothing else these two phrases are a must for you to learn and incorporate into your interactions with the French.

Learning 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 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 tools which you may find helpful in your quest to learn 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 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.


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.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.


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.

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