A guest post by Akita Rop 

OK, you finally booked that trip to Paris that you’ve been postponing and decided to learn a few words to get started to learn the basics. This post has everything you need to be well on your way.

French pronunciation has some unique sounds. I’ll explain them as best I can, give you links to listen to them and add the pronunciation in parenthesis next to each word.


One thing that’s specific to the French language is its contractions. A lot of “e” aren’t pronounced and you literally contract the words when you speak.  For instance, “my name is” is “je m’appelle” but this is said as “j’m’appelle”.

The single letter ‘é’ is similar to the sound produced by the English ‘e’ in “Elton John”. The letter ‘e’ will represent the French sound ‘euh’ similar to the English sound ‘a’ as in “a book”.

The French sound “un” is pronounced a bit like a short ah or uh but with a slightly nasal sound at the end. It’s tricky to describe so you can listen to it on Forvo: un pronunciation. I’ll write this an a in the pronunciations.

The two letters “a” and “n” together form the French sound “an”. This is pronounced more like the aw sound you get in caught. You can hear it here: an pronunciation

The French letter “u” produces a unique sound, it’s similar but slightly different from the English sound “oo”. You can hear it here: u pronunciation

Holiday French Essentials


The best way to make people answer to you in French is to start by greeting them in French:

Hello / Good morning – Bonjour ( bon-joor )

Note: the French “j” is smoother than the English “j”. It’s more like the English sound “si” as in “version”. Also, the “on” syllable is very French and has nothing to do with the English word “on”. Here’s a link to hear it: http://forvo.com/word/on/#fr

Good evening – Bonsoir ( bon-swar )

Goodnight – Bonne nuit ( bawn nwee )

Goodbye – Au revoir ( o rwar )

All of these are pretty formal but can be used in every situation. Now you can also use the following words in less formal situations (when meeting friends for example):

Hi / Goodbye – Salut ( sa-lu )

Goodbye – tchao ( chow )

The basics

Yes – Oui ( wee )

No – Non ( non )

Please – S’il vous plaît ( seel voo plé )

Thank you – Merci ( mér-see )

You’re welcome – De rien ( de rya )

Sorry – Désolé ( dé-zo-lé )

Excuse me – Excusez-moi ( éks-ku-zé mwa )

Do you speak English? – Parlez-vous anglais ? ( par-lé voo an-glé ? )

If you already know the person you’re talking to or if it’s a friend’s friend then you can use the less formal versions:

Please – S’il te plaît ( seel te plé )

Excuse me – Excuse-moi ( éks-kuz mwa )

Do you speak English? – Tu parles anglais ? ( tu parl an-glé ? )

Introducing Yourself

My name is … – Je m’appelle … ( jmapél )

How are you? – Ça va ? ( sa va ? )

I’m good, thanks. – Ça va, merci. ( sa va, mér-see )

Nice to meet you – Enchanté. ( an-shan-té )

Note: Everytime you come across a “ç” (un c cédille) pronounce it as if it was a “s” (like in “snake”).

Where are you from?

When people ask where you’re from you can reply with:

I’m from … – Je viens de … ( jvya de )

Contraction Spoiler:  “de” becomes “d’ ” when a vowel comes afterward. For example: “Je viens d’Australie”.

Australia – Australie ( o-stra-lee )

Canada – Canada ( ka-na-da )

England – Angleterre ( an-gle-tér )

Ireland – Irlande ( ir-land )

New Zealand – Nouvelle-Zélande ( noo-vél zé-land )

Scotland – Écosse ( é-kos )

I’m from the USA – Je viens des États-Unis ( jvya dé zé-ta-zu-nee )

Wales – Pays de Galles ( pé-ee dgal )

In a restaurant

In a restaurant you’ll often have a three-part meal:

Une entrée ( u nan-tré ): small first meal with vegetables,

Un plat principal ( a pla pra-see-pal ): the main component of your meal (meat, french fries, vegetables, pizza, …),

Un dessert ( a dé-sér ): something sweet like a yogurt, a piece of cake or fruit.


a salad – une salade ( un salad )

foie gras (duck’s liver) – du foie gras ( du fwa gra )

French fries – des frites ( dé freet )

a steak – un steak ( a sték )

bread – du pain ( du pa )

cheese – du fromage ( du fro-maj )

salt – sel ( sél )

pepper – poivre ( pwavr )

meat – viande ( vyand )

chicken – poulet ( poo-lé )

pork – porc ( por )

fish – poisson ( pwa-son )

To place your order, you can just say the name of your dish + s’il vous plaît.


a beer – une bière ( un byér )

a bottle of wine – une bouteille de vin ( un boo-tay de va )

a coffee – un café ( a café )

a glass of wine – un verre de vin ( a vér de va )

a still water – de l’eau plate ( de lo plat )

a sparkling water – de l’eau gazeuse ( de lo gazez )

a tea – un thé ( a )

You can say the name of your drink + s’il vous plaît to order.

Different types of wine

champagne – champagne ( shan-pagn )

Pronunciation Alert: the French sound made by “gn” is a tricky one. It’s pronounced like a short “nye”, without pronouncing the ‘e’.

crémant – crémant ( kré-man )

Note: “champagne” and “crémant” are sparkling wines. Usually “crémant” is cheaper and less tasty than “champagne”. But you can also find very good “crémant”.

red wine – du vin rouge ( du va rooj )

rosé – rosé ( ro-zé )

white wine – du vin blanc ( du va blan )

wine from Bordeaux – du Bordeaux ( du bor-do )

wine from Burgundy – du Bourgogne ( du boor-gogn )

wine from slopes (or hills) of the Rhône – des Côtes du Rhône ( kot du ron )

Different types of cheese

“Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays où il existe 246 variétés de fromage ?”

– général de De Gaulle,

it literally means “how one can rule a country where there are 246 different types of cheese?”

bleu ( ble )

Note: “bleu” means blue in English. This comes from the blue stains on the cheese due to the cultivated bacteria.

camembert ( ka-man-bér )

comté ( con-té )

emmental ( é-man-tal )

fromage de chèvre (goat cheese) ( fro-maj de shévr )

livarot ( lee-va-ro )

maroilles ( ma-rwal )

pont-l’évêque ( pon-lé-vék )

reblochon ( re-blo-shon ) or ( ro-blo-shon )

To order in a restaurant you can say: “je vais prendre du + the type of cheese” ( jvé prandr du … )


where is … – Où est … ( oo é )

the bathroom – les toilettes ( lé twa-lét )

Note: the bathroom can be “une salle de bain” where you take a shower or “les toilettes”: the restroom.

the bank – la banque ( la bank )

the train – le train ( le tra )

the bus – le bus ( le bus )

the taxi – le taxi ( le taksee )

the street – la rue ( la ru )

left – gauche ( gosh )

right – droite ( drwat )

straight ahead – tout droit ( too drwa )

on the corner – à l’angle ( a langl ) or au coin ( o kwa )


one – un ( a )

two – deux ( de )

three – trois ( trwa )

four – quatre ( katr )

five – cinq ( sank )

six – six ( sees )

seven – sept ( sét )

eight – huit ( weet )

nine – neuf ( nef )

ten – dix ( dees )

euro – euro ( ero )

That should be enough to help you during your holiday in France. Make sure to use the French cheeses’ names to impress your host!

If you feel ready to progress beyond holiday French or the basics that have been provided here, check out the French resources in the Language Learning Library.


Akita Rop loves sports and languages. He was born and raised in France where he has learned to speak English, Spanish, Italian and of course French. 

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