French speaking lessons – How to Speak Like a French Person, Not Like a Foreigner?

Through our experience at Learn French at Home teaching French to adults most of whom have either moved to France or else wish to do so, we regularly hear a number of common and very typical mistakes or what you could also call an unusual turn of phrase that most often results from translating directly and literally from English to French.  These common errors are what differentiate a French native speaker from a foreign French speaker.

Velo France
Since Spring is just around the corner, we have decided to give you a bit of light French work with an easy list of “Say’s”
and “Don’t say’s”.  We have chosen the expressions or words which make a difference to a native French person’s ear!

1) Greetings

Comment vas-tu ? or Comment allez-vous ?…  It’s probably the first question we ask our students before starting a lesson. In English, the reply is “I’m well, I’m fine”, so it is natural for an English speaker to wish to translate the reply as such into French.  It doesn’t work if you translate directly and use the verb “to be”!  The French use aller to indicate how they are, they feel…

Don’t say: Je suis bien when replying to Comment allez-vous ?
SAY:  Je vais bien = I am fine.

2) When speaking about an obligation, or something that must be done

In English, “it’s necessary to…” is a common way to express obligation and the word “necessary” in English is directly translated as nécessaire de, BUT we do not use it as such in French!  Every time a French person hears c’est nécessaire de…, they immediately know the person is not a French native.

How do the French express “it’s necessary to…”, “we must…”?  Well, use and abuse the verb falloir.  It communicates the fact that something needs to be done and this is why it can only be conjugated with the subject pronoun il.

Don’t say: C’est nécessaire de
SAY: Il faut…= It is necessary to…

For things that need to be done:
Il faut appeler le plombier = We must call the plumber, it is necessary to call the plumber.
Il faut apprendre le français = We must learn French, it is necessary/needed to learn French.

For directions:
Pour venir chez moi, il faut aller au centre ville et il faut tourner à droite au grand rond-point, etc… = To get to my place, you must go to the city center, then you have to turn right at the round about, etc.

If you start to listen carefully to a French person speaking, you will be surprised to find out how often they use il faut!  Go ahead and use it!

Important note:  the negative form of il faut : if you hear il ne faut pas…, then it becomes a prohibition!

Il ne faut pas être en retard au travail = One must not be late for work (it’s a prohibition).
map Paris

3) Timetables, making appointments

Again, because of direct translations, the wrong prepositions are used when referring to days of the week:

Don’t say: sur lundi, dans le matin…
SAY: le lundi, le matin = on Mondays, in the morning…

Example: Je suis libre le lundi = I’m free on Mondays.

Note that putting the definite article in front of a day of the week usually expresses something that happens in general every Monday or Saturday.

Je travaille lundi = I work this coming Monday.
Je travaille le lundi = I work on Mondays (every Monday).

Don’t say: Je vous parle à vendredi
SAY: A vendredi ! = I’ll speak to you/see you on Friday!

Note: In French, we don’t say that “I’ll speak, write, see you on …”, we just add the preposition à in front of the day of the week and this automatically indicates that you will either see, write or speak with that person on that day – it’s already planned!

In the following case, the choice of verb and word is not appropriate:

Don’t say: Je voudrais faire un appointement.
SAY: Je voudrais prendre (un) rendez-vous = I would like to make an appointment.

Note that “rendez-vous” in French is not a romantic appointment; it is an appointment for business or at a service place such as a hairdresser, doctor’s office, lawyer’s office, etc…

4) Ordering, drinking, eating

When ordering in a restaurant or telling someone what you’ve had for lunch, in French we use the verb prendre and not “have” like in English:

Don’t say: J’ai un café
SAY: Je prends un café = I’m having coffee (I’ll have a coffee).


5) Shopping for food

This is a tricky one because it doesn’t at all translate directly from English:

Don’t say: J’achète la nourriture.
SAY: Je fais les courses = I buy food (I am shopping for food).

6) To cook

There is an actual verb cuisiner and you should use it. La cuisine also means “cooking” and “kitchen”.  We rarely ever use la nourriture in this context which means food; we use it mainly to talk about food in general to say how expensive it is or to ask if there are any food stores… but otherwise, you should be using the word la cuisine or the verb cuisiner.

Don’t say: Je fais la nourriture
SAY: Je cuisine/Je fais la cuisine  = I’m cooking.

Don’t say: La nourriture dans le restaurant est bonne.
SAY: La cuisine du restaurant est bonne = The food in the restaurant is good.

7) The weather

The favourite subject when making small talk and for an ice breaker: talking about the weather!  For typical phrases such as “it’s a nice day”, “it’s hot today”, “it’s cold today”, “it’s a bad day”, we don’t use the verb “to be” like in English but the verb faire – a very popular verb indeed…

Don’t Say: Il est beau aujourd’hui.
Say:  Il  fait beau aujourd’hui = It’s nice today.

8) Watching a programme on TV, listening to the radio

Again, because of direct translation of prepositions from English to French, it is easy to add the wrong ones.

Don’t Say: J’ai regardé sur la télé or J’ai écouté sur la radio.
SAY: J’ai regardé cela à la télé ; J’ai écouté une belle chanson à la radio = I watched that on TV; I heard a beautiful song on the radio.

9)  Bank accounts and money

A similar situation exists in choosing the correct preposition for talking about bank accounts.  In English, one says that he/she has a certain amount of money “in” an account.  In French, the preposition to use is sur.

Don’t Say:  J’ai dix mille euros dans mon compte en banque.
SAY: J’ai dix mille euros sur mon compte en banque = I have ten thousand euros in my bank account.

And it should also be noted that “money” cannot be translated as monnaie as we frequently hear. In French, “money” is argent, while monnaie means “small change”.  And change means “currency exchange”; faire du change  = to do currency exchange.

Don’t say: C’est beaucoup de monnaie. Je n’ai plus de monnaie !
SAY: C’est beaucoup d’argent. Je n’ai plus d’argent ! = It’s a lot of money.  I don’t have any more money!

10) Visiting a friend

In French, the verb visiter is used mostly for tourism or discovering a new city and not for visiting a person. When we want to say that we’ve visited someone, a friend, a family member, we need to add another verb in front of visite: rendre =  rendre visite à …

Don’t say: Je visite ma mère.
SAY: Je rends visite à ma mère = I’m visiting my mother.

If you’re visiting a professional service like a doctor or a lawyer, then it would be more appropriate to use aller voir = to go see or aller chez = to go to…

Don’t Say: Je vais visiter le docteur.
SAY: Je vais voir/ je vais chez le docteur = I’m going to see the doctor.

11) Flying

When speaking about flying , we rarely ever use the verb voler which litteraly means “to fly” (and also “to steal”). In French we use voler mostly when speaking about birds or when someone stole something.  As for flying in an airplane, we add prendre in front of the noun vol = prendre un vol.

Don’t say: je vole à New York.
SAY: Je prends un vol pour New York = I’m flying to New York.


12) It’s OK/It’s alright…!

D’accord is used when you agree or accept an invitation/a suggestion/a task which needs to be done.

Example:  Tu veux sortir avec moi ? = Do you want to go out with me ?
Oui d’accord ! Je veux bien! = Yes OK ! I would like that!

But to say that it’s alright, that it’s OK/permitted to do something, we use the verb aller:

Don’t say: C’est d’accord de m’appeler.
SAY: Ça va de m’appeler = It’s alright to call me.

13) Having a good time/bad time

Again, another situation where the verb “to have” is not the appropriate verb in French to ask someone if they had a good time… We would need to use the verb passer or the verb s’amuser.

Don’t Say: As-tu du bon temps ?
SAY: Passes-tu du bon temps ? Est-ce que tu t’amuses bien ? = Are you having a good time? Are you having fun?

14) Excited about doing something or seeing someone

The word excité in French is a bit risky as it can be interpreted as sexually excited, so to avoid any potential misunderstanding, it is best to use the verb se réjouir !

Don’t say: Je suis excitée de te voir !
 SAY: Je me réjouis de te voir ! = I look forward to seeing you!

We hope that these explanations and examples will be useful for you!
Much more are coming up… Register if you want to receive our next articles full of tips about the French language!

Merci et à bientôt!

How to Learn the French language? Put Your Fears Aside!

Are you fearful about learning French? Put your fears aside!

Some of our new students at Learn French at Home tell us that they are quite intimidated in learning the language of Molière, Voltaire and Rousseau, that they consider to be a very classy and academic language. Find below some explanations on how to learn the French language by putting your fears aside…

Do you know that French is a rather new language?

In reality, French is a rather new language ! It is mainly the result of the chaos that preceded and followed the famous French Revolution, which, beginning in 1789, brought to Paris freedom fighters from all the regions of the country— each of them having its own dialect, called patois.
That severely complicated communication between them. Before the Revolution, 75% of French citizens did not speak French!

“In a free country, the language must be the same for all”

Prise de la Bastille - Painting by Jean-Pierre HouëlIt was the period of the Revolution that really marked the transition from a patchwork of dispersed dialects to a more unified and national language. While they were fighting the monarchy, the révolutionnaires even led, as an integral part of the revolutionary effort, a parallel war against dialects. This effort was spearheaded by Bertrand Barère (1755–1841), a member of the Comité de Salut public (Committee of Public Safety), who was assigned to lead the fight for a national language.
In a report on regional dialects that he presented in 1794, he declared:”The monarchy had reasons for clinging to the Tower of Babel. In a democracy, keeping citizens ignorant of the national language, unable to control power, is a betrayal of the mother land. In a free country, the language must be the same for one and all… Barbaric dialects and coarse idiom serve only fanatics and counter-revolutionaries!”

The French language has not stopped evolving

Since then, the French language has not stopped evolving, continuing to be influenced by the various dialects spoken by its very multicultural population, and more and more by many foreign languages. According to the French expert Laurent Chambon, a specialist in minorities, France, compared to other European countries, is by far the most multicultural of all.

French is not a daunting mountain to climb!

Mont-BlancLearning French is definitely not like climbing as daunting and impressive mountain such as Le Mont Blanc, but more like strolling through in series of small, charming, green and lovely hills of the French countryside such as in the Beaujolais region, that are constantly evolving over the years and the seasons.
And you will find it fascinating, sometimes very funny, to discover how your own language has inspired the French language! Ask your French teacher to go through the many similar words and expressions with you, and you’ll see that he/she will often be surprised and will learn a lot, too, from such an interesting comparison!

Welcome to Learn French at Home New Blog!

Left to right: Roger Stevenson, Vincent Anthonioz, Annick Stevenson and Céline Anthonioz.


The main objective of this new interactive blog is multiple:

-to motivate those of you who want to learn French;

-to encourage you to set goals and to strive to meet them;

-to convince you that you have no reason to be afraid, and to give you complete confidence;

-to give you a multitude of tips and tricks to make your efforts much more easy;

-to demonstrate to you that learning French can be really fun!

-and to help you overcome any obstacle you might encounter along the way…

Everything you will read in this blog is the direct result of our experiences as language teachers. We are a team of French teachers who give individual, face to face — or, rather, screen to screen — lessons through Skype to students of various ages, origins, backgrounds, living all over the world and who all share the same endeavor: to learn French, and the same wish: to be able to feel comfortable, someday, communicating in this language that they have chosen for whatever personal or professional reason!

Welcome to our blog, and don’t forget to register to make sure not to miss a post!

And we wish you a wonderful year in 2018, full of satisfaction, success and good surprises!

The whole team of Learn French at Home