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Kick off Paris 2024 with our own Little Paris Olympics Opening Ceremony event at Coucou NYC on July 26!

Five Tips to Make you Sound More Casual in French

February 27, 2024   Learning French


You’ve been learning French for years now. You know your irregular verbs like the back of your hand, you’ve been practicing your pronouns everyday and you mastered le subjonctif… in short: you’re killing it! Yet, you find yourself stumped in conversation…“Kestufé”? Is that even a word? 

I’ve seen this scenario play out multiple times in conversation classes–very advanced students who mastered formal French in college, but feel completely lost when it’s time to just chat in a casual, everyday conversation with peers.

Learning informal vocabulary and syntax rules enriches your speaking and listening skills, deepens your cultural understanding and enables you to communicate more effectively in a wide range of situations. And you don’t even need to be an advanced student to get familiar with it: The sooner you start, the better you’ll get!  Here are our  five best tips and quick fixes to improve your conversational French. And if you’re in LA in March, don’t miss our slang workshop to take your skills to the next level!

By MELISSA MELENDEZ

 

1. DON’T PRONOUNCE EVERY SYLLABLE

In spoken French, we tend to omit syllables that aren’t crucial to understanding a word, as long as it doesn’t make it too hard to pronounce. A super common contraction involves dropping the ‘u’ in ‘tu’ when followed by another syllable, transforming ‘Tu as une voiture ?‘ into the colloquial ‘T’as une voiture?’. 

We also eliminate unaccented ‘e’s whenever possible. French people will say ‘j’suis’ (or even ‘chuis’ /shwee/) instead of ‘je suis’ or ‘J’sais pas’ (sometimes ‘chais pas’ /shaypa/) instead of the proper ‘je ne sais pas‘.

Here are a few other common contractions:

  • ‘Il y a’ (there is) is contracted as ‘Y’a’
  • ‘À tout à l’heure’ (see you later) transforms into ‘À taleur’
  • ‘Qu’est-ce que tu fais?’ (what are you doing?) becomes ‘Kestufé’
  • ‘De toute façon’ (anyway) becomes to ‘T’façon’
  • ‘S’il te plaît’ (please) is shortened to ‘Steuplé’
  • ‘Déjà’ (already) is contracted as ‘Dja’
  • ‘Celui-là’ (this one) becomes ‘Sui-la’
  • ‘Peut-être (maybe) transforms into ‘P’têtre’

 

2. BEND THE RULES

In casual settings, French people will sometimes bend the rules of the language–the horror! You spent all this time learning strict syntax and it was all for nothing? I’m happy to say, it’s not THAT drastic. Think of those syntax rules as a foundation that remains highly valuable; and what you’re about to learn, an alternative version that builds upon your existing knowledge. Depending on the context you’re in, you’ll be able to use whichever variation is most appropriate. Being able to adapt one’s language to different situations is a skill worth developing and we’re here to guide you through it!

You can start with a super easy fix: Cut the NE or N’  from your negations. Instead of “Je ne mange pas de viande”, say “Je mange pas de viande”; instead of “Ils n’habitent pas à Brooklyn”, say “Ils habitent pas à Brooklyn” (don’t forget the  liaison here: “ils za-bit pas”!). This can be jarring for any learner who was taught that the structure of negations is strictly NE + VERB + ADVERB, but it’s actually pretty rare to hear it from French people, especially in casual conversation!

 

Another easy fix involves simplifying the structure of your questions. While you may have learned the standard format as QUESTION WORD + inversion of SUBJECT/VERB (e.g., “Où habites-tu?”), or the slightly more casual OÙ + EST-CE QUE + SUBJECT + VERB (e.g., “Où est-ce que tu habites?”), there’s a third version commonly used in informal settings. In this approach, you simply place the question word at the end of the sentence. This results in questions like “T’habites où?” (“Where do you live?”), “Ils mangent quoi?” (“What are they eating?”), or “C’est quand?” (“When is it?”). These formulations are frequently used in casual conversations.

 

3. USE ABBREVIATIONS

If you’ve ever listened to French people chat, you’ve probably noticed that some words tend to get shortened or cut in half. This phenomenon is quite common in English as well: You’re more likely to hear “ad” than “advertisement” or “exam” instead of “examination”. Abbreviations are even more common in French! Embracing them can enhance your fluency and make you sound more natural.

Here’s a list of common French abbreviations:

  • l’actualité > l’actu (the news)
  • un·e adolescent·e > un·e ado (a teenager)
  • l’après-midi > l’aprèm (the afternoon)
  • À toute à l’heure ! > À toute ! (See you later!)
  • un appartement > un appart’ (an apartment)
  • une application > une appli (an app)
  • une réservation > une résa (a reservation, a booking)
  • un anniversaire > un anniv (a birthday)
  • le canapé > le canap’ (the couch)
  • le cinéma > le ciné (cinema or the movie theatre)
  • la climatisation > la clim (the AC)
  • Comme d’habitude > Comme d’hab (As usual)
  • d’accord > d’acc (Ok, got it)
  • disponible > dispo (available)
  • du matin > du mat’ (in the morning, this expression is only used to tell the time: 2h du mat’ = two in the morning)
  • une exposition > une expo (an art exhibition)
  • une manifestation > une manif (a protest)
  • un ordinateur > un ordi (a computer)
  • personnellement > perso (personally, in my opinion)
  • un professeur > un prof (a teacher)
  • une promotion > une promo (a deal, a sale) 
  • une publicité > une pub (an ad)
  • un restaurant > un resto (a restaurant)
  • la télévision > la télé (the TV)

 

4. FILLER WORDS ARE ESSENTIAL

Filler words can be annoying to hear, I know. How many times can a person say “like” or “well” in a sentence? Nonetheless, we all have to admit that they’re constantly used in conversation! French is no exception and peppering a few filler words into a sentence can drastically improve your conversation skills. I still remember the day one of my conversation students casually dropped a “genre” in the middle of her sentence…I was so impressed!

Here are a few filler words to get you started, with their English equivalents (some of them have lost their original meaning!):

  • genre (like)
  • euh (um)
  • ben (pronounced “buhn”) or bah (well)
  • enfin, or its contraction, fin (anyway, well)
  • quoi (you know – when used at the end of a sentence)
  • bon (ok then, alright)
  • en fait (actually)
  • du coup (so, thus)
  • oh la la (oh my god)
  • je veux dire (I mean) 
  • je dis ça, je dis rien (just saying)
  • j’avoue (I gotta say)
  • quand même (wow, still, it’s crazy)
  • dis donc (oh my, well well)

Someone could even say: “Bah là euh, j’avoue, c’est genre…quand même, quoi! Fin du coup, tu vois, je dis ça, je dis rien, mais enfin bon, voilà.” A French person will totally get the meaning–”it’s crazy!”

 

5. DON’T BE AFRAID OF SLANG

If you avoid using slang because you think it’s only bad words, you are missing out on a lot of great expressions! French slang vocabulary is very expansive and comes from various places: English, Arabic, Old French, specific professions and even verlan (where you switch the order of syllables of a word, here’s an in-depth article about it). French people, especially young people, might even use up to 60% slang in casual conversations! It’s super easy to get lost if you only learn the formal version of common words!

 

Here are a few easy swaps you can make in casual settings!

  • oui > ouais (yeah)
  • absolument > grave (totally)
  • non > nan (no)
  • aimer > kiffer (to like or love someone or something)
  • manger > bouffer (to eat)
  • travailler > bosser (to work)
  • faire attention > faire gaffe (to be careful or pay attention)
  • un·e ami·e > un·e pote (a friend)
  • une femme > une meuf (a woman or girlfriend)
  • un homme > Un mec (a man or boyfriend)
  • une cigarette > une clope (a cigarette)
  • bien > cool, stylé·e (nice, fun, cool)
  • ennuyeux > relou (annoying, boring)
  • fou > ouf (crazy)
  • très > trop, super (very)
  • vraiment > vachement (really)
  • rien > que dalle (nothing)

Category: Learning French
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