Useful Phrases for First-time Travelers to France

When starting out to learn a language the usual first step is to understand the grammar fundamentals; getting down the basics. But what if you decide to learn a language at the same time that you book your trip abroad? It’s a smart decision, as being immersed in the culture of the language you’re learning is beneficial in every way. However you might not have time to start off might land in Lyon and need to order a coffee, asap.


It might be simple to get your message across with nonverbal signals or something of the sort, but according to my experience it is still beyond easy to experience communication misunderstandings. If arriving in Paris, sure many people might know English more than you know French, but it’s best not to revert to that if at all possible. To help navigate this tricky situation in the first few days of your immersive experience, here are a few French phrases beyond “merci” to keep in your back pocket:

"Je voudrais…s’il vous plaît"

This means “I would like...please”. Perfect for any sort of ordering; a restaurant, bar, cafe, store, etc.


For example: Je voudrais un café (a coffee) s’il vous plaît.

Helpful Hint: Nowadays the more populated parts of Europe have their own coffee lingo. If you are looking for something like a latte, usually a Flat White or a Cappuccino is the way to go.

"Pardon, où est/sont…?"

“Excuse me, where is/are…”. Odds are that you will be lost at some point during your first week in a new place. Using the native language to verbalize the fact that you are lost is helpful.


For example:
Pardon, où est le métro (the subway)? Pardon, où sont les toilettes (the bathrooms)?

"Ça va?"

This short phrase has a variety of meanings, which is why it is so useful for beginners and ideal for meeting new friends. Literally, “How’s it going?”... but it can also act as a reply.

For example:
question:Ça va, Marc?
response:Ça va; Oui, ça va; Ça va bien (Fine/Okay/Good).

"J’habite à..." and "J’ai déjà voyagé en/à…"

“I live in…” and “I have already travelled in/to…”. These phrases are good for a conversation that introduces yourself as well as conversations about travel, which will most likely come up often.

passport Photo Credits: Un Bolshakov

For example: J’habite à Seattle, Washington. J’ai déjà voyagé en Italie (Italy), en Allemagne (Germany), et à Londres (London).

"Je parle seulement un peu français."

Meaning, “I only speak a little French”, this phrase is great for getting across why you don’t understand (while avoiding the tourist trap of pointing to yourself and saying “American” or "English").


Helpful Hint: Be patient with locals whom you are speaking with. It might be easy to give up if they start speaking English to you, but if you kindly say that you want to try in French, most of the time they will be flattered.

"Pouvez-vous prendre une photo s'il vous plaît?"

“Will you take a photo please?” Finally, desperate times call for desperate measures in this scenario. Resist the urge to buy a selfie stick. Plus you will end up with much better pictures to look back and reminisce on.

selfie stick Photo Credits: elPadawan

Practice these few short phrases several times before departing to your French destination, and you’ll be talking your way around the city in no time. Of course a dictionary or smaller language book is always nice to have on hand, but there will be moments when simply knowing what to say at the right time can pay off.