Learning French Slang & Culture through Hip-Hop and Rap

Even if you don’t like rap in English, it pays to listen to it in foreign languages because the songs are usually full of informal language and slang as well as cultural references. Here are some songs that also teach you verlan (a “backwards” form of slang), French geography, Francophone names, common acronyms and the reduction of the schwa vowel.

Sinik & Diam’s: Le Même Sang French rap from famous rappers who are not français de souche. Sinik is Franco-Algerian and Diam’s was born in Cyprus. Most French rappers have origins in Francophone Africa, such as MC Solaar who is Senegalese (though his parents were from Chad) or come from Marseille and have a distinct accent.

Read lyrics here.
Vocabulary: rentpa, daron, flic, gosse, niquer, braquer, foutre, SMIC, baraque

Grand Corps Malade: Les Voyages en Train Not exactly rap or hip-hop, but slam poetry, or le slam in French. It’s much easier to understand! This poem gives us lots of vocabulary for taking the train in France.

Read lyrics here.
Vocabulary: SNCF, Tipex, se planter, flipper, saouler, pote, trainer

Zaho: C’est Chelou More hip-hop than rap, but there’s verlan in the title. Chelou comes from louche, which means shady, dodgy, sketchy, etc. Also shows us what a typical French douchebag looks like so you know who to avoid.

Read the lyrics here.
Vocabulary: chelou, taspé, taffer

Koxie: Garçon If you take off the cedilla, you’re left with garcon, or gare aux cons. Gare here does not mean train station, but is the slang verb for watch out/beware and con is a really common insult, meaning jerk/idiot/asshole. Not all men are jerks of course, but the ones who harass you on the streets of Paris are.

Read lyrics here.
Vocabulary: gâterie, baiser, défoncer, quéquette, pote, bordel, galère, con, cochonne (careful! some of these words are considered vulgar!)

Fatal Bazooka: Fous ta cagoule ! Michaël Youn is more known as a comedian/actor but his parody band actually has become quite successful in France. This was their first single from 2006, which reached number 1 on French charts and satirizes typical French rap from Marseille in addition to slam, and which teaches us that it is cold in Savoie so you need to put on your ski mask.

Read the lyrics here.
Vocabulary: grelots, boules, Vesoul, Savoie, Picard, putain, espèce de fils de ****

Palmashow: Rap des Prénoms Another comedic group that teaches us French names and what it implies about the person. Eric, Bruno, and Teddy are firemen. Gérard is an alcoholic. Michael and Kévin are showoffs. Sylvie, Martine, and Annick work at supermarkets.

Read lyrics here.
Vocabulary: kéké, tuning, weeling, golri, meuf, Juste Prix, Mondial Moquette, pote, caisse, blase

Palmashow also does hilarious sketches about TV shows called Remakers that you should check out. Click on All Shows and Remakers in the bottom right corner.

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  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    I absolutely agree that using this sort of contemporary pop-culture media is superb for learning the spoken language of a country, though I tend to recommend movies because you can often find the script for them, sometimes in several different languages, so you've got a transcript to work with, plus you can turn on subtitles. The way that I like to do this is one of two things:

    1) Either have the script in English (for a Spanish movie, in my case) and then run the subtitles in Spanish (these will be there despite the fact that the spoken language is Spanish for the benefit of the deaf and hard of hearing), or…

    2) Have the script in the language spoken (Spanish, in my case) and then turn on English subtitles.

    Either way you do this you'll have the precise words they speak written down for you so you can go through the movie bit-by-bit and learn everything, plus you've got a translation which beats the hell out of looking up things in a dictionary because the translation takes context into account vs. the dictionary which only gives the literal meaning of a single word.

    Does this make sense? I realize that was a bit convoluted, but believe this works wonders. I'm going to do a post eventually that goes into a lot more detail on how to do this and where to get the scripts, etc…

    Oh, and I can't help but giggle a bit whenever I hear the phrase “French rap”, that just seems like two words that should NEVER go together, like “grandma” and “strip tease”, or “sardines” and “cake” or something…

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • http://www.milatova.com Milatova

    Actually, an excellent way of learning a foreign language, whether literary or street language, is by watching a movie with the required language level first with subtitles and immediately after without.
    then watching it again one or two days later without the subtitles.
    since you already know what teh actors are saying, having seen it with subtitles the fiorst time, you will be impressed by your ability to understand the dialogues with no subtitles upon seconf and third viewing. This will dramatically increase your passivie knowledge of teh language,, an essential tools in increasing your active vocabulary.

  • http://twitter.com/strangegator D. Gator

    It's quite a good idea from a linguistic point of view, but one needs to be quite masochistic to go through listening to French hip hop just to get better at French…

    Also, French hip hop slang is “ghetto slang” which is a very socially marked slang. If you don't belong, no need to use that slang: you'd be looked at with disdain by everybody: by people not from the ghetto because you'd sound ghetto, and by people from the ghetto because well… you do'nt belong and that's not “your” slang it's theirs.

  • ielanguages

    When I say learning slang, I simply mean understanding it. I never advocate foreigners actually using it, especially when it could be considered too ghetto or vulgar or just plain weird for non-natives to use it.

  • ielanguages

    I agree watching movies with subtitles is a good way to learn languages, but this post was specifically about using songs… I'll talk about movies later on.

  • ielanguages

    I recommend using movies too, but the problem with certain languages is that the scripts are not easy to find and a lot of DVDs don't have subtitles (even for the deaf population, which is a shame). I've come across that problem many times in France, though subtitles are becoming more and more common thankfully.

  • http://twitter.com/strangegator D. Gator

    OK… :-)
    Yeah, “plain weird” is what I feel when I hear foreigners (mis)using Verlan for example.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com Zhu

    Do you know the band Zebda? They also have great lyrics, and proper use of French language with a lot of slang. Early Renaud songs are fun too.

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    You're right about the scripts, but I've definitely found that most -major- movies have their scripts available online (I even found one for Maria Full of Grace, IN ENGLISH! haha…so that effectively functioned as a translation of the whole dialogue for me), but you should know that there's actually a whole community/scene devoted to making subtitles for movies that don't have them in every language known to man, 3 prime examples being:

    http://www.opensubtitles.org/en

    http://subscene.com/

    http://www.allsubs.org/

    Hope that helps!

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Thanks Andrew. I have actually been scouring those sites for months looking for subtitles for certain French TV shows but I still cannot find them. I guess French people prefer to watch American shows! (I don't blame them though, most French shows suck!)

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Ooh I know them now! Thanks!

  • http://www.bkpmusic.com/ Recording Studio

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  • Greenp81

    Thank you Jen I’ve just downloaded one of your materials…just what I was looking for! I’m really looking forward to my return visits to your site, thanks again!

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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