If you really want to become fluent in French, and be able to communicate easily with anyone, you need to learn slang. You don’t necessarily have to use it, but you must be able to understand it. Before I arrived in France, I had never studied French slang. I had only studied textbook French – formal, “grammatically correct” French. But I quickly discovered that is not how people speak. I had a hard time understanding anything at first, but gradually I learned the slang words for standard words that I already knew. Barely anyone said travailler – all I heard was bosser. My books taught that laid meant ugly, but everyone said moche instead. Even my bedroom wasn’t ma chambre; it was ma piaule.
I became overwhelmed with the sheer number of slang words for everyday, ordinary things. I constantly wondered why no one ever thought it would be helpful to teach these words along with the standard words. Sure, slang changes with each generation, but any slang is better than no slang at all. I bought a few French slang books, such as David Burke’s Street French series and Pierre-Maurice Richard’s Le Français Familier et Argotique: Spoken French Foreigners Should Understand, but to keep up with the current, most used slang, the internet became my best learning resource. And thanks to the internet, I can share some astuces with you for learning slang.
I’ve been updating my Informal French & Slang page with more vocabulary and interactive exercises. Currently, there are 21 exercises for common slang vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
Another great way to learn slang is by watching Friends in French, and then comparing the French & English transcripts to learn more vocabulary and how it’s used. (You can actually use any TV show or movie, but Friends transcripts are already available online in both languages at the Fan Club Français de Friends.)
Read blogs or forums in French as some people have a tendency to write very informally online. Blogging sites include: blogger.com, livejournal.com, fr.wordpress.com, over-blog.com, blog4ever.com, canalblog.com. And you can always search for blogs on blogsearch.google.fr or look in blog directories, such as blogues-quebec.com. Gossip magazines (Voici, Public, or Closer) also tend to use a lot of idiomatic language, if you like to keep up with les potins.
WordReference and The Free Dictionary seem to include a fair amount of slang words if you want to try to look up the meanings of words online. If you can’t find a word in a dictionary, try using google.fr to see how it’s used in context; or even images.google.fr if it’s a noun.
In addition to the exercises that I’ve made, here are a few others you can try to test your knowledge of slang:
French slang sites with English translations:
French Slang – Argot Français (5 chapters from Street French by David Burke)
BBC Cool French
The Alternative French Dictionary
Argot – French Slang from About.com
Language Realm: French Slang, French Idioms, & French Proverbs
French Slang @ Everything2.com
Katia & Kyliemac Learn French Podcast
French slang sites with standard French translations: