Learning French Slang

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.

Matching Exercises: Adjectives / Nouns 1 / Nouns 2 / Nouns 3 / Verbs 1 / Verbs 2 / Verbs 3 / School / Body Parts / Dating / Entertainment

Multiple Choice Exercises: Eating & Drinking / Work & Money / People / Emotions & Personality / Random Vocabulary

Gap-fill Exercises: Animal Idioms / Body Part Idioms / Colors & Numbers Idioms / Food Idioms / Other Idioms

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:

Test your French slang (Harrap’s)
French Slang Wish 101

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:

ArgotPod – Le Français non censuré !
L’argot dans le film, Les Ripoux
Dictionnaire d’argot en ligne
Dictionnaire Français-Argot et Argot-Français
Liste de termes argotiques en français

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  • kathy

    What a wealth of information! I stumbled upon this blog and WHOA…wanted to just stop and thank you publicly for compiling all this in a post.
    kathy/ http://www.vintageweave.blogspot.com

  • kathy

    What a wealth of information! I stumbled upon this blog and WHOA…wanted to just stop and thank you publicly for compiling all this in a post.
    kathy/ http://www.vintageweave.blogspot.com

  • http://ausoleillevant.blogspot.com/ au soleil levant

    Thanks as always for the French help! Slang is like a whole new language you have to learn after moving to France….

  • http://ausoleillevant.blogspot.com/ au soleil levant

    Thanks as always for the French help! Slang is like a whole new language you have to learn after moving to France….

  • http://www.lavieenfoussias.com/ Richard

    Hi Jennie,
    What a great post! With 3 kids all at school, they come home with all sorts of new words that don;t appear in my French dictionary! This will be invaluable for me to try to keep up with them (and, even better, one step ahead of them!)
    Well done!
    Richard

  • http://www.lavieenfoussias.com Richard

    Hi Jennie,
    What a great post! With 3 kids all at school, they come home with all sorts of new words that don;t appear in my French dictionary! This will be invaluable for me to try to keep up with them (and, even better, one step ahead of them!)
    Well done!
    Richard

  • Pingback: Keeping one step ahead of the kids « La Vie en Foussais

  • http://therealclothesminded.blogspot.com/ Sarah

    Thanks so much for your insight. As a recent transplant to France, the information on your blog(s) is truly invaluable. I’m starting French classes next week and will be using your tutorials as supplementary material.

  • http://therealclothesminded.blogspot.com/ Sarah

    Thanks so much for your insight. As a recent transplant to France, the information on your blog(s) is truly invaluable. I’m starting French classes next week and will be using your tutorials as supplementary material.

  • Pingback: Learning French in 20 Minutes or Less a Day |

  • http://www.thelanguagetravelcompany.com/french.php Jessica

    Hello!

    Yes, I thought the same thing when I arrived in Spain: “What are these people saying?”! Because there was a lot of slang, and different accents, depending on which part of Spain I was in. I enjoyed learning the local terms for things, and the way in which people spoke depending on which area they were from. My Spanish teachers even gave us lessons on “Spanish slang”! It was really fun, and definitely a huge help to get to understand the language better! You have such a helpful site!

  • http://www.thelanguagetravelcompany.com/french.php Jessica

    Hello!

    Yes, I thought the same thing when I arrived in Spain: “What are these people saying?”! Because there was a lot of slang, and different accents, depending on which part of Spain I was in. I enjoyed learning the local terms for things, and the way in which people spoke depending on which area they were from. My Spanish teachers even gave us lessons on “Spanish slang”! It was really fun, and definitely a huge help to get to understand the language better! You have such a helpful site!

  • http://happylearninguk.blogspot.com/ Happy Learning

    Jennie,
    Very interesting post and nice compilation of resources. I agree with you, it is important to learn a bit of French slang (the most common words or expressions at least). Plus it can be fun. It is a pity very few language teachers consider it.
    Surprised not to see my favorite French-learning slang book in your list: it is a cartoon / dictionary based on “Agrippine”, the famous character by Claire Bretecher : Oxford French Cartoon-Strip Vocabulary Builder by Oxford University Press ( http://astore.amazon.fr/jerecommande-21/detail/… )
    If you want to get an idea of the content, you can use the “look inside” function of amazon for the Spanish version, The Oxford Spanish Cartoon-strip Vocabulary Builder from Oxford University Press ( http://astore.amazon.co.uk/irecommend-21/detail… )
    Please have a look and let me know what you think about it (I am pretty sure you will like it).
    A+

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

    Merci Roland, I’ll check it out.

  • http://www.study-expert.com/content/study-french-language Study Expert

    Hi Jennie,

    Such a great post! This will be invaluable for all who are trying to get better job.
    Well done! keep it up

    Tahnks

    Study Expert

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 January 2010, I started focusing more on teaching and learning languages in general. 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 the university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling (though now my trips are usually in Australia) and being an American abroad.

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