Yay, you booked your trip to France! Before you stroll along the French Riviera or cruise down the Seine at sunset, you’ll want to make sure you know these 15 essential French phrases for teen travelers. While you don’t need to be fluent in French to visit France, learn these basic phrases so you’ll be prepared to ask for directions, say hello, and of course, order all the crepes. Confidence is the key to converse in another language. So even if you plan to attend a language immersion program, study these key phrases before you start and you’ll impress your new French peers with your knowledge of common French phrases.  

Teenage traveler on Seine river cruise with French flag and Eiffel Tower on summer travel photography program

1. Bonjour!

There are many ways to say “hello” in French but bonjour is universally polite and friendly, whether the situation is formal or informal. Bonjour is a combination of the words bon (“good”) and jour (“day”). In the evening, you could also say “bonsoir” (“good evening”). A more casual way to greet people is salut, which can mean either “Hi!” or “Bye!”

2.  Ça roule?

A: Ça roule?

B: comme d’hab

Ça roule is super casual for “everything’s great” or “life’s good” so as a question it means, “How’s life?” In English, you’d likely respond with something like “It’s all good” or “The usual” which in French is comme d’hab. This is a much more common, colloquial way of asking “How are you?” than the formal Comment allez-vous?

Teen Tour Paris France Versailles
High school travelers explore Versailles, France on their student tour to Paris

3. Je voudrais parler français 

The French are famously protective of their language. Sometimes they can be a bit impatient with us anglophones and reply in English to your imperfect French questions. It’s frustrating when this happens, but if you ever want to make progress in a foreign language, you need to stop speaking English! Be polite but firm when someone tries to speak English with you. Tell them Je voudrais parler français, “I’d like to speak French.”

4. C’est mimi!

You will probably hear this a lot, especially from French young people! It means “It’s cute!” and can be used for just about anything. You’ll recognize it because girls tend to say it with the same tone as “Aww, so cute!” in English.

View of Nice Côte d'Azur seen on summer teen travel program in France

5. Pardon

Once you’ve escaped that crowded train, be careful you don’t bump into anyone as you walk through the crowded metro station. But if a collision does occur, it’s fine. Just say pardon, “Sorry,” and all will be forgiven.

“Pardon?” is also how you’d ask someone to repeat themselves if you didn’t hear or understand what they said. In this case, you should say it with a rising tone to indicate that it’s a question.

7. Je ne comprends pas

Sometimes pardon doesn’t quite cut it. If you really can’t figure out what the other person is saying, try telling them Je ne comprends pas – “I don’t understand.”

There’s no shame in being a beginner! Just remember not to fall back to English when the going gets tough. If you don’t understand something, persevere in French anyway – you’ve got this!

8. Que veut dire ça?

Maybe the reason you didn’t understand is because there was a specific word you didn’t recognize. If that’s the case, say Que veut dire ‘x’? – “What does ‘x’ mean?”

You can also phrase this as Ca veut dire quoi? – “What does that mean?”

Teen travelers tour Louvre Museum on summer youth program in France

10. Plus lentement

Sometimes, vocabulary isn’t the problem. You’d know the words if you could make them out, but you can’t because the other person is talking too darn fast!

In this case, try saying plus lentement – “more slowly.” Better yet, try a full sentence: Pourriez-vous parler plus lentement, s’il vous plaît? – “Can you speak more slowly, please?”

11. Comment dit-on __ en français?

What if you need to say something in French, but the exact word escapes you? Just fill in the blank in the above sentence: “Comment dit-on X en français?” means “how do you say X in French”?

12. Où est…? 

Struggling to find your way around? Not to worry. Just get a stranger’s attention and ask, Où est ‘x’ – “Where is ‘x’?”

“X” could be many things: la Tour Eiffel, le Louvre, Notre Dame… or perhaps something less exotic like le metro or un restaurant.

View from Notre Dame in Paris seen on summer French language immersion program for teenagers

13. Je vais sortir avec mes potes

Once you’ve met French peers, you’ll have the chance to say Je vais sortir avec mes potes (“I’m going to go out with my friends.”) a lot! Pote is the slang term for ami (friend)—similar to “buddy” in English.

14. Quoi and T’sais?

Most French language learners know quoi as the stand alone way to express excitement or incredulity—”What?!” But it’s also used as the American equivalent for “Right?” So when you seek affirmation or agreement from a friend, you can tack quoi onto the end of a sentence like Ces crêpes sont tellement bonnes, quoi — “These crepes are so good, right?” Similarly, t’sais means “you know?” You’ll hear this at the end of almost every sentence in French conversations, just like you often do in English ones!

15. MDR

Mdr is not necessarily a French phrase , but it is used mainly among young people. It is the abbreviation for mort de rire or “dying of laughter.” It’s the rough equivalent of the English “LOL.”

Learn French language skills in France

At Travel For Teens, we’re proud to offer a wide variety of international travel experiences, including language immersion programs. These programs are designed to instill a love for travel, learning, and curiosity about different cultures around the world. Contact us today to learn more about our upcoming travel opportunities or find a program that’s right for you.