The beauty of language is that it isn’t static and rigid, it is flexible, keeps evolving, reinventing and redefining itself. As civilisation grows and expands, so do the words and expressions of a language. Neologisms, colloquialisms, slangs and jargons play a significant role in language evolution.
As in any language, French has different registers and has a large repertoire of rich colloquialisms that never stop evolving. Whether or not to use colloquial French is totally up to you. But you need to understand it because you’ll hear it spoken between family and friends, in movies, songs, magazines and in the streets.
Importance of Spoken French
Let’s take a FLE student attending classes every week. They will study the pronunciation, grammatical structures and tenses, when to use formalities Tu and Vous, how to introduce themselves, ask for information and they can create lovely grammatically correct sentences in French. Once the student goes beyond the textbook environment, they will notice that people no longer sound like the audio CDs heard in class and will encounter a world of language that breaks the grammar rules, where language is far less structured. They might get their first taste of spoken French filled with word contractions, reductions, idioms, argot (French slang) and verlan (reversed words).
Learning Formal French is of course the first and foremost step but understanding informal speech will help you understand language in a current way and save you a whole lot of confusion.
TOP 3 Contractions:
Tu + Verb beginning with a vowel:
Tu in Tu as and Tu es contracts to T’ in spoken French.
T’as reçu mon message?
Also for example: T’aimes le dessin?
Je + consonnant:
Je becomes J’
Je veux – J’veux
Je te dis – J’te dis
Je which phonetically is /ʒ/ sounds more like /ch/
Je sais pas* – Ch’ais pas
Je suis – Ch’uis
*Although the ne in negative should always be written, it is very rarely used in informal speech.
Top 15 Slang words every French learner must know.
Arnaque: It’s Saturday and you go out for shopping with your friends. You see an awesome looking pair of Jeans but you have a frown on your face when you see $1000 on the price tag. And what to do you say? Quelle arnaque!
Boîte (f): A word as simple as boîte, literally meaning “box” can mean “night club” “company” or “school” depending on the context in which it is spoken.
Bosser: “I work” in French is Je travaille, however you will also often hear Je bosse or Je bosse comme une taré (e) which literally means “I am working like a crazy person”.
Bouffer: The verb bouffer means to puff up or have volume. However it is more commonly used to replace the verb manger, “to eat” and can also mean “to gobble”. Here are some examples:
J’ai trop faim, on a rien à bouffer.
Il bouffe trop vite.
Bordel: Though literally meaning “brothel”, bordel is used very commonly to describe a big mess or chaos, Example: Sa chambre est en bordel.
Crever: Crever means “to burst”. Wouldn’t you feel like exploding after a week-long of strenuous work?
If you feel you are overusing the word fatigué (“tired”), why not use crevé instead.
J’ai bossé trop aujourd’hui. Je suis crevé.
Tu as l’air crevée toi.
Flemme: How many times have you thought Argh! I can’t be bothered to take out the trash today or do the laundry! J’ai la flemme means “I’m too lazy or can’t be bothered to do it”. An example:
Je dois nettoyer les fenêtres, mais bon, j’ai la flemme de le faire et ça peut attendre jusqu’à demain.
Chouette: The word chouette in French means “Owl”, however it is also an informal way of saying something is cute, nice or great.
Le film était trop chouette.
T’as vu sa nouvelle voiture. C’est super chouette!
Another word nickel also conveys the meaning of awesome, excellent.
Débile: If you want to say something or someone is not chouette, you can say débile.
Quel film débile!
T’es complètement débile quoi.
Flipper: You hear someone reaching out for your windows in the middle of the night. Flipper might not be THE word for the brave ones out there, but normal people will “freak out”. An Example:
Je flippe, ch’ais pas quoi faire dans la vie.
Mec: The word mec is a very well-known argot and means “dude”, also refers to “boyfriends” as well as “guys” in general..
Il est trop beau ce mec-là.
Elle est sortie avec son mec.
Ça va les mecs?
Meuf: Verlan is a type of slang in French where a word is spelled backwards and often incorrectly. Here Meuf is verlan for femme, and can be used to refer to a “female” or to “girlfriends”. Use with care as it can be offensive and have negative connation in different circles.
Tranquille: You might have come across the adjective tranquille in your high school text books. Apart from meaning quiet, calm, peaceful, did you know in everyday French it can be also be used to say “chilled out” or “sure no problem”.
X – T’as réussi ton exam?
Y – Tranquille !
Punaise: Sure no doubt there are many four-letter words out there in French to express disappointment and frustration, here we have picked one that tries to be less offensive. Punaise literally means a “bug” or a “drawing pin”. Colloquially it means “darn!” “shucks!”.
Régaler: Friday night, you are in a bar, over the moon celebrating your new job and you say “The drinks on me!” In French you say C’est moi qui régale !
Top 5 Must Know Expressions
1. Avoir la pêche – Literally translated as “To have the peach”, it is an informal expression which means “being in high spirits” “have a lot of energy” “feeling great mentally or physically” – in other words “peachy”, of course not to be taken sarcastically.
Et voilà, j’ai la pêche pour tout le week-end!
2. Tomber dans les pommes – Literally translated as “To fall in the apples”, this French expression is really a cute way of saying that someone “passed out”.
Je tombe dans les pommes seulement lorsque je fais une prise de sang.
3. La moutarde me/lui monte au nez – Literally translated as “The mustard goes up my/his nose”, it idiomatically means “to lose one’s temper”
4. Ca envoie du pâté is commonly used among teens and students and it means “it kick’s butt”, “it rocks”.
5. Et patati et patata –This adorable onomatopoeic expression means “blablabla” ! 😉
Hope you found this post on Colloquial French useful!