Learn To Speak Colloquial French

Learn to speak some simple colloquial French that they didn't teach you at school.

Did you learn French in school or at an evening class and think that you had a good grasp of the language? Did you then try to read a children's comic, watch a French film without reading the subtitles or make a visit to France? Did you scarcely understand a word?

Of course, your uninspired teachers never taught you "˜real' French. They may have been fastidious in teaching you French grammar but alarmed that teaching you some of the rich French slang or "˜argot' might reflect unfavourably on them. Did it concern them that you could have trouble understanding the conversations of ordinary French people, particularly children, without this basic vocabulary?

Let us define some simple colloquial terms:

hi salut

OK d'ac (short for d'accord)

damn zut

man un type, un mec

woman une bonne femme

bird, chick, broad une gonzesse

kid un/une gosse, un gamin,une gamine

friend, pal un copain, une copaine

parents les vieux (literally, the old)

son un fiston

brother un frangin

sister une frangine

book un bouquin

cigarette une sèche

water la flotte

bike un vélo

television la télé

phone call un coup de fil

thing un machin, un truc

The French have several words for children (les enfants), not all of them always complimentary. The most common "˜argot' word for kids is "˜les gosses'. However, the word "˜gosse' is often prefixed with the adjective "˜sale', meaning dirty. The phrase "˜un sale gosse' translates better as "˜a little brat' rather than the literal "˜a dirty kid'. Similarly, "˜un gosse de riches' means "˜a spoilt rich brat'. Other words for kids include "˜les gamins', "˜les lardons', "˜les marmots' and finally 'les morveux' which means snotty nosed.



When talking to young children, many French adults simply repeat one syllable from a word, twice. A number of words have developed by this mechanism, for example:

grandmother grand-mère becomes mémé

grandfather grand-père becomes pépé (which should not be confused with pipi meaning pee)

uncle oncle becomes tonton

aunt tante becomes tata

milk lait becomes lolo

teddy bear ours becomes nounours.

Many of these words can appear in adult jokes, so it is worth learning basic kids' vocabulary even if you don't expect to spend much time talking to children.

In current spoken French it is very common for words to be shortened, often to end with -o, for example:

dictionary dictionnaire becomes dico

slide, transparency diapositive becomes diapo

fridge réfrigerateur becomes frigo

weather forecast les previsions météorologiques

becomes la météo

ecologist écologiste becomes écolo

intellectual intellectuel becomes intello

megalomaniac mégalomane becomes mégalo

fascist fasciste becomes facho

director, boss directeur becomes dirlo

Other words are just truncated, for example:

baccalauréat (exam) baccalauréat becomes bac

faculty (university) faculté becomes fac

profit bénéfice becomes bénef

demonstration manifestation becomes manif

capable capable becomes cap

aluminium aluminium becomes alu

transvestite travelot becomes trav

"˜Argot' words for parts of the body are another rich area in colloquial French. Here is a selection:

body la carcasse

head le caillou, la citrouille, le ciboulot

face la tronche, la bouille

mouth le bec (beak), la gueule (animal's mouth)

eyes les mirettes

ears lse esgourdes

hair les tifs

lips les babines

moustache les bacchants

beard la barbouze (also can mean secret policeman)

hand la paluche

leg la patte, la guibole

thighs (particularly female) les jambons (hams), les gigots (legs of lamb)

foot le panard

heart le palpitant

belly le bidon

breasts les nichons, les tétons

backside les fesses

I hope that this brief introduction to colloquial "˜argot' has filled a few gaps in your understanding of "˜real' French.

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