Episode 30 Survival French with Todd Newman

Todd Newman

Survival French Challenge

Being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language well can be a challenge for anyone, but in France it doesn’t have to be. Yes, you heard me! There is no good reason to have a hard time in France just because you don’t speak French.

What’s the secret? There’s only one thing you need to know: You must learn a few words of French and you must use them! It’s not very difficult, there are really only 4 that are mandatory, and our list only contains around 20 total. You can probably master those by the time you’re done listening to the podcast. We discuss those magic words and more on today’s show with Todd Newman, author of the wonderful blog Newmans of Leguevin. You will find the list of “magic words” and link to Todd’s blog after the fold 🙂
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Hibiscus flower in France


  • bonjour
  • s’il vous plaît

Remember the word CAREFUL:  C, R, F, L are the only letters at the end of French words that get pronounced. If it’s any other letter, it doesn’t get pronounced. Not an iron-clad rule, but it helps. For instance the words “chic”, “chef”, “cher” you pronounce the end consonant. “sourcil” breaks that rule at least for southern France because we do say the L at the end, but technically we’re not supposed to.

If you don’t already know French, it may be a good idea to just memorize how to say the words and not try to read them because the spelling will throw you off. It’s the same in English. If you have a good memory, just remember how to say the word, don’t worry about writing it.

  • merci
  • au revoir
  • bonsoir
  • je ne comprends pas
  • répétez, s’il vous plaît
  • plus lentement, s’il vous plaît
  • pardon ?
  • quoi ? (not very polite, avoid it)
  • comment ?
  • j’ai besoin d’aide s’il vous plaît
  • j’ai un problème
  • où est… ? / où sont… ? Où est le métro ? Où sont les taxis ? Où sont les toilettes ?
  • combien ça coûte ? / c’est combien ? / quel est le prix ?
  • parlez-vous anglais ? (never EVER say that before you say bonjour)
  • dans quelle direction ? / le Louvre, c’est où ? / le Louvre est dans quelle direction ? / Louvre, où ? / à quel endroit ? / où est le Louvre, s’il vous plaît ?
  • à quelle heure ? / quand ? /c’est quand ? / c’est à quelle heure ?

You should not say « salut » to anybody even though it’s on a lot of survival French lists.

Should you use “tu” or “vous”? Don’t worry about it, nobody is going to get offended because a foreigner gets it wrong.

The most important word in French is “ça” : ça s’il vous plaît !

“Le menu” means “the daily special”. If you want the menu where you can pick out from different dishes ask for “la carte” just like in “à la carte”. Any more most restaurants say “le plat du jour”. To order food, you need to know poulet (chicken), poisson (fish), boeuf (beef), porc (pork), canard (duck).

Todd’s Newmans of Léguevin Blog

Les plus beaux villages de France

Les plus beaux détours de France

  • c’est tout / c’est fini
  • je voudrais ça, s’il vous plaît

If you’d like to learn more French than those basics, we recommend Lawless French.

2 thoughts on “Episode 30 Survival French with Todd Newman”

  1. Bonjour Annie.
    I had the good fortune to be able to speak simple French everyday that I was in Paris for a month including some day trips out of town. I spoke only basic French and hardly ever needed to ask if they spoke English. I figured darn if I was going miss out on practicing my French. I had repeated French for Travelers and beginning French two to three times before the trip barely knowing passé composé! I was lucky no one switched to English on me with me speaking my fractured French. People were very friendly and accepting. Maybe it was because I was traveling alone. It was a great experience.

  2. I’ve noticed that the term “menu” now refers to fixed price meals (not the plat du jour) that allow you a choice between two or three entrees or a choice of three of four or five courses. For travelers on a budget, this is something worth watching for. We have enjoyed a number of these meals both in Paris and around the country.

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