Beginning French Conversation: Simplify Everything!
When learning a foreign language, I think it’s very helpful to try to simplify what you want to say as much as possible. I also find that a lot of my private French students have never really considered this idea. They ALWAYS try to say things in a complicated way when they really don’t have to and it’s totally understandable. They’re coming from being really comfortable and eloquent in their native language, but when they start thinking in this sort of way and saying things more simply, it makes a huge difference and drastically improves their speaking ability.
If you can understand the general sense of what someone is saying and you can respond simply and correctly, you’re having a conversation in the language you’re trying to learn. And once you can have basic conversations, learning becomes much more fun and gives you the motivation to have more conversations and continue improving.
You can then string simple sentences together and it sounds/looks more complicated than it really is. Speaking French does NOT have to be so complicated!
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Aujourd’hui, je dois travailler
Je suis fatigué.
Mais ça va.
Qu’est-ce que tu fais?
Today, I have to work.
I am tired.
But it’s ok.
What’re you doing?
When you know what to look for and you really break everything down. This is really not that complicated at all.
Day/time, subject + devoir (present conjugation) + infinitive
Here, all I did was use a day/time, we could have said anything like demain, lundi, la semaine prochaine, le mois prochain, l’année prochaine (tomorrow, Monday, next week, next month, next year)
Next I used the most basic sentence structure I could to express myself in the most simple way possible. I could have changed the subject and the verbs to come up with something very different:
Il va manger
Tu peux rentrer
Je veux ranger
He’s going to eat
You can go home
I want to clean
All you have to keep in mind is you need :
Subject + Verb (conjugated to the present) + Verb (infinitive)
And an infinitive verb just means any verb that means “to do something”. Here are a few examples:
Aller - to go
Faire - to do
Prendre - to take
Next we have the subject, of course, followed by être (to be) with an adjective.
Subject + être (present conjugation) + adjective
You could use any adjective you like:
Content(e) - happy
Enervé(e) - annoyed
Impatient(e) - excited
Just remember, if you’re using a feminine subject the adjective will have to be feminine as well:
Elle est contente
Je suis énervé
On est impatients
Mais (connector) + ça va (French expression)
Mais is a “connector”, which is exactly what it sounds like. You can use it to connect simple sentences together:
Mais - but
Alors - then, so
Et - and
Puis - then
Ça va is probably the most familiar French expression with a few different meanings, depending on the context. It’s used a lot like “How are you?” but it’s really a bit more like “Are you ok?”.
If you see someone you know you could say Ça va? which would kind of mean “Is everything ok?” and they might respond “Oui, ça va”, kind of like “Yes, everything is fine”.
So in the context of this little paragraph I made up, it means “It’s fine”, as in “yeah I have to work and I’m tired but it’s ok.”
Et (connector) + subject?
Here we just have a connector and the subject. We could have used any subject we wanted:
Et Guillaume? - And Guillaume?
Et vos collèges? - And your colleagues?
Et ton père? - And your father?
Qu’est-ce que (Asking question) + subject + faire (present conjugation)?
Qu’est-ce que by itself doesn’t really mean anything. It just let’s you know you’re being asked a question.
Also, it’s not the only way you can ask a question in French. You can ask a question informally like this:
Tu fais quoi? - You’re doing what?
You’d never see this in a French textbook because it’s not really “correct”, but it’s really common in French conversation and I hear native speakers ask questions this way all the time.
And after that all you need is a subject and a conjugated present tense verb:
Qu’est-ce qu’il mange? - What is he eating?
Qu’est-ce que tu veux? - What do you want?
Qu’est-ce que vous prenez? - What’re you taking?
Here are a few more examples of how you can take this concept, move a few things around, use different words, and end up with something totally different you could really say when conversing in French.
It may not be the most eloquent way to express yourself, but that’s not what you’re looking for as a beginner. You just want to get the general idea across in a simple, easy to understand way:
Ce soir, on va sortir
Pierre est content.
Qu’est-ce que vous allez faire demain?
Tonight, we’re going out
Pierre is happy.
What’re you doing tomorrow?
Je suis à la fac.
Je dois manger.
Il y a un resto pas loin?
I am at the university.
I have to eat.
Is there a restaurant not far?
As you progress, you can get more and more complicated. You can pick up expressions and learn to say things more naturally. And when you get really comfortable with this, you can mix everything you’ve learned together.
La semaine prochaine, je vais partir en vacances.
On va à Tokyo.
J’ai trop hâte.
On va se voir ce week-end?
Next week, I’m going on vacation.
We’re going to Tokyo.
I’m too excited.
We’re going to see each other this weekend?
And if you don’t know how to say something, LOOK IT UP! All of the words I used in these examples are simple enough. You could easily look up what you want to say on wordreference.com (or another online French/English dictionary). They also have a verb conjugator that can easily show you how to conjugate any verb you want.
Using It In Real Life
Now that you’ve got this concept down, you need to go out and use it! Find some French speaking friends or other people learning French and practice together! Using a language in real life is the only way to really be able to get good at it.
It doesn’t always have to be face to face conversation either, you could try texting, what’s app, Facebook messenger, email, there are so many options for you to get in some daily practice. You just have to experiment and find what works for you.
Thank you so much for reading! If you found this blog helpful and would like more help learning French, check out www.StreetFrench.org and try our FREE conversational French e-Course. We also have a lot more content on Instagram and Youtube.
Merci et à bientôt!