Tips for Communicating In France When You Do Not Speak French

by: Laurent Huc

Is it possible to visit France and have fun without speaking French? Absolutely. No doubt, it will be intimidating at first, and there will be plenty of confusion along the way, but it is entirely possible. Here are a few tips you can use to communicate properly and get the most from your trip to France.

Try To Use Simple Gestures

Simple gestures will get you a lot further in France than trying to piece together awkward sentences from a phrasebook. That is not to say the occasional French phrase will hurt, but learning to utilize basic gestures when possible is much simpler, faster and more easily understood.

Unless you are planning to live there for another six months, gestures may be more than enough to get you by. Of course, this depends on what sort of activities you are planning. Things, like eating at restaurants, purchasing goods and visiting sites can be accomplished with a few “points” and “nods”.

Plan Your Travel Routes In Advance

Attempting to locate a destination or figuring out how to reach it can be a little more difficult if you cannot speak French. You can circumvent this problem by planning all of your travel routes ahead of time. Simply mark them on a map or save them in your phone.

Either way, it is helpful to know how to get from your hotel to all of the local restaurants, venues, events and landmarks you want to visit without needing to ask for directions. Knowing the best route from the airport to your hotel is also important. It is still possible to get directions without speaking French, but it can be a difficult and confusing process.

Using Pictures to Communicate

Pictures are another form of communication that are more easily understood. If you heard about a new event and need a map to the location, write the name in a notepad, and have the person you are asking draw a map. A variety of phrases and actions can be described using simple pictures.

You do not have to be Picasso to convey an idea through pictures. Using a tablet or a smartphone with a paint app can serve as a more modern substitute for a notepad.

Technology Makes It Easier

There have been some amazing breakthroughs in technology over the past few years. One of which is translation apps that can pretty accurately translate a variety of phrases, signs or menus. The Google Translation App is just one example of a reliable translator app.

These apps work by pointing the camera on your phone at an area with French text. It then translates the text back into English so that you can read it. There may be some discrepancies, but it is usually good enough to get the general idea across.

Some of these apps can be used to translate entire conversations. You select English and French as the two primary languages. Then, you speak into the mic on your phone in English, and it is translated into French. When someone speaks in French, the app then translates it back to English.

Learn Just A Few Key Words

You can learn a handful of key French phrases in just a day. Phrases like “hello”, “Do you speak English”, “Yes” and “No”. These simple words pack a lot of meaning and can get you a long way in a conversation with a French speaking person.

Some people who speak French, as well as English, will be more likely to offer assistance if they see that you are at least attempting to speak some of their language. You do not have to spend six months in a language class to learn enough to have a good time.

Enough to Get By and Have Fun

It certainly is possible to get by and have fun in France without speaking their language. You might not have any deep and meaningful conversations with French speaking strangers, but you can always save that for your next vacation.

About the Author

Laurent Huc is the director of Nacel International, a language learning experience that incorporates educational travel for complete immersion. To learn more about the exciting and effective programs offered by Nacel, visit

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