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French Conversation Starters

Instructor: Serina Rajagukguk

Serina has a bachelor's degree in French language and literature, as well as a master's degree in Political Science from a French University.

It can be unnerving to start a conversation with people, and it gets more daunting when it's not in your own language! In this lesson, we'll learn about how to open a conversation in French with anyone, even a complete stranger.

Breaking the Ice in French

Contrary to what we may think, French love to talk, even to strangers. They're generally nice and helpful. So when you go to France, don't hesitate to make small talk with someone sitting next to you on the bus, someone you meet at the auberge de jeunesse (youth hostel), the cashier at the supermarket, or anyone at all.

Before you're overcome with nervousness and begin questioning yourself--What should I say? What's the French word for this or that?--simply break the ice by smiling (a smile can go a long way!) and by greeting the person with bonjour (pronounced: bohn-joor) or bonsoir (pronounced: bohn-swar). In the morning or afternoon, say bonjour. In the evening, say bonsoir. And that's it! The person you greet will generally smile back, and then you can start your conversation!

Common French Conversation Starters

Now that you've made contact with a French person and you'd like to talk more with him or her, it's time to spark up a conversation. Let's work through some of the most common conversation openers in France that you can learn and practice.

The Weather

Weather is a useful small talk topic for beginning a conversation because, usually, you can develop the conversation further very easily. After saying bonjour to the person sitting next to you, you can start by telling him or her the weather and how you feel about it. Let's look at an example conversation:

  • You: Il fait froid aujourd'hui! Et il pleut fort. (It's cold today! And it's raining hard.)
  • Madame X: Oui, et il y a beaucoup de vent. (Yes, and it's very windy.)
  • You: J'ai envie de rester à la maison. Mais je veux visiter le musée. (I want to stay at home, but I want to visit the museum.)
  • Madame X: Ah, quel musée? (Ah, which museum?)
  • You: Le musée de beaux arts. (The fine arts museum.)
  • Madame X: Oh, j'adore les peintures. (Oh, I love the paintings.)

From the conversation above, we see that talking about the weather has the potential to lead to discussion about the museum, even the paintings! You can ask Madame X about her favorite painters, and you can also tell her yours! Starting a conversation successfully complete!

Likes/Things in Common

This topic will work if you can guess a little bit about your talking companion. Is it the book he's reading on the train? The color of his coat? Her hair cut? Her dog? You can open the conversation by mentioning this element to him or her. You can even do so by complimenting it!

  • You: Excusez-moi de vous déranger, mais j'adore Harry Potter aussi. (Excuse me to bother you, but I love Harry Potter too.)
  • Monsieur Y: Ah oui? Lequel est votre préféré? (Oh, yeah? Which one is your favorite?)
  • You: Tout! Mais j'aime moins les films. (All of them! But I like the movies less.)
  • Monsieur Y: Je ne regarde pas beaucoup de films. (I don't watch a lot of movies.)
  • You: Pourquoi? (Why?)

Then, you can continue talking about either the Harry Potter series, other books, or movies! You can ask Monsieur Y, who doesn't like movies, what he does in his free time instead. Most of the time, the person will open up in delight when talking about their hobbies.

Now, before we see an example on how to open a conversation by complimenting someone, we'd like to give one piece of advice: Always compliment in a sincere manner to avoid coming across as creepy. Smile and be as frank as possible. If you're complimenting a piece of clothing he or she is wearing, you can ask where they bought it.

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