If you’re visiting Paris, or anywhere in France, for that matter, then there’s one think you need to be aware of, and that is, the French love their language.
In fact, they are so proud of it that they actually have an institute called L’Académie française, whose role is to act as the official authority on the usages, vocabulary, and grammar of the French language, although its recommendations carry no legal power – sometimes, even governmental authorities disregard the Académie’s rulings.
It’s a well-meaning institution, dating back to 1635, but to be honest, it’s fighting a losing battle: language evolves, and you simply can’t stem the tide of new words and phrases once they start to be widely used by everyday folks.
We’re sure that L’Académie would love to get rid of imported words such as “le weekend” and “le shampooing”, but whether they include such words in their own dictionary, Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, or not, they won’t stop people from using them.
In spite of such unofficial aberrances, the French still love to hear their own language, and while many may speak adequate English, in most cases, they won’t automatically use this straight away even when they realise that you’re an English-speaker (and believe us, you will stand out like a sore thumb).
The key, then, is to at least try to speak some French.
It doesn’t have to be grammatically perfect, your accent doesn’t have to be pure, and the words you use might not be the “mots justes”, as the French would say, but what’s important is that you make an effort.
Once they see that you are trying, then many times they will help you out by switching to English.
And in restaurants, it’s getting harder and harder to find ones where they don’t have multi-lingual menus available, so don’t worry about starving to death because you don’t speak the lingo. :
So, if you don’t already speak French (or perhaps you’re a bit rusty, not having had occasion to use it since your schooldays), then there are a few approaches you could take,
The best option, of course, is to try to learn French before your visit.
You could find a local night school class, although this is not practical for many people, so a more viable solution is to buy one of the many books or PC-based software programs that will help you to learn the essentials of the language quickly.
Remember that you’re going to need to focus on spoken French (i.e. understanding what they’re saying to you, and, of course, speaking it), as well as on reading French, but you probably don’t need to worry too much about learning how to write it.
If you’re going to try to learn the language via one of these courses, then we highly recommend also buying a good French-English dictionary, and a French grammar book as well as a French verb book will come in handy too.
And finally, if you don’t have the time to complete an entire language course, or even if you do but feel like you need a “crib sheet” while you’re there, then you should take a French phrase book with you and carry it with you when you’re out and about. (A pocket-sized French dictionary is another must during your visit.)
So, to save you the time of searching out the best French phrase books, dictionaries, grammar and verb books, as well as courses on how to speak French, we have done the research for you and collated the ten best selections in each of these four categories: