French small talks
French Language

French small talks : Learn how to do it right now

Now that you started learning French and that you know how to introduce yourself in French, let’s learn how to make small talk and how to chit chat in French, with French people (obvisouly!).

TU versus VOUS

This notion is something that does not exist in the English language. Besides, did you know that we had two ways to address somebody : Tutoiement (meaning saying “tu“) and vouvoiement (meaning saying “vous“)?

In general “Tu” is used when we are familiar with the interlocutor. It is also a matter of age : We say “tu” to children until their early twenties.
Vous” is employed to show a certain ditachment or politeness towards people, either because we don’t know them (when we meet somebody for the first time), we want to show respect (to your parents-in-law or to your boss for example) or it can even be used within aristocratic (or self-called aristocratic) families. Thus in this specific case, children must say “vous” to their parents.

To put it in a nutshell, use “vous” when you just met somebody and “tu” when you’ve already met this person several times and he/she is about your age or younger than you. One question we often use when we want to switch from the “vous” to the “tu” : On peut se tutoyer? ( translation : can we use “tu” instead of “vous”?)

How are you?

At first sight, there are various ways to ask “how are you” in French. You need to know that we use the the verb to go (aller) unlike in English, where you use to be (être). The below 5 sentences are the most common ways to ask a person if she is fine :

  • Ça va?
  • Comment ça va? (“Comment” means “How“. The whole question could be translated as “How is it going?“)
  • Comment vastu? (To ask someone you already know as we use “tu” here)
  • Comment allezvous? (To ask someone you don’t really know as we use “vous” here)
  • Tu vas bien?
  • Vous allez bien?

As you can notice in the last two examples, even though we should reverse the subject and the verb as those sentences are questions, orally we tend to omit this rule. And now, let’s study how you can answer those questions :

Ça va?
Tu vas bien?
Vous allez-bien
Oui, ça va.
Ça va.
Comment ça va?
Comment vas-tu?
Comment allez-vous?
Ça va.

In order to ask the question back, you just add “et toi?” or “et vous?” (depending on the context) to your answer.

Example : Oui, ça va et toi ?

Social and cultural code

Note that, in France, when somebody asks you ça va (as part of the typical French greetingBonjour, ça va” and not in specific cases like if you fall down or if you are crying for example), your interlocutor is not expecting you to answer for real and you should reply that ça va, even though sometimes, ça ne va pas (learn how to build a negative sentence here).

Time to say goodbye!

au revoir

There are several expressions to say goodbye in French (there are other ways, but let’s focus on the most common ones) :

Au revoir (conventionnal)Goodbye
Salut (friendly)Bye
À bientôt (conventionnal)See you later
À plus (friendly)See you later
À tout à l’heure / À tout’
(À tout’ is very casual and can be used with friends. That’s the one I use most often)
See you in a bit

By the way, Ciao / Bye / Tschüss are actual words to say goodbye in other European languages but it is commonly used in French by French people! So don’t be surprised to hear Italian, English or German 🙂

Don’t forget that if you want to learn, write down the words, hang the paper that you will see often during the day (on the fridge, in the bathroom, behind your cellphone) and repeat it constantly. As a result, it will get into your head and get stuck 🙂

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  • Camille BURGER

    Ca fait travailler mes meninges! Trop longtemps que je n’avais pas lu de l’anglais ! Chouette article ! C’est drole de voir nos habitudes françaises d’un point de vue extérieur !

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