Want to know a secret?
Your French book can’t teach you everything. There, I said it.
If you’ve ever talked to a native French speaker or even tried to understand French music or films, chances are you’ve realised that every day spoken French can be quite different from the French taught in a book.
But what do you do when you come across words and phrases that don’t show up in a dictionary?
You might just be dealing with slang.
Should you learn slang?
It’s certainly not necessary to learn French slang, or argot, in order to speak French. However, if your goal is to spend time with native speakers and dive into French culture, it can be a lot more useful than you think.
From regional names and expressions to commonly used words that keep you from sounding like an outdated textbook, slang has its place in French. The best way to make use of it is to learn how, when, and where to use it correctly.
Argot from France
This expression translates to “Forget it,” “Let it go,” or “Nevermind.”
For example, imagine you and a friend want to try going to a new restaurant for lunch, but when you get there, it’s extremely busy. Your friend might say, “Laisse tomber. Tu veux déjeuner ailleurs?” (Forget it. You want to have lunch somewhere else?)
Parler comme une vache espagnole
This entertaining phrase might come in handy if you ever want to make light of your mistakes. Literally, it translates to “speaking like a Spanish cow,” but it’s used to say that your foreign language skills leave something to be desired.
Ça craint is a fairly satisfying way to express a few different things.
You can use it to say “That sucks,” “That’s a bummer,” or “That’s disappointing” as in: “Je ne peux pas aller au Disneyland avec toi. Je dois travailler!” “Ça craint!”
You can also use it to say “That’s dangerous” or “That’s worrying” as in “Il n’y a pas de lumière dans cette rue. Ça craint, non?” (There are no lights on this street. That’s dangerous/ scary.)
Ta gueule is a not-so-nice way of telling someone to be quiet. It’s similar to the English “Shut up!”
France isn’t the only place French is spoken and Canada has its own collection of slang that most French people wouldn’t understand.
Let’s take a look at some Français Québécois as an example.
It’s all good! This is a fun expression that you can use to say “Everything’s okay” or “Sounds good.”
For instance, you might ask a friend, “Je peux te retrouver à sept heure. C’est bon?” (I can meet you at seven. Is that good?)
Mon chum/ Ma blonde
These words might seem odd to English speakers, but they’re generally used to refer to a boyfriend (chum) or a girlfriend (blonde).
No, your girlfriend doesn’t have to be blonde.
Stuck at a boring party? You might need to use “C’est plate” to express your feelings to the person yawning next to you. In other words, “This is boring.”
Être en mosus
This expression is loosely based on the word maudit, which means cursed. It’s used to mean that someone is angry, in a bad mood, or having a bad day.
For example, “Fais attention. Elle est en mosus aujourd’hui.”
If your goal is to get used to using French slang comfortably (the way native speakers do), then you should try to find authentic resources, such as films, music, podcasts, and real conversations (like with our native speaking teachers). If you do find yourself wondering about an expression or slang word, don’t be afraid to ask.