Do you know how to ask for directions in French?
Are you hoping to use your French language skills during a trip to France someday?
Being able to travel to France and find your way around is a goal for many language learners. In fact, it’s a great way to motivate yourself to learn and practice new vocabulary.
You might be eager to learn words that will help you order your favourite French foods at a restaurant, visit famous landmarks and amazing museums, or even shop for souvenirs. After all, there’s plenty to learn, especially if you’re a beginner.
But what about asking for directions? Are you able to ask for help when you need it and understand the response?
Even if you’re the type of person to make arrangements ahead of time, you can never plan for getting lost and you can’t simply rely on a map to tell you where to find the nearest toilet. In those kinds of situations, the best way to make sure you’re prepared is to know how to ask someone for directions.
Asking for directions
Maybe you took a wrong turn or your route is currently blocked by construction or an emergency. Perhaps you just want to ask your server where to find the toilets. In each case, you’ll need to be able to ask someone for assistance.
The first thing you’ll want to remember is to be polite, especially if you need to approach a stranger. Start by excusing yourself and saying hello before you rush to ask a question. You’ll find that you’re more likely to receive a helpful response that way.
Once you’ve practised good manners, you can simply tell the person what it is you’re looking for and ask where it is.
“Excusez-moi, monsieur. Bonjour. Je cherche la gare de Lyon. C’est où ?” (Excuse me, sir. I’m looking for the Gare du Nord. Where is it?)
Of course, if you’re approaching someone you’ve already said hello to, such as a server or a store clerk, feel free to simply ask a question. For example: “Excusez-moi, où est les toilettes?” (Excuse me, where are the toilets?)
Excusez–moi – Excuse me
Je cherche… – I’m looking for…
When using the verb chercher, remember that you don’t need to use a preposition like “for”. Instead, all you need to do is state what you’re looking for after the verb. For example, “Je chercher le parc” (I’m looking for the park).
Où est…? – Where is…?
La gare – Train station
La station de métro – Metro station
L’arrêt de bus – Bus stop
L’aéroport – Airport
La rue – Street
Le trottoir – Pavement
Les toilettes – Toilets
Le musée – Museum
L’hôtel – Hotel
Le restaurant – Restaurant
Le parc – Park
Understanding directions in French
You’ve successfully asked someone for directions.
Now, what do you do when the person replies, “Vous allez continuer tout droit”?
As you might have already guessed, being able to ask for directions is only the first step. Just as with any French conversation, you also need to be able to understand what others are saying. Otherwise, you won’t get very far.
In order to do that, you’ll first need to learn some vocabulary that will help you follow those directions, such as “right” and “left”. It’s also important to become familiar with the way these words are pronounced so that you’ll be able to understand when someone gives you directions.
Be sure to ask your French teacher or a conversation partner to practice giving you directions as well. This way, you’ll get used to the way these words sound when they’re used together in a sentence.
Continuer tout droit – Continue straight
Droite – Right
Gauche – Left
Tourner à droite/gauche – Turn right/left
Passage piéton – Pedestrian crossing
Le pont – Bridge
En face de – Across from/opposite
Devant – In front of
À côté de – Next to
Au bout de – At the end of
Au coin de – At the corner of
Au feu – At the light
Ici – Here
Là-bas – There
Don’t forget the extras
Now, you know how to ask for directions. You’re familiar with the words you’ll need to understand when someone tells you where to go.
So, why does it still seem difficult to understand a set of directions, especially when there are multiple steps?
In addition to learning vocabulary specific to asking and giving directions, take the time to familiarize yourself with verbs and tenses that go along with that vocabulary. This includes verbs like prendre and tenses, such as the present and imperative, that someone might use to direct you.
You might also find it helpful to study additional words that might be used to describe locations, such as jusqu’à (just until) and environ (around).
For example, even though you might be able to understand words like gauche and tout droit, you’re likely to hear them in complete sentences: “Continuez tout droit jusqu’au parc et tournez à gauche” (Continue straight to the park and turn left).
If you still have trouble understanding someone, you can also try phrases like “Pouvez-vous le répéter s’il vous plaît?” (Could you repeat that, please?) or “Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement s’il vous plaît?” (Could you speak more slowly, please?). Sometimes, hearing what’s been said a second time is all you need.
Traverser – Cross
Prendre – Take
Passer – Pass
Suivre – Follow
Faire – To do
Why would someone use faire to give directions?
Keep in mind that you might hear faire used in a reply if someone tells you how far you’ll need to travel. For instance, “Vous faites environ 200 mètres et vous verrez la gare” (You go about 100 metres and you’ll see the train station).
Première/Deuxième – First/Second
Environ – About
Jusqu’à – Just until/To go until
Remember to say thanks
There’s a lot to vocabulary to figure out when it comes to directions. Still, the most important thing to remember is to always be polite. Two of the most important phrases to remember when asking someone for assistance are:
Merci beaucoup ! – Thank you very much!
Bonne journée ! – Have a good day!
When someone is kind enough to give you directions, let them know that it’s appreciated. Even if you remember every single word when you ask for help and understand what’s been said perfectly, a simple expression of gratitude can mean the difference between a frustrating or disappointing interaction and a positive one.
Ultimately, if you want to be able to ask for and follow directions in French with confidence, take the time to learn some of these words and start practising both your speaking and listening skills. You’re bound to forget a few words from time to time, but as long as you feel confident in your French skills, you’ll do just fine.