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An Easy Introduction to French

by Geoffrey Barto of


In this introduction to French, you will learn how to participate in simple French conversations. The methods used in this course will vary with the material. Learning French is not easy and there is no silver bullet. But using my experiences as a teacher and as a language learner, I will do my best to give you a basic understanding of the language.

Lesson 1

At the end of the first lesson, you will know 20 words and how to make use of them in a very brief conversation. Here is the conversation. Even if you already know enough French to understand it, you should read through the notes. They contain information about where the words come from that will be good to know later on.

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Now, on to learning French. Before we can speak French, we need some words. I've given some mnemonic devices to help you remember them. In many cases, the connections exist because English either got the word from French or got it from the same Latin word as did the French.

After each word in the list, I've given a hint to pronunciation in parentheses. Note the following special indications.

  • small n : nasalization. That is, don't say the "n". Instead, say the vowel before the "n" in your nose (like you're pretending you have a cold).
  • zh : zh is pronounced like the s in measure.
  • i : i is a very slight "y" sound like you hear after the "ñ" in "piñata".
  • e : e is the "uh" sound in "the" and "whaddayuh want".
  1. bon (BOHn). good.
    If you do GOOD work, you will get a BONus.
  2. jour (zhOOR). day.
    I write in my JOURnal every DAY because JOUR means DAY and journal means daily (really!).
  3. bonjour (BOHn-zhOOR). good day. Kind of like the Aussie "G'day," this is how the French say hello.

    Three words learned already!

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  • mon (MOHn). my.
    MON means MY if you have a man.
  • ma (MAH). my.
    MA means MY if you have a woman.
  • mes (MAY). my.
    MES means MY if you have more than one thing.
  • French has several ways of saying "my," depending on what it is you have. Later on, we'll learn about masculine and feminine nouns and other confusing things and then we'll sort this out. For now, remember this:
    MON is MY for MAN.
    MA is MY for a MA'AM.
    MES is MY for MANY things.

    So many words for "my," but now you know them all. Six words down.

  • sieur (SiEUR). sir.
    SIEUR is SIR and SIR is SIEUR.
  • monsieur (MeSiEUR). mister (lit. my sir).
    MONSIEUR is MISTER like an Englishman saying "my dear sir".
    The plural is MESSIEURS (MAY-SiEUR).
  • dame (DAHM). lady (dame).
    I think we can remember this one.
  • madame (MADAHM). missus/mrs. (lit. my lady).
    MADAME is MISSUS or MY LADY like pretentious Brits talking about "milady" or "my dear lady".
    The plural is MESDAMES (MAYDAHM).
  • MESDAMES ET MESSIEURS (MAYDAHMZ AY MAYSiEUR) is how you say "Ladies and Gentlemen".

  • demoiselle (DeMWAHZEL). a young woman (damsel).
    A DEMOISELLE is a DAMSEL whose knight in shining armor has not yet come.
  • mademoiselle (MADeMWAHZEL). miss (lit. my miss).
  • To greet someone in French, you don't just say "Hello" (Bonjour). Generally, you add "mister" (monsieur), "ma'am" (madame) or "miss" (mademoiselle). So, "Bonjour, monsieur" is how you say, "Hello, sir." Note that you do NOT use the last name.

    Twelve words down and already you can say "hi" to just about anybody!

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  • comment (KOHMAWn). how.
    A COMMENT tells you HOW you are doing.
  • allez (AH-LAY). (you) go.
    When you GO down the alley, use the ALLEZ that ends in Z.
    (The English "alley," comes from the French allée, a path one can GO along.)
  • vous (VOO). you.
    Imagine the lisping mafioso: Hey voose guys! VOUS is YOU and YOU is VOUS.
    HOW GO YOU? or "How are you doing?"

    Fifteen words learned and you can start a conversation!

  • très (TRAY). very.
    The tray of fruit was VERY good, TRÈS bon the French would say.
  • bien (BiEN). well.
    What helps your WELL-being is a BIEN. BIEN means WELL.
  • merci (MAIR-SEE). thanks.
    Sharing mercy prompts THANKS. MERCI is French for THANKS.
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    Only two to go and you'll know twenty words!

  • et (AY). and.
    ET cetera and ET al. mean AND other stuff. ET (always pronounced "AY") is AND.
  • ET VOUS? means AND YOU?

  • aussi (OH-SEE). also.
    An AUSSIe is ALSO a speaker of English. AUSSI means ALSO.
  • Congratulations! You made it! You now know twenty words of French!

    Now let's make sure you remember your newfound knowledge. Run through the lists and doublecheck. If you've printed this, cover up one side and then the other and see if you can come up with the matching words.

    bongood demoiselledamsel, young woman
    jourday mademoisellemiss
    bonjourgood day commenthow
    monmy (MAN) allez(you) go
    mamy (WOMAN) vousyou
    mesmy (MANY) trèsvery
    sieursir bienwell
    monsieurmister mercithanks
    damelady etand
    madamema'am aussialso

    Now we'll look at our dialogue one more time:

    Double-check your understanding with the translation below. If you got it, congratulations! You're done with this segment. If not, don't be concerned. Some people pick up language more quickly than others. Review the notes and give it another try. It will come soon.

    This concludes Lesson 1. (20 words learned so far)

    Language Page - Lesson 2

    For a quick start in the three major Romance languages, try out the "By Association Series," with its keys for learning a basic Romance language vocabulary in as little as a week.

    And to get a feel for French, Italian and Spanish as sister languages, check out our other site,