You will hear a mixture of formal language and slang during your time learning French in France. On my immersion course at the ILA French Language School in Montpellier I think I hear a good level of each; a focus on the former and a seasoning of the latter. After all I’m hoping to take the DELF exam so I want to master the technical form of the language so I can revert to it whenever I choose. I have however discovered many benefits to learning the expressions, inversions, words and turns of phrase that make up French slang. I want to share them with you in this article. There is so much to be got out of keeping your ear to the floor with this whilst doing a French language stay and it can be both enjoyable and very useful.
First things first … it is SO much fun! This is the most obvious benefit of learning French slang. Learning slang in your own language is fun and is often a big reason for the creation of the word or phrase in question. The common language that arises often has a combination of vowels that create a nice flow, rhythm or bounce. Consonants are really important too and I feel like they provide exactly the right amount of emphasis required. Take swear words for example; they often are very consonant heavy and this allows you to really express the abject strength of whatever emotion you are feeling.
Also slang is created in an almost mystical dimension and it’s very hard to track the origins of where a certain word or phrase came from. It evolves rapidly and often intentionally without reason, meaning that the finished product that becomes established has such an abstract sense and is so disconnected from its literal meaning the ridiculousness of it is just fantastic. Eg. ‘Ça roule ma poule’ – ‘That rolls my chicken’ = That works for me
What I find particularly great is when talking to French locals about these things is that sometimes there are very similar slang phrases in English but sometimes there is no French version of a common phrase. This is very interesting to some French who may be seeing it with fresh eyes. It can make you realise how silly something is that you use all the time and don’t even notice you’re doing it. This is one of many ways that a French language stay teaches you more about your own language as well.
Learning these aspects of the French language will allow you to stay current and understand more of the nuances between different regions, generations and cultures. For example, I work in a bar where my colleagues have an average age of around 30 and they use a lot of slang (a lot a lot) but it is slang that will be a bit dated to many of the clients who come to the bar who might be as young as 18. Verlan for example is similar to English ‘Pig Latin’ and involves reversing sections of a word to make a new one. ‘Verlan’ for example is an inversion of the word “l’envers” which means reverse. You might think of this as the useless nonsense of the youth but there are more and more ‘Verlan’ words making their way into French dictionaries.
There are many more reasons I think it is worth committing a bit of your time to learning French in France to slang that I will cover in other articles. If you have chosen to do a French immersion course in Montpellier I would assume you want to explore the depth of the language and slang is a fun part of the spectrum. You will be able to communicate better with more groups of people and also it feels like you are very close to the edge of this beautiful language.