A native English speaker who I follow on twitter, who's speaking (in English) at a programming conference in Paris tweeted

What's the best way to learn a tiny bit of French in a week? A week in which I already have no spare time?

I don't know what he's looking for, but this is what I'd want to know if I was in his situation.

What should I try learning if I have a limited amount of time? Vocabulary? Grammar? Phrases? Knowing how to pronounce a word that I've read? What kind of things would take not much time to learn, but would bring the most benefit?

What kind of tools are useful in reaching these objectives? To avoid this question becoming too large, I'm more after categories, rather than specific products. For example "Phrasebooks are useful for someone with not much time because ...", rather than "Brand X phrasebook is good because ...".

I had a look at Are there good tools for learning to speak French? and Free online resources for beginner course , but while there's a variety of answers, none seem to be targeted at such a scenario.

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    How long would you intend to stay? What areas would you want to be covered? IMHO, if you have very limited time, you should spend it looking for a phrasebook that will cover your needs, rather than try to learn any French at all. Apr 29, 2013 at 13:37
  • Hey Andrew! I remember you from JL&U before I decided to switch to Mandarin owing to comparably greater applicability/usefulness in the U.S. May 1, 2013 at 6:28
  • @Aerovistae I remember you too! I'm glad to hear that you switched languages - I was worried you left JLU because of problems with the community! May 1, 2013 at 6:31
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    Oh no, that all straightened out. You guys were quite helpful in the end. It was strictly a question of applicability. Anyway, with regard to your question, I think the amount of French that could be learned in such a limited time would be of such little use that the learner would be better served studying a few tourist maps instead-- something where the rate of Useful Knowledge per Minute is much, much higher, as opposed to starting and then immediately dropping a new language. May 1, 2013 at 6:33
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    I would stick with greetings, thanks and a standard excuse for not speaking French, which you will find easily on the net. For surviving a week in France, that should be the most useful. As for learning actual French: time and actual French speakers/teachers...
    – GAM PUB
    Dec 27, 2015 at 18:16

6 Answers 6


Having lived in France for a few years, I myself spoke well enough to live there happily, play for a local football team, run a business and have French friends. My partner at the time however did not. She only had a very limited French vocabulary and had no idea how to string a sentence together.

You say me where bakery. Bakery where? Where is the bakery? Hello, can you please tell me where the nearest bakery is?

All of these are understandable to us, but she would tend to use something like. "Excusez-moi, la patisserie, oú?" - She would get a load of French thrown at her, but she'd pick out simple things like, numbers, hand signals and directions. She would end up at the bakery.

I advise, learn a lot of words, like a reply you have received above, learn the most common words, which tend to sound very similar to English anyway.

Don't be afraid to say something wrong, anything is better than shouting in English.


For a native English speaker with no previous French experience and limited time, I would recommend dividing one's efforts between reading a phrasebook, for vocabulary, and using Duolingo, for general familiarity with the language, its grammar and its constructs.


Well if your friend have extra time on the way to work or whatever I suggest using Rosetta Stones French series, he can have it on his cellphone too, and basically its not so much about grammar since its quite hard for beginners to learn.


I just found a study on the internet saying that by knowing the 1000 most frequent words in English, you are able to understand 84.3% of a conversation. It might be a little bit less for french, but anyway, with your first 1000 words you will known already a lot!

I've seen on the internet some videos and pages with lists of the most frequent words, which you might like to use. And I recommend to learn also the rule for conjugation of the regular verbs and of the most frequent irregular verbs (auxiliaries).

The methods I'm using now for learning languages is the method which Ramon Campayo described in his books, and in which he shows how to learn a language in only 7 days. He gives some lists of the most important words, divided in different categories to make it easier to memorize. Also he describes how to memorize the words by using mnemonics. For him words along with only a very basic grammar is enough to understand and communicate in another language. We can also understand Tarzan, although he speaks without conjugating his verbs and does not use complicated constructions for his sentences.

His book is: "Aprender un Idioma en 7 días" (Unfortunately I can only find it in Spanish, but maybe his book "Aprende Inglés en 7 días" might serve you).

After learning the words you are able to understand and communicate, so you can easily practice with native french speakers and understand webpages etc. Then, finally, when you have time left a lot of interesting grammar is waiting for you :)

  • La liste au 2e para. est excellente - il s'agit des 1000 mots les plus fréquents en français écrit adressé aux enfants ; en dernière colonne du tableau on a la fréquence dans un lexique adulte, ce qui permet une comparaison intéressante !
    – user3177
    Dec 29, 2015 at 0:47

You have to start with, what are you learning French for? If you are a temporary visitor who needs to ask how to get to the washroom, Pimsleur or the Rosetta Stone might do the trick. If you are a military attache to the Embassy of your country or a liaison officer to some part of the French armed forces, then the type of French you need to learn is military - If someone yells at you in French: "DUCK, SNIPER!" and you have no clue what they mean, you may not be long for this world. If you are a medical specialist, then you need to learn medical French. In summary, what you need to do determines what you learn.

When I learn a different language, the first words I learn are the bad words :)


With as little time as a week provides, it may be smart for such a person to commit to learning common phrases rather than the correct masculine and feminine attributes or the informal and formal uses. By attempting to learn the in depth behaviors that go along with the language, you may get detoured from learning how to actually say anything. I would promote trying to learn how to say simple yet effective words and maybe even sentences. Just remember that, as long as you can say a few of the popular words and utilize your facial expressions and hand gestures, people will place two and two together and you will get where you need to be.

There are some really great sites on the web that I personally use to learn simple things. They will be good for you especially considering you only have less than a week to learn because they will start you off by learning the basics, such as greetings and simple questions that may seem insignificant now but will probably get you the furthest in the long run. One site that I enjoy is Duolingo.com.Just choose french and you'll begin learning right away!

Also keep in mind that, although it may not be your top priority, you may want to look into some on the french customs if you have time. Of course this will vary depending on where exactly you'll be traveling to.

All in all, I really hope this helped somehow!


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