What’s more fun than learning a language by singing along to a catchy tune?
Learning French shouldn’t be limited to the walls of a classroom. As it turns out, songs are far from a distraction to completing your grammar exercises.
The French music scene offers a huge array of styles, accents, genres and legendary haircuts. So whether you’re into pop, rock or disco, you’re bound to find something out there to tickle your fancy. All the more so thanks to little-known online platforms such as YouTube or Spotify, which make discovering (or rediscovering) French tunes fun.
How can songs help me learn French?
Keep your ears open as we uncover some of the reasons why songs will be helpful in your French language-learning process.
Improve your listening skills
This might come as a surprise, but French is an official language in as many as 29 countries around the world. From Madagascar to Monaco (and of course France!), accents abound. Bear in mind that accents and intonations not only vary by country, but also by region within these countries. France alone has dozens of accents and registers, with some, like the southern accent of Marseille, more pronounced than others. The bottom line is that understanding French accents requires listening and music is a great way to tune your ear (and pick up some new rhymes along the way!).
Improve your speaking skills
French pronunciation, with its many nasal sounds and oral vowels, is admittedly (by native speakers included) difficult. Unfortunately, impeccable pronunciation is important. You can have an impressive vocabulary and use grammar properly, but if you don’t pronounce the words correctly then communication falls apart. A great way to practice speaking is by singing along in French to your new favorite song.
Improve your reading skills
Song lyrics are not only a very helpful way to improve your written skills in French, but they will also be useful when reading and or trying to understand words (especially French verlan).
Watching a French film or TV series (with the subtitles on, bien sûr) is another way to train your ear and improve your French reading comprehension.
Easy Songs to Learn French
Whether you are a beginner jumping into French or just looking for some hot new tracks to add to your playlist, these 8 best of the best French songs will have you hitting repeat (once you find where that button is…).
1) Résiste by France Gall
Most certainly one of France Gall’s most famous songs, Résiste is taken from Gall’s 1981 album Tout pour la musique. The song is one of France’s highest-charting songs and also greatly influenced French cinema – the song even gave its name to a jukebox musical in 2016. France Gall will always be remembered as a timeless feminist icon of French song ever since her first single she wrote (and sung) at just 16 years old, Ne sois pas si bête.
Looking at the language side of things, this catchy song mainly features the imperative form and also uses gender-neutral language (no mark of either the masculine or the feminine form). What’s more, the vocabulary used is fairly simple, and will help you learn words that rhyme with the sound “-iste”. So what are you waiting for? Headphones on.
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2) Louxor j’adore by Philippe Katerine
Immerse yourself in the French culture with eccentric singer Philippe Katerine and his addictive autobiographical tune Louxor j’adore – though we cannot be held responsible for the content featured in the 3:21-minute madcap video. The song basically explains what the singer loves (“adore”) about the Louksor, a nightclub located in Clisson (western France), a place he used to visit on a regular basis and where he met people from all backgrounds. Spoiler alert: contains purple hot pants and a floor-length fur coat. If you think you’ve seen some weird video clips in your life, try this one on for size.
Thanks to this song, you’ll be able to learn new vocabulary on jobs and professions, amongst others “boulanger” (baker), “agriculteur” (farmer) and “infirmière” (nurse). If you find you’re having trouble grasping some of the vocabulary, you can read a translation of the lyrics. Not comfortable with written French? Try reading some must-read French books!
3) La Madrague by Brigitte Bardot
Recorded in 1963 by iconic French actress, singer and champion of baby seals, Brigitte Bardot, the oft-covered song La Madrague is the perfect break for any learner of French. The lyrics refer to the property Bardot purchased in the Riviera’s A-list metropolis, Saint Tropez, called La Madrague, a peaceful enclave bereft of paparazzi and distractions. Fun fact: A “madrague” is actually a fishing technique for catching tuna. Now that’s going to come in handy at some point.
Bardot’s soothing, sultry voice will teach you new vocabulary (albeit related to the seaside and your next vacation) in no time. The song is sung at a slower pace than most French tunes, making it easier to follow and retain.
4) S’il suffisait d’aimer by Céline Dion
If you thought you could learn French without the help of Céline Dion, think again! Chances are you’re more familiar with her English-language hits, however, you’ll be happy to know she has released many albums in her native French-Canadian, targeted at French-speaking audiences. S’il suffisait d’aimer was released in 1998 and was written and produced by French legend Jean-Jacques Goldman. On your next trip to France or Québec, you’re bound to sing along to this song at your poutine party. On your plane ride, try and sit through some classic French movies.
We’d advise intermediate to advanced learners of French alike to listen to this track, as it features many conditional sentences – or “if” clauses (using the conjunction “si”) – and uses the conditional tense. You’ll find the lyrics are a very useful way of improving your written skills in French as well as your pronunciation. You could also attempt to watch TV series in French (with subtitles) to help you improve your written French comprehension.
5) La Javanaise by Serge Gainsbourg
Singer, songwriter, pianist, poet, painter, actor, screenwriter… is there anything Serge Gainsbourg can’t do? Besides quit smoking. All we know is that he is indisputably the most iconic French singer of the 20th century. The 1968 song La Javanaise – originally written for French actress and singer Juliette Gréco – is actually a play on words and refers to the popular Parisian java dancing and the javanais style of speaking, a type of French slang where “av” is added after a consonant before the next vowel (Paris = Pavaravis). Did you know Gainsbourg wrote more than 550 songs during his career?
As a learner of French, the song will initiate you to the “vous” polite form to address somebody, as well as the passé composé tense. Moreover, we must say that Gainsbourg’s slow and well-pronounced French helps a lot.
If you’re looking to train your ear further, check out our list ofhandpicked podcasts to learn French!
Le petit cheval by Georges Brassens
Another French favorite, Georges Brassens, was a passionate poet at heart. This song, released in 1952, is an extract from a poem by Paul Fort recounting the life and death of a valiant little horse in a sad and depressing country with excessively bad weather, one of the many factors that eventually led to the horse’s death. The song alludes to our own mortality and was the first of Brassens’ songs to not be censored. It was also frequently used as a teaching tool for French in elementary classrooms.
Alors on danse by Stromae
Stromae is the stage name for the Belgian singer and rapper Paul van Haver who burst onto the music scene with this hit back in 2009. Alors on danse reached number one on the charts in many European countries and was a personal favorite of Anna Wintour. This song is a great introduction to French verlan, a type of French slang that inverts words to create argot and is very popular among the younger generations. Mastering verlan is a bona fide marker of mastering French for any native speaker.
Bonus track: Balance ton quoi by Angèle
Pre-millennial songs are not the only cultural references worth something. Far from it actually. 26-year-old Belgian singer Angèle is a perfect example. Welcome to 2019 French feminism with Balance ton quoi, a tune referring to the “#BalanceTonPorc” movement (the French version of the #MeToo movement). Her songs have become anthems mainly because of her sincerity, her entertaining videos and the strong messages she conveys, which resonate with her pre to post-millennial audience.
As far as French is concerned, the song is easy to follow and her slow speech will make you want to listen to more of her anthems. However, some parts might be difficult to follow, and an English translation of her lyrics may be appropriate at the beginning. Warning: contains slang and mild to strong language.
Music, no matter the language, is universal, as well as a social, political, and sometimes daring way to convey ideas. If you want to go further in your language-learning process, check out our online French course Frantastique.
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