Why watching French movies can be the best way to learn the language

The text books and the tiring conversations are necessary but the most relaxing, culturally eye-opening and simply enjoyable way to learn French is by going to the movies, with a note pad of course, writes Manon Kerjean from Lost in Frenchlation.

Why watching French movies can be the best way to learn the language
Photo: Screengrab YouTube/Miramax

Lost in Frenchlation runs French cinema nights in Paris with English subtitles. Here co-founder Manon Kerjean explains why going to the movies make the best lesson plans.

You’re walking around Paris, catching every other word of the conversations buzzing around you.

Suddenly everything you learned from all those years of French classes is slowly slipping away.

“Why can’t I understand anything? This isn’t what I learned!”

Anyone who has learned a foreign language knows it’s more than just translating words.

And while it can be really difficult to practice your listening and comprehension skills, there’s one solution which is way more fun and entertaining than the rest: going to the cinema.

First Steps for Learning French 

Now, before you hop on the Metro and head over to your local cinema, consider these few tips to make the most out of your experience.

Watching movies with music is the perfect starting point.

Listening to music allows you to hear the clear pronunciation of words as the phrases are more drawn out.

Songs are also repetitive so maybe by the final chorus, you’ll be singing along. 

Some great films with music to start out with are La Famille Bélier (The Bélier Family), starring French superstar, Louane Emera. The film follows a young woman, raised by deaf parents, who dreams of being a singer.

Les Choristes (The Chorus) is always a great classic too about a teacher changing the lives of students at a boys’ boarding school through music.

Not only are these movies great ways to learn French, but you’ll have picked up a few French songs on the way.

If you’re tired of getting confused when the French throw around puns and idioms, try watching a comedy like Le Prénom (What’s in a name?) – a hilarious film about a family dinner that gets a little out of hand.

There’s also a conversation in the very popular film, Le Dîner de Cons (The Dinner Game) about a man’s unfortunate name which the French find very “punny” …

“…Il s’appelle Juste Leblanc.

– Ah bon, il n’a pas de prénom ?

– Je viens de vous le dire Juste Leblanc… Votre prénom c’est François, c’est juste ? Eh bien lui c’est pareil, c’est Juste…”

And in English…

“…His name is Juste LeBlanc.

– He doesn’t have a first name?

– I just told you, Juste Leblanc… your name is François, right? Well it’s the same for him, it’s Juste. – …”

Lastly, when you’re in the cinema, it’s never a bad idea to bring a pen and notepad along with you.

This way you can write down any new phrases you hear with their translations, pronunciations of difficult words, and even nonverbal cues that you found interesting so you can truly feel like a local the next time you visit your favorite Francophone country.

Hearing French in Action

As you’re sitting in the cinema, you will hear an abundance of new, everyday words, phrases, and slang you can incorporate into your vocabulary.

This ability to speak colloquially is the difference between sounding like you’re from the Middle Ages and someone who can really operate in the local language.

The importance of this adaptability is captivatingly shown in L’Esquive (Games of Love and Chance) – a drama from 2005 which follows young students from the projects putting on a theatrical play.

They struggle with the classic language and must relearn how to speak properly, paralleling the all-too familiar journey of trying to speak like a local when learning a foreign language.

Understanding accents

Think of your own country – there are surely various dialects and accents.

Well it’s exactly the same in France, so the everyday French phrases that you’ve known for years could sound completely different somewhere else in the world.

The differences in French accents is hilariously shown in Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks) – a comedy about a man from the south of France who is forced to move to the north for work.

This classic focuses on how to embrace change and to laugh at yourself when put into an uncomfortable situation, something any international can relate to when abroad.

A celebrated drama from Quebec also highlights just how different French-language accents can be. Mommy is about a widowed mother who is struggling to deal with her violent son, and it’s an absolute must-see.

To demonstrate how diverse French accents can be, when the film was shown in France, it had to be shown with subtitles so everyone could understand what was being said!

Lost in Frenchlation provides this exact opportunity for the Anglophone community in Paris – the chance to enjoy the best of French cinema with English subtitles. Join them at Cinéma Studio 28 in Montmartre every Friday night at 8pm.

For more information visit

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Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.