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Five Netflix series that will teach you French as the locals speak it

Obviously studying the grammar cannot be avoided if you are learning French - but there are some more fun ways to expand your vocabulary and one of them is watching French TV. Here's our pick of the best series for language learners.

Five Netflix series that will teach you French as the locals speak it
The stars of hit French comedy Plan Coeur. Photo: APF

French telly has over the years earned itself a bit of a reputation for being dull and unimaginative, but with the arrival of Netflix in France there are some great original series being made for the streaming service. Here's our pick of some of the best shows that will offer you an insight into French culture, teach you some new vocabulary and also give you a good laugh.

1. Dix pour cent

What's it about?

The series follows the work, life and loves of agents at talent agency ASK. It's a fast-paced comedy and each episode features a cameo from a French star of stage, screen or internet so it functions as a crash course on the rich and famous of France. It's genuinely hilarious and the stars who feature – big names all – are not afraid to laugh at themselves, so you will witness Monica Bellucci hitting on all the young men in Paris and Jean Dujardin going 'full Day-Lewis' before gnawing the head off a live rabbit.

What will I learn?

There's some industry-specific language so if you're after a career in French TV or cinema this is definitely one for you, but there's also lots of the day-to-day phrases and slang used by the trendy Paris set (which this lot definitely are). As a bonus, you'll also learn which English phrases you can pepper your conversation with to make you sound with-it, and there are a few secret romances too, so your langue d’amour will be top-notch.

2. Family Business 

What's it about?

After learning that cannabis is set to be legalised in France, a Jewish family in Paris set about turning their kosher butchers into a soon-to-be-legal marijuana shop. Cleverly placed comedy lies around every corner with impromptu trips to Amsterdam, new police neighbours and countless family secrets that just can't stay under wraps. 

What will I learn?

As informal and chatty as comedies come, the Hazan family and friends don’t hold back from calling everyone their “frère” or their “mec” one minute to having full-blown family arguments the next. Coming from the less well-off end of Parisian society, you'll hear lots of Verlan plus coarse phrases that get straight to the point in a series that's great for colloquial French. Plus they all speak super-fast so it's a real workout for your language skills.

3. Plan Coeur 

What's it about?

There's something incredibly Bridget Jones-esque about The Hook Up Plan. The rom-com series sees a heartbroken Elsa struggling to get over her ex-boyfriend. As all good friends do, her best mates decide to hire an escort boy to play a new love interest and get her out of her funk. Full of quirky characters and face-palm moments, you won't be sure whether to cry laughing of squirm of awkwardness in this not-so-graceful love story. 

What will I learn?

If you're planning on making a few conquests in France, this one is for you. With a lot of courting and dating between Elsa and Jules, Plan Coeur is perfect for picking up all the phrases you might need in a romantic situation. The episodes are all pretty straightforward too, so this is a great one to get started on.

4. Osmosis 

What's it about?

If you're up for a challenge and into sci-fi, Osmosis could be a great option. Slightly hard-to-grasp at first, it follows a new French technology that aims to match people with their soul mates. Sort of a French version of Black Mirror, the daring technology will make you think, but the series is worth the testing first two episodes. With drama and high emotions around every corner, this pioneering sci-fi series is an intriguing watch. 

What will I learn?

As you can imagine with cutting-edge, love-creating, human-bonding technology, some of the language in Osmosis can be pretty scientific. There’s a lot of talk about how the mind works, emotions and communication too which can leave you with some handy titbits. There's a real mix of people from all walks of life, from schizophrenic teenagers and worried mums to science geniuses and shy young women, Osmosis is a great series to diversify your French. 

5. Marseille

What's it about?

The first-ever French-language original produced by Netflix, Marseille tracks the city’s mayor of 20 years (played by Gérard Depardieu) as he locks horns with former student turned political rival. It's a potboiler with sex, scandal, plotting and definitely no resemblance at all to certain well-known names on the French political scene. Despite the plot, there's nothing too political or challenging about the series – a fun soap opera, Marseille is great to kill some time whilst picking up some French.

What will I learn?

There's not too much politics jargon in here but a few characters (especially those from the banlieue) will give you a crash course in southern French slang and a couple of characters have the famously difficult-to-follow Marseille accent so it's a good introduction if you're planning a visit.

With quite a few X-rated scenes you could also learn some more… specific vocabulary.  

Member comments

  1. Pity they missed out the great policiers the a French produce like Section de Recherches and the wonderful Candice Renoir, both Set in the south of France. Then there’s the 18th Century détective Nicolas Le Floch, great fun oto

  2. Come on, I just started watching Plan Cœur; in no way is it a ‘good one to get started with’. I mean none of these are for beginners, that’s for sure! I think an easier one is fais-pas ci fais ça. But if you are really starting out with French I’d recommend Peppa Pig!

  3. Two of my favorites are La Mante and The Frozen Dead. Both are very realistic and have wonderful actors.

  4. Marseille? Without French subtitles I’d hardly understand a single word!
    How about the daily soaps like Demain Nous Appartient where you’ll learn a lot as it’s are set in a school, a business, a police station, an office, a hospital, as well as the homes of at least four of the families involved. Been hooked on it for a couple of years now and learned lots. Set in Séte in the south too so it looks beautiful too. As do a lot of the people!

  5. Another vote for Spiral, not only is it a great policier but you can really improve your swearing with this, ever wondered what ‘un bande de branleurs’ might be? Spiral will tell you.

    Even better for those wishing to expand their knowledge of Italian are the two series of ‘Romanzo Criminale’ (based on the real-life Banda Della Magliana criminal gang) which combined violent action, full on hurtling plotlines and terrible 70s fashions with an extensive range of expletives and derogatory epithets (often delivered in regional variants). There was one episode where 40% of the dialogue was comprised of Stronzo! Cazzo! Vaffanculo! and Mangia merde e morte! More TV should be like this.

  6. Are these shows available on Netflix with audible French dialog from the actors, the French language was only available as subtitles.
    Hearing the language spoken is greatly helpful when learning French.

  7. I watched and thoroughly enjoyed Dix pour Cent, with French and French subtitles. I helped me a lot – and you can always rewind when you get a bit lost.

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Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?