8 French Sayings Locals Use – And What They Mean!
Every country has their own little sayings that are completely unique to their language – and usually make no sense to anyone else! You’ve probably heard of phrases such as ‘A penny for your thoughts’, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’, and ‘The early bird catches the worm’, but people who aren’t native speakers will usually find these pretty weird. They don’t mean exactly what they say, which is where it can all get a bit confusing… and funny!
So, we thought we’d take a look at some French sayings that you and your youngster can learn and have fun with. Use these when you’re abroad and you’ll sound like a pro! They’ll definitely earn you some bonus points with the locals.
1) Ce n’est pas la mer à boire
What it means: It’s not as if you have to drink the sea
This one actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it! The meaning behind it is essentially that ‘it’s not that difficult’. So, if someone’s making a big deal out of something pretty simple, you can say ‘Ce n’est pas la mer à boire!’. After all, drinking the sea would definitely pretty tough, so any other challenge would probably pale in comparison.
2) Ce n’est pas à un vieux singe qu’on apprend à faire des grimaces
What it means: You don’t teach an old monkey how to make funny faces
Anything involving monkeys will usually be a favourite amongst little ones, so make sure to share this French saying with them! Despite what it looks like, it’s actually not at all like the English saying ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, which is all about people becoming set in their ways as they get older. Instead, the best translation would be ‘I wasn’t born yesterday’. An old monkey already knows how to make funny faces, so you don’t need to teach them!
3) Les chiens ne font pas des chats
What it means: Dogs don’t make cats
This one sounds pretty odd, right? Of course dogs don’t make cats! But, once again, it does actually make some sense. It’s a saying used when you see someone that takes after someone else, like a daughter who’s similar to their mum. The closest saying we have to it is ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ – which is also pretty weird when you think about it!
4) Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid
What it means: Little by little, the bird builds its nest
We think this saying is very adorable, and definitely one that we can use! It’s the equivalent of ‘Slow and steady wins the race’, meaning that to take your time doing something is better than to rush it, and it may be slower but in the end you’ll get there. You can easily apply this to your kid’s French language learning!
5) Impossible n’est pas français
What it means: Impossible isn’t French
If there’s a more motivational French saying, we’ve never heard of it! The phrase ‘Impossible isn’t French’ sounds so empowering, patriotic, and positive – we love it. When your little one feels like giving up on their language learning journey, remind them of this phrase to keep them going!
6) L’habit ne fait pas le moine
What it means: The outfit doesn’t make the monk
The outfit doesn’t make the monk – what?! That’s what we thought the first time we heard this phrase too! But, as is the way of these sayings, it does make sense. Our closest equivalent would be ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, so it essentially means that there’s more to a person than their appearance. Although, we’re not too sure as to why they used a monk as an example!
7) Il faut tourner sept fois sa langue dans sa bouche avant de parler
What it means: You should turn your tongue around in your mouth seven times before you speak
This saying’s a bit of a mouthful, especially when you know that we just say ‘Think before you speak’ in English! But, we are a fan of it all the same – although we definitely don’t suggest trying to turn your tongue around seven times. It simply means to take your time before you say something, thinking of the consequences rather than rushing in blindly.
8) Mieux vaut être seul que mal accompagné
What it means: Better to be alone that in bad company
We think this is an awesome phrase to teach little ones because the meaning is so true, and something a fair few young people could probably use. It’s basically saying that in any situation in life, usually concerning friends or relationships, it’s better to face being alone than put up with someone who isn’t good for you. A great lesson to learn!
Being able to speak French is a super useful skill for both little ones and adults, and knowing these phrases will certainly help you fit in with the locals! If you’re trying to teach your child to speak a second language, why not check out our One Third Stories language learning books? They make learning French or Spanish super simple, even for young beginners!