Last week, the Guardian published an interesting essay about the benefits of learning a foreign language through song. The author claimed that that no one could understand him whenever he tried to speak Spanish or Portuguese – until he learned to sing in those languages.
This makes complete sense to us, as French teachers. Most languages have a certain musicality to them – certainly French does – and when you start learning the language through song, the rhythms, patterns and intonations of that language become more apparent than in ordinary conversation. Once you get familiar with these rhythms and sounds through song, it’s easier to replicate them in regular speech.
Moreover, when singing we repeat words and phrases continuously. We hum the song, we constantly think about it, and it can be hard it out of your head. We often pay more attention to the chorus of a song as it is repeated several times, so the language is easier to understand and remember.
Equally important, learning French songs can draw you into the heart of the French mindset and culture like few other things can. Just listening to a classic chanson français can make you yearn to travel back to the 1950s to while the night away in a smoky Parisian cabaret; being able to belt out La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, can evoke feelings of pride, even if you’re not a French national. And singing the latest French pop song in a nightclub along with a bunch of locals can make you feel suddenly and powerfully at home.
With all this in mind, below we’ve listed 7 great French songs for you to learn, absorb and love. These are songs from different genres, rhythms, and time periods and most are moderately easy to understand, if you’ve studied a little French. Wherever possible, we’ve picked videos that include the lyrics in French to make it easier for you to memorize les paroles.
Let us know in the comments below which French song is your favorites and why!
Classic French Chansons
Chanson is the French word for “song.” But in modern French culture, chanson français refers to a certain style of lyrical song that tells story, usually about the lives, dreams and hopes of ordinary individuals. Classic chanson français chanteurs were popular over a span of several decades in the mid-20th century, and include legendary artists such as Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Charles Trenant, George Brassens, and Jacques Brel.
“La Vie en Rose”
There are far too many wonderful classic chansons to come up with a single “favorite” but our first pick is Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose.” Both the lyrics and tune are so romantic and evocative of the golden age of Parisian chansons, that we believe the song is a key one to have in your French musical lexicon.
Claude François’s old-style classic “Comme d’Habitude” should be fairly easy for Anglophones to learn as chances are you already know the melody. This is the song on which Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” was based. That’s right – the French song came first.
“Ne me quitte pas”
French has the reputation of being the most romantic language in the world. When you hear Belgian’s Jacques Brel singing this dazzlingly poignant version of “Ne me quitte pas” you’ll probably agree. This is a wonderful song to learn, not simply because it’s lovely, but because Brel enunciates so clearly and it’s not difficult to understand.
French pop has been much maligned, especially when it’s compared with the lyrical chansons of yore. But why make comparisons? Plenty contemporary French pop songs put their finger has a modern romanticism, put their finger on the pulse of today’s mood, and just make you feel good!
Isabelle Geoffroy, known as Zaz, has a throaty voice and cheerful energy that just makes you want to sing along with her as she bops along the streets with her bassist and guitarist. We like this song not just because of its vibe but because it’s full of typical French phrases and expressions that you can incorporate into ordinary conversation.
Stromae is Belgian, but his argot (slang) isn’t different from the kind used among Parisian youth. This song’s rhyming and play on words makes it particularly fun to learn. Take note…there are a few “gros mot” (“bad words” or “swear words”) in this song, so make sure that you understand what every word or expression means before using them in public!
BB Brunes is a young French rock band that is distinctive not just for their indie rock style – but the fact that they usually sing in French!
If your musical taste runs to soulful Motown strains or jazzy beats, then you’ll probably like the smoky old-school voice of Ben L’Oncle Soul. We picked the ballad “Ailleurs” because it’s sweet and slow and repetitive – perfect for practicing an accurate French accent. And you’ll also pick up some great vocabulary words.
Don’t forget to tell us below which song you liked best … or what song you would have liked to have seen here!