Written Traditional Academic French Vs Modern Spoken Street French

France-001741 - Grand Theatre
Dennis Jarvis/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Many French student have a shock when they go to France: although they've studied French for many years, when they get to France, they cannot understand the natives. Does that sound familiar? Well you are not the only one. 

French is an Evolving Language

Like any other languages, French evolves. The French vocabulary of course, but the French grammar as well, and mostly the pronunciation. It's the same thing in English: you no longer say "swell" but "awesome".

I don't know anyone who regularly uses "shall" in the US, and "night" is becoming "nite" - although this one is not quite accepted yet! 

This Evolution is Frown Upon By French Teachers and Purists

This evolution is frown upon by French teachers and purists, who consider the language is becoming poorer. They are likely to use the modern pronunciation themselves when they are among friends and family, but will automatically watch their pronunciation when they are teaching / recording teaching methods.

The French Taught In School is NOT the French Spoken Today

The result is that the French you'll traditionally find in schools and French learning methods is NOT the one actual French people speak today. This is true for any French person: no matter their age or standing, every single French person nowadays applies some "glidings" that are not taught to students of French.

Spoken Street French Versus Book French Examples

Let me give you some examples.

You've learned "Je ne sais pas" but will hear "shay pa". (I don't know)
You've learned "à quelle heure" but will hear "kan ça ?". (when/ at what time)
You've learned "Je ne le lui ai pas donné" but will hear "shui aypa doné". (I didn't give it to him/her)
You've learned "il ne fait pas beau" but will hear "ifay pabo".

(The weather is not nice)
You've learned "il n'y a pas de quoi" but will hear "ya pad kwa". (It's nothing)
You've learned "qui est-ce ?" but will hear "séki"? (Who is it?)
You've learned "Il ne veut pas ce qui est ici" but will hear " ivepa skié tici". (He doesn't want what is here).

Students seldom really master French liaisons, which are an essential part of French pronunciation, and they've never heard glidings, street question construction, nor are they aware that entire words disappear (such as the "ne" part of the negation or many pronouns).

And that's just pronunciation. I'm not even getting into the "in" words used by the younger generations such as "kiffer" (= aimer) or "elle lui a péta son iPhone" - she broke his iPhone...

You Need to Understand Mainstream Street French

So, without going to the extreme and learn "ghetto street French"... you need to understand French like it is spoken by everybody in France nowadays. This is not the typical French you'll find in books or even audio programs for French students. Unless your teacher is French or has spent a lot of time in France, s/he may not know how to speak like that. And many French teachers from France with higher diplomas will refuse to teach the modern glidings etc...

thinking they are participating to the decadence of the language if they do. 

So what French learning tools should you use? Read about the ​top French learning resources for the self studying student - the only way you will learn to understand this modern spoken French is by working with audiobooks which focus on modern French and familiarise yourself with the modern glidings. Or of course, go to France in immersion, and practice with a teacher who accepts to put his "teacher" hat on the side and teach you the real spoken French language.​