Famous French songs to help you learn the language

Updated: April 10, 2021 by Mylene in EntertainmentArray  ▪  

learn french with songs music

Engagement is the key to effective language learning. Successful learning employs a variety of tools to make language learning enjoyable and more engaging. Among these digital tools are songs. Songs are one of the most appealing ways to learn French. They are fun, they can motivate and they reflect French culture.

Lyrics are particularly important in modern French songs; they can tell the story of people who composed and sing them, like Renaud, Ferrat, and Brassens! Many famous songwriters, who are also poets, wrote lyrics that are incredibly rich and can be rewarding for French learners.

In the following, I will guide you to choose the best songs in French (chanson française). You’ll find my recommendations and discover the:

What are the benefits of songs when learning French?

Songs play a major role in foreign language learning. There are many benefits to be gained from listening to music and singing along. They enhance language acquisition in an engaging and interactive way.

Singing in French have numerous advantages, for example, it helps to:

  • retain words more effectively: the rhythm of the music and the repetitive patterns within the song will help you memorize words
  • discover expressions: songs are an opportunity to discover many idiomatic expressions and learn common French phrases
  • improve your pronunciation: with plenty of nasal vowels, open sounds, and silent letters, songs have proven to be beneficial in learning the French pronunciation
  • increase your vocabulary: everyday vocabulary employed in contexts and across many domains
  • learn how words are linked together: practice and perfect your pronunciation in connected speech (liaison, enchaînement,…)
  • understand better the culture: French songs reflect the many facets of life in France (love songs, Christmas songs, patriotic songs, etc.).

How to choose songs when learning a language?

Listening to music has multiple advantages and there are many famous French songs. But first, you need to choose the songs you like!

Many language professionals recognize that singing, listening to songs, and reciting poems are useful teaching techniques. The findings of this study, it was shown:

  • Singing and poems are considered the most suitable for teaching pronunciation
  • Listening to songs is considered the most suitable technique for introducing a topic

It’s really important to choose the music that you like. If you enjoy a song, you will be determined to understand it and continuously repeat it!

Here are some important tips when choosing a song for learning French. Choose a song that is: 

  • not too long (1–3 verses)
  • not too fast (easy to sing along)
  • clear (the words are not cut)

How to improve your French learning with songs?​

The following process makes it easier to learn new words and to sing at the same time. To learn French effectively:

  1. Choose songs with rhythms that repeat
  2. Read the song lyrics out loud
  3. Lookup any unknown words in a dictionary
  4. Listen to the song and read the lyrics at the same time
  5. Then try singing along without looking at the lyrics
  6. Repeat and have fun!

Top songs to improve your pronunciation

Mistral gagnant – Renaud – 1985

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This song is about fatherly love. 

Renaud sings to his young daughter about his own childhood. He realizes that time flies as will fly away from the laughs of his daughter as a child.

Although its lyrics are somewhat fast-paced, Le mistral gagnant is the perfect song for practicing cutting words and slang terms like “barge”.

With this song, you’ll practice:

  • fast speaking and cut words, for instance: chez l’marchand instead of chez le marchand
  • liaison: pigeons idiots is pronounced pigeons.Z.idiots
  • elison: qu’est mort instead of qui est mort
  • the silent -e: reviendra is pronounced r’viendra
  • French slang: bonbec means candy, bouffer means eat, godasses means shoes, barge means crazy, piquer means steal
  • learn familiar expressions: je m’en fous (I don’t care)

Chanson pour l’auvergnat – Georges Brassens – 1955

YouTube video

This French song tells the story of a poor guy who is rejected by people who have everything and comforted by those with nothing!

Generous people share what little they have (bread, a warm fire, a smile). There are three persons:  a man from Auvergne, a host, and a stranger.

According to Brassens, l’auvergnat is Marcel Planche and the host is Jeanne Le Bonniec. This couple helped Brassens escaped the STO in 1944.

With this song, you’ll:

  • pronounce nasal vowels: chanson, façon, croquant, festin,…
  • pronounce liaison, elle est à is pronounced elle est.T.à
  • discover the mute -e, quatre bout de bois is pronounced quatr.bout de bois
  • learn expressions: fermer la porte au nez (to shut/slam the door in someone’s face)

La montagne – Jean Ferrat – 1964

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This song is the story of the “exode rural”, the drift away from the land, and the complicated relationship with the countryside.

With this song, you’ll:

  • pronounce the sound -r: leur vie, rêver, lèvres
  • learn vocabulary: hirondelle, perdreau, caille, hormones
  • liaisons: ils avaient (pronounced ils.Z.avaint), les années (pronounced les.Z.années), peut-on (pronounced peut.T.on), veulent aller (pronounced veulent.T.aller)

Ne me quitte pas – Jacques Brel – 1959

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Jacques Brel said this song wasn’t about heartbreak, but instead it was about the cowardice of men.

When the song was released it was quite the scandal because people weren’t used to see a man in such a desperate position.

Best for intermediate learners, it is a list of all of the things he would do for his partner.

With this song, you’ll practice:

  • liaison: il faut oublier (pronounced faut.T.oublier)
  • French verbs: s’enfuir, oublier, quitter,…
  • future tense: je t’offrirai, je creuserai, tu seras, je t’inventerai

Top songs to expand your French vocabulary

Songs are not a list of vocabulary. You need to understand the meaning of the song and not every word.

Comme d’habitude – Claude François – 1967

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If you think “My way” is an American song, you are wrong! 

This song was written by Gilles Thibaut and Claude François.

This powerful song is so brilliant for learning French because of its slow start and clear lyrics. 

With this song, you’ll practice:

  • everyday French vocabulary: main, maison, dos, froid,…
  • common French verbs: se réveiller, tourner, remonter, s’habiller,…
  • future tense: on s’embrassera, on fera, je t’attendrai,…
  • the rhythm: it’s slow and it’s great for a beginners level

Hier encore – Charles Aznavour – 1964

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In this song, Charles Aznavour takes stock of his life. He expresses his regrets and the feeling of having wasted his time.

An unpleasant feeling that we have probably all experienced at some point in our lives.

With this song, you’ll practice:

  • past tense: j’avais, je vivais,…
  • present perfect: croyant, conjuguant, sachant,…
  • liaison: suis essouflé (pronounced suis.Z.essouflé), mes jeunes années (pronounced jeunes.Z.années),…
  • common idioms like des projets rester en l’air, perdre son temps,…

Top songs to improve your rhythm

Elle me dit – Mika – 2011

YouTube video

This song is fast and upbeat and will make anyone want to dance!

For upper-intermediate learners that would like a challenge, you will be able to practice the rhythm!

With this song, you’ll practice:

  • your rhythm
  • negative imperative form: ne finis pas, ne t’enfermes pas,…
  • elision: for example t’es instead of tu es,
  • mute -e: des ch’veux instead of des cheveux, fais c’que tu veux instead of fais ce que tu veux,…

Papaoutai – Stromae – 2013

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The title of the song is an intentionally misspelled form of the phrase “Papa, où t’es?”, which means Dad, where are you?

Stromae is half Belgian half Rwandan. His father was killed during the genocide in Rwanda. 

The entire song is about a young boy missing his father, all the reasons that he was given explaining why his father is not present by his mother. This song emphasizes his feelings about this problem he had in his life.

Although its lyrics are somewhat fast-paced is the perfect song for practicing the interrogative form.

With this song, you’ll practice:

  • your rhythm
  • interrogative form: où est ton papa? où es-tu caché?,…
  • future tense: on sera, on n’y croira, il y aura,…
  • common adjectives: détestable, admirable, irresponsable,…

Top songs to discover French culture

Il est cinq heures, Paris s’éveille – Jacques Dutronc – 1968

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Let’s visit Paris with this song.

Its refrain of “Paris s’éveille” (Paris awakens) found an obvious resonance in the context of the events of May 1968, a few weeks after its release.

With this song, you’ll practice:

  • everyday life vocabulary: fatigués, boulanger, sommeil, se coucher,…
  • Paris vocabulary: gare, place Dauphine, Montparnasse, Arc de triomphe, Obélisque, Vilette,…
  • silent -e: l’dauphine, d’la place

Douce France – Charles Trenet – 1943

YouTube video

Last on our list is Douce France by Charles Trenet.

For people new to learning French, this old song allows learners to practice the past present without difficult accents or phrasal verbs.

The song was interpreted for the first time in 1943 in front of French prisoners in Berlin.

Douce France reminds us of the Chanson de Roland in 1100 (in which dulce France is a frequently used formula).

Douce France is a song full of nostalgia, intended at sweetening the sufferings of the French people during World War II.

With this song is great for pronunciation because he sings clearly, you’ll practice:

  • open sound: bonheur, coeur, douleur,…
  • liaison: for example j’étais écoliers (pronounced j’étais.Z.écoliers),…
  • nasal vowels: insouciance, France, enfance,…

Let’s connect

Singing along can be challenging, even for native speakers! Firstly you need to pick a song that you absolutely love. Then don’t be shy and have fun!  

To know more about other topics related to pronunciation in French you can connect with me on YouTube or Instagram

You can also join the online French pronunciation course if you’re looking to improve your French pronunciation quickly. You can get enrolled today and boost your French learning to the next level!

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This post is also available in Français.

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