5 Untranslatable French Words & Phrases

Just like English, French has its roots in Latin, but at times it seems there are more differences than similarities between the two languages. All languages have at least a few aspects which are untranslatable. Whether it be words or phrases, they have meanings which are unique to their specific cultures alone. You may be planning on moving to France in the near future or are hoping to apply your language skills at home with colleagues and friends –either way you’re sure to impress if you take your French to the next level with these untranslatable phrases.


In some circles, this French expression has actually been adopted into English without being translated (perhaps because it’s hard to translate?). Savoir-Faire literally translates as “know-do” or “know-how” but its meaning is a tad more complicated than that. These days, you should use this phrase to express someone’s adaptability or ability to know what to do in any situation.

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Chanter en yaourt / yaourter

This beautiful phrase literally means “to yoghurt sing.” Sounds pretty bizarre, right? French speakers apply this expression to refer to someone who is trying to sing in a foreign language but is getting the words all wrong or is filling in the song with humming. Who knew there was a phrase for those of us trying to sing in a new language and failing miserably at it! Yoghurt away, my friend!


Chez is a word which you’ve probably learned early on in your French studies and you may think you know what it means, but I’ve got news for you: this word is a lot more complicated than it seems. There is no direct translation because chez can encompass many things; you can use it to refer to your home or a place, can indicate a person’s state of mind, and even to refer to someone’s (e.g. artist’s) body of work.

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This is one of the most difficult French phrases to translate or describe, but luckily English has a similar expression: “I’ve had it up to here.” Of course, ras-le-bol doesn’t literally translate to mean this, but like “I’ve had it up to here,” it can be used to express frustration or annoyance.

L’ésprit d’escalier

We’ve all been in those situations where we’ve thought of a clever comeback hours after an argument has ended right? Well, when this happens l’esprit d’escalier is the perfect phrase to describe these situations. Literally, its meaning is “staircase wit” but is applicable to the feeling of coming up with a good response when it is too late too use it!

Not only will these five words and phrases provide you with some serious savoir-faire when it comes to using the French language like a native, but they are also extremely fun to adopt into your vocabulary. Of course, if you focus too much on memorizing phrases and neglect your French foundation you may find yourself struggling to use your these expressions in everyday conversations. Keep this from happening by signing up for a language classes and maintaining your skills in top shape with free online placement tests. Then start using these great phrases and watch your colleagues’ and friends’ jaws drop in amazement!