Making time every day to study French can get exhausting. Learning another language to a high level takes lots of commitment and we all know that extra time is a rare commodity.
There are a ton of TV shows in France that borrow directly from well-known American series; transitioning some of your regular daily activities into French is an easy way to continue to hone your language skills without setting aside additional time!
French TV shows that are based off familiar American counterparts are perfect for language learning because we are already familiar with the premise of the show and only need to focus on the actual language being used.
While all these shows are somewhat over-the-top, each reveals important cultural aspects of life in France and highlights different ways French is used. Profitez-en bien !
Projet Fashion (Project Runway)
The French are extremely direct when it comes to negative feedback and this facet of their communication style couldn’t be more obvious than through the judges’ feedback in Projet Fasion.
While Michael Kors and Nina Garcia can be harsh in the American version of the show, they still highlight positive aspects of designer work and are eager to encourage the contestants. Fast forward to the finale episode of Projet Fashion and you’ll be shocked – appalled, even – at what the judges have to say about the final runway shows.
Don’t worry though – this type of super direct negative feedback is normal in France (you won’t find a dainty complement sandwich here like we have in the State!). No feedback is good feedback in France, so the Projet Fashion judges seem extra critical of the final runway because they only focus on what needs improvement.
Where to watch: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCh6JXFxHV13N_zdi8RByo-w
Le Meilleur Pâtissier (The Great British Baking Show)
There’s nothing worse for your waistline than watching a ton of Frenchies bake mouth-watering pastries for hours on end. That being said, Le Meilleur Pâtissier (‘The Best Pastry Chef’) is an all-encompassing introduction to the highly regulated world of French baked goods.
Ingredients are measured by weight in grams in French baking for extra precision, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying out some recipes showcased on the show – Mercotte, a well known pastry chef and a judge on the show, lists all recipes on her website: https://www.mercotte.fr/m6-le-meilleur-patissier/
Where to watch: https://www.6play.fr/le-meilleur-patissier-p_1807
Chasseurs d’appart’ (House Hunters)
If you’re like me and have watched every episode of House Hunters International on Hulu, fear not! There’s thankfully a myriad of similar shows in France to meet your HGTV cravings.
Chasseurs d’appart’ (Apartment Hunters [“appart” is short for “appartement”]) takes regular French people on a hunt to find their dream (miniscule) apartment in the heart of picturesque cities across l’Hexagone. Seeing different regions and cities in France helps to situate the varying distinct architectural styles and better understand which amenities are needed for a typical day-in-the-life across the pond.
As with the previous TV shows, there’s a whole new set of vocabulary to accompany l’immobilier (real estate). One of the trickiest parts of gaining fluency in another language is acquiring the proper words for daily life and specific situations.
Where to watch: https://www.6play.fr/chasseurs-d-appart–p_5094
Mariés au premier regard (Married At First Sight)
I’m not saying that Married At First Sight was even a good show to begin with, but it does make a fascinating statement on how we form relationships and where values lie in romantic partnerships.
The French are known as what’s called a “coconut culture” – this means that they have a hard outer shell that’s difficult to break through before getting to the soft interior. In the US, we generally make new friends easily or have no issue chatting up a storm with strangers on the bus or waiting in line. The French have a bad reputation for being “cold,” but that’s just because they take a long time to break through their outer hard shell and open up to others. When they do finally open up, however, you know it is a true relationship and less a fleeting interaction like you might find with Americans.
Where to watch: https://www.6play.fr/maries-au-premier-regard-p_6286
La France a un incroyable talent (America’s Got Talent)
La France a un incroyable talent is pure Entertainment. It’s also a great way to become familiar with the current stars of French pop culture – each judge is well known in France and has made their own mark on music and performance. Being aware of the “who’s who” helps to create even more of an immersive French experience regardless of where you live.
This show is also fantastic for learning all the current hits. Stromae is great, but there is so much wonderful French music to discover; even though a lot of singers on the show use well known American hits, there’s a lot of good French music waiting to be found here.
Where to watch: https://www.6play.fr/la-france-a-un-incroyable-talent-p_900
Wild, la course de survie (Survivor)
Survivor is hailed as the first big reality TV show in the US and is currently on it’s 37th season! France has only just completed its first season of the show, broadcast in March of this year. Even without a plethora of seasons to dive into, there’s a lot to take away from this show, too.
France has a strong national education system, meaning that every single student receives the same education, reads the same books, has the exact same handwriting, etc. (or at least in theory). It’s fascinating to watching a group of individuals with the same upbringing and world views get along and push their boundaries in these intense conditions. America’s strength can be said to come from the level of individuality and many different strengths and weaknesses; what happens in survival mode when your personal resources are much more homogenous.
Where to watch: https://www.6play.fr/wild-la-course-de-survie-p_9071
C’est pas sorcier (How Its Made)
As adults learning another language, it’s easy to overlook kids’ shows. While C’est pas sorcier is made for a younger audience, its content is essential for strengthening your language acumen with an understanding of how France works as a country, in turn, how the country views the world.
As a show made for kids, its also interesting to learn how kids are spoken to and treated in France; you won’t see any watered-down explanations or beating around sensitive topics. Kids are spoken to as adults from an early age in France and are seen as capable of understanding complex concepts. The show hosts do a fantastic job at explaining difficult theories or new words – great for bulking up your vocab!
Where to watch: https://www.youtube.com/user/cestpassorcierftv
Next: Made in France (Next)
I never said these would all be classy shows… But, who doesn’t love a little trashy reality dating show action! And I have to admit, this is my favorite show of the bunch to kick back and relax. Where else will you find such poetry as “Il a un beau petit cul. J’ai envie de craquer dedans comme dans une pomme.”?
I get that a dating show like Next won’t give you the full scoop on dating in France, but is an honest portrayal of (over-the-top) young people and helps to prove that France has a lot of people who don’t fit the famous French mold we’ve come to put them in. You can learn a lot of good slang from Next and see how differently young people tend to talk than older professionals (compared to these other shows).
Where to watch: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=next+made+in+france
On a échangé nos mamans (Wife Swap)
Behind the ridiculous façade of On a échangé nos mamans lies some very poignant remarks on childhood, parenthood, and home life in France. Many of my French friends in the US work as au pair and their first observation is always the glaring differences in the way kids behave in the US versus France.
As mentioned under C’est pas sorcier, kids are ‘babied’ less in France – no kiddie menus at restaurants, no watered down explanations of the way the world works, higher expectations.
Patron incognito (Undercover Boss)
The French are famous for ‘barely work’ and taking hours-long lunch breaks (on top of many pause café throughout the day) – is this how it really works on the ground, though? France is, like the US, composed of many different socioeconomic realities and relying on one overwhelming stereotype about life in France and French people is dangerous.
Patron incognito is successful in profiling both the massive public, governmental companies France is known for as well as the many smaller, private business. You will also gain a solid understanding of the differences in lifestyle and education between the PDG (CEO) and regular workers.
France is culturally extremely hierarchical – workers are never allowed to bring issues up directly to superiors, people stay in their work role, bosses do not interact with their workers. It’s therefore pretty striking to see an all-important PDG step off their pedestal and don the life of their workers.
Business lingo aside, you will also learn about gender roles in France and in business through this series as well as understand more on the French economy and people’s relationship to money.
Where to watch: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=patron+incognito
Bonus : C’est mon choix
C’est mon choix doesn’t borrow from any American TV show in particular (although its talk show format is reminiscent of many US productions). This show runs the gambit on cultural and linguistic knowledge since wildly different types of people and situations are showcased each episode.
You can go from learning about the French aristocracy (yes, they still exist) to teens with tattoos and piercings all over – each episode showcases the wide-ranging diversity of France and helps to pull back the veil on stereotypes.
Yes, the interviewees are over-the-top and can have extreme viewpoints and lifestyles. But, you’re seeing real people speaking real French discussing their real lives.
Where to watch : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnWgyiVKDPbd-6mgistpeDg