If you like popular music, studying song lyrics is an enjoyable way of expanding your knowledge of French.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate your way around.
Finding the lyrics
Paroles.net is the definitive site for finding song lyrics. If a song exists in French it will be here! The site was closed for three years because of legal issues concerning rights, but after reaching an agreement with the French copyright holders’ organisation the Chambre Syndicale De l’Édition Musicale it is now a completely legal encyclopedia of French texts. An easy to use search engine makes it straightforward to find song texts either by author or title.
If you want to belt out the songs yourself, you will enjoy the excellently designed website lyricstraining.com.
It contains videos of around 500 different French songs with the words scrolling underneath. There’s a game mode where you have to listen and fill out the missing words (a bit like the French TV show N’oubliez pas les paroles), but for a carefree sing-along the karaoke mode works well.
There are songs for all tastes: plenty of contemporary stars such as Louane or Stromae, but also some great classics. I particularly enjoyed trying to keep up with Jeanne Moreau singing Le Tourbillon in a wonderful clip from Jules et Jim. The occasional spelling mistakes are disappointing but don’t reduce the enjoyment.
Discovering new music
If you come from outside a culture, knowing what to listen to is half the battle. The streaming music service Qobuz (from 9.99€ per month) can help.
It’s the French equivalent of Tidal or Spotify, giving you access to a near unlimited catalogue of music. Deezer is French in origin too, but what’s nice about Qobuz is the carefully curated lists of recommendations to get you started.
So who today is writing lyrics that merit study? This is the advice from one of the greats of La chanson française – Charles Aznavour:
La chanson française à l’heure actuelle a un avantage fantastique, c’est que les rappeurs et les slammeurs écrivent merveilleusement notre langue. On pense toujours que cette jeunesse ne connaît pas la chanson. Au contraire elle la connaît très, très bien, mais elle veut s’exprimer d’une manière différente et je trouve qu’il y une floraison d’auteurs et de compositeurs et d’interprètes rappeurs ou slammeurs qui sont formidables aujourd’hui.