Most liked sports in France with vocabulary and translations

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french sports

The Top 4 Sports in France

french sports vocabulary

Sport is big business in France. It is so important that the most widely-read daily newspaper is a French sports newspaper called L’Equipe. As France is the biggest country in Europe in geographical area, it also has a lot of space for sports, they play a big part in French society.

Another example is RMC, formerly known as Radio Monté Carlo, and now the most popular radio station in terms of audience (4,000,000 people every day). From 4pm to 12am, every day, sports are on the agenda – discussions, results, fixtures, previews, phone-ins, etc.

In terms of performance, the French aren’t particularly great at the sports they love. But they invest a lot – the French government provides lots of facilities for high-performing athletes and take a lot of time working with grass roots associations.

Before we go any further, it is obviously important to give you some typical useless sporting French expressions:

FrenchEnglish
Tu joues comme ma grand-mèreYou play like my granny
Il y a 16 joueurs dans l’équipe – pas 15There are 16 players in their team – not 15*
Faire l’olaDo the Mexican wave
Tu arrives à faire le grand écart ?Can you do the splits?
Il est raid comme c’est pas possibleHe’s as stiff as a plank**
CommentateurCommentator
StadeStade
PelousePitch
ArbitreReferee
SiffletWhistle

*this is when the rugby fan complains that the referee is on the opposing team’s side. They do this a lot, which I always find a little unfair.
**stiff as in not flexible, not stiff as in the male appendage. Just thought I should make that very clear. Don’t want any double-entendres.

Without any further ado, here are the most popular French sports with some useful commentary on each one and some even more useful vocabulary.

French Football (soccer)

As time goes on, the French use more and more English in their everyday language and French sports is no exception. A case in point is football, which they pronounce fute-bowl. They don’t say soccer. Ever. This is an American expression and the French would look at you in an even more bizarre way than usual if you said it. Just say Fute-bowl. It works.

Football is the number one sport in France, played by the most people. The French are rightly proud of a strong football heritage – the winner of the World Cup is handed the Jules Rimet trophy, and the French have won the World Cup once and European Cup twice. Their most-well known and best-loved player is Zinedine Zidane, who is probably now most famous for getting sent off after head-butting an Italian that insulted his sister during the World Cup final in 2006. He seems to be have forgiven since, even though I thought at the time it was the single most stupid and catastrophic thing he could have done at precisely the worst time. Anyway, the French do extraordinary things, and this was one of them.

Here is some useful French-English football vocabulary:

EnglishFrench
OffsideHors jeu
GoalBut 
PenaltyPenalty
Free kickCoup franc
Goal kick6 metres
Throw-inEn touche
BallBallon
NutmegPetit pont
ForwardAttaquant
WingerAilier
DefenderDéfenseur
GoalkeeperGardien

French Rugby

Rugby, or ruge-bee (don’t forget to roll the “r”) is a much harder game than American football even though they use the same type of ball. Rugby was invented by a boy in the school of Rugby, in England, and the French quickly adopted it. They play both “codes” – Rugby Union (Rugby XV) and Rugby League (Rugby XIII). Rugby union is more popular and the French top league (the Top Quatorze) is actually probably the best in the world as so many international players come to play (and get paid handsomely for it). Jonny Wilkinson, probably England’s answer to ZInedine Zidane on the rugby pitch, played for Toulon for a long time and won loads of trophies. The French national team is not very good (as I write this), probably because they play like little girls, probably because they are poorly coached. But I’m sure they’ll get better soon. The French have been joined by the Italians as the only European continental teams in the 6 Nations Rugby tournament. For a long time the Italians were atrociously awful, and got thrashed in every game, but they’re now better and will definitely might possibly overtake the French as the leading European continental team. For some reason, during this tournament you always see a French fan appear with a rooster. The rooster is one of the official emblems of France. Here’s a typical French joke about that – “Why did the French choose a rooster as their official animal?” “Because it’s the only animal that can sing when it’s feet are covered in shit.

The French also play Rugby League, but are even worse at that than in Rugby Union. I don’t see the point of Rugby League to be honest. It’s like a cheap version of American Football except they throw the ball backwards and don’t wear any protection (as in armour, not as in condoms. You really have a dirty mind, don’t you?)

Here is a French player losing an important rugby final because he was waiting too long for the ball to drop nicely so he could catch it. Idiot.

Here is some useful French-English rugby vocabulary:

EnglishFrench
TryEssai
PostsPoteaux 
PenaltyPénalité
Line-outTouche
ScrumMêlée
Drop-kickDrop
Knock-onEn avant
HookerTalonneur
Scrum halfDemi de mêlée
Fly halfOuvreur
WingerAilier
Full backArrière

French Tennis

Tennis, or Ten-Ees, as they call it in France, is an important sport in France and the French government take it seriously, probably because they hold the French Open every June at Roland Garros (near Porte Auteuil which is where they have the horse racing at Longchamps – a VERY posh part of Paris. This is another reason why when you see all the crowds at the Tennis French Open are so well-dressed. Tickets are horrendously, eye-wateringly, disgustingly rather over-priced so as to enable better category of spectator on the TV). A lot of money is invested in French tennis, and they have a lot of players all over France with official tennis handicaps. There are a lot of well-equipped tennis clubs too (that now have squash (squash) courts and paddle (pronounced pad-dull) mostly as well. Sadly there are lot of good players, but no great ones, not since Yannick Noah.

Now Yannick Noah is the perfect example of how weird French culture is. He’s the last Frenchman to have won Roland Garros – which instantly makes him a French hero, just like our friend Zinedine Zidane (see football). He openly admits to loving smoking cannabis. And he’s also quite a good singer. For a long while, he was voted the most popular man in France. That was until he said he’s always considered himself to be from Cameroon, which was a bit silly. Only in France can a sportsman become a singer and succeed beyond all expectations. Here is Yannick singing. He has also been prosecuted for tax evasion, but that’s none of my business.

Here is some useful tennis vocabulary in French and in English.

EnglishFrench
Tennis ballBalle de tennis
NetFilet 
UmpireArbitre
ServiceService
RacketRaquette
Ball boyRamasseur de balles
Ball girlRamasseuse de balles
Line judgeJuge de ligne
SetManche
GameJeu
Love GameJeu blanc
Tie-breakJeu décisif

Cycling in France

Ah, cycling. How can I not mention cycling when the most famous road race in the world is the Tour de France, or as it is also affectionately known*, le Tour des Dopés (the Dopers Tour). Cycling is called Le Cyclisme in French and it is taken very seriously. Road cycling has now become a very dangerous sport in France. For motorists. I’m serious. There are now huge groups of over-aged spandex-wearing cyclists that take up the entire road and refuse to let the good-natured typical motorist past. I try to knock a few over when I go past to keep the numbers down, but they just seem to sprout up even more, like Gremlins and water.** Sundays are perilous. You go to the shop to get a plastic bottle of milk (the French don’t do Fresh glass bottles of milk, don’t ask me why. Look it up if you don’t believe me) and you come back 7 hours later having being stuck behind the local village’s OAP cycling club that have monopolised the roads for their 30th bloody race.

Cycling is another sport where the French really feel like they should be good but just aren’t. I’m pretty sure this is because they just don’t spend enough money on doping. Once they do and they get to hide it better than the Americans and the British, then I’m sure they’ll win their cherished Tour again.

Funny but true fact – the director of the Tour de France is called Christophe Prud’homme. Which is also the name of the Employment Tribunals in France. So his real, translated name is Christophe Employment Tribunal. I kid you not.

* This is a bad joke and not true.
** All of this is another bad joke. If you did not know it was a joke then this means you don’t have a sense of humour.***
*** This is not a joke, I’m serious.

Here are some crashes on the Tour de France. Tour de Fail. Nasty.

Here is some useful Cycling French-English vocabulary

EnglishFrench
Tennis ballBalle de tennis
BicycleVélo 
Hybrid bikeVTC (vélo tout chemin)
Mountain bikeVTT
Road Route
HillColline
SteepPente
DopingDopage
SeatSiège
ThighsCuisses
ChainChaine
TyrePneu
PuncturePneu crevé

Well, that’s it for today. Hope you liked this article. Your comments, as ever dear reader, are more than welcome.

If you’d like to learn French for free, check out my free online guide to the best places to learn French for free.

If you’d like to study in France, I’ve published a huge guide on that for 2017. Enjoy!

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