One thing that confuses a lot of new French speakers is how to ask about location. Technically, there are two different ways this could be done. However, in any given situation, there is only one that will sound natural. So, I’ll show you the way I was taught to differentiate between the two.
Où se trouve…?
“Where is it located?” / “Where does it find itself?” (lit.)
Used when asking for directions or about the geographical location of a street or landmark. Basically, you use this when talking about big-picture locations.
“Where is it?”
Used when trying to locate an object. One of my teachers taught it this way: “If you’re looking for something you could probably carry, this is most likely what you should say.”
Let’s look at an example.
Say you’re looking for your pen. You could technically use both phrases. But really, when you’re looking for your pen in class, do you elbow your friend and ask “Hey. Do you know where my pen is located?” No. You could. It’d be grammatically correct. And your question would be understood. But it’d sound overly proper and a bit uncomfortable. So you ask “Hey. Do you know where my pen is?” So in this case, I would use “Où est”.
However, if I was looking for a hospital, I could definitely use “Où se trouve”, because in English, that’s something I would naturally say. In a normal conversation, if I was asking for directions, I might ask someone “Do you know where the nearest hospital is located?” So, since that’s how I’d say it in English, that’s how I’d say it in French.
Maybe you were taught differently, or maybe you were taught that there isn’t a difference between the two phrases. And if so, there’s nothing wrong with it. They both work. But I was always taught that in each circumstance, there will be one version that is more natural to say.