English words the French simply can't say

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Oliver Gee - [email protected]
English words the French simply can't say
A confused squirrel, no doubt trying to pronounce his own name. Photo: Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr

English-learners might get off lightly when it comes to grammar but pronunciation problems can leave them in a proper pickle. Here are the toughest of all words for French people to get their lips around.


We've already held up the mirror to ourselves and revealed the hardest words for English speakers to pronounce in French.
Now the tables have turned.
We've collected what readers deemed to be the most difficult words for French people to pronounce while speaking English.
You'll probably notice a few themes here, particularly with the letters TH, H, R, and I. And for the French readers, we've even added a few tips to help you out.
Let's begin.

(Photo: Laszlo Ilyes/Flickr)
This is a rare double-banger -- not only is it impossible for French people to pronounce (skwee-woo?), but the French word for squirrel - écureuil - is also extremely tough for us foreigners. Luckily for us all, squirrels don't come up in conversations too often.
Our tip to the French: Avoid the word at all costs. 

(Photo: Shutterstock)
Facebook follower William Hosey said he's noticed the word thorough is a tough one. "My wife is French and an excellent speaker and translator," he says. "However the "th" at the beginning and the "rough" at the end make it difficult. They see the "rough" at the end and try to pronounce it "ruff", instead of "row"."
Tip for the French: Avoid. Use the word proper and properly instead of thorough and thoroughly.
While this may not be one of the most commonly mispronounced words, we love the story from Al Rivera on Facebook. She told us she used to have a French chef who would call them "broonies". We bet they still tasted good though.

(British model and actress Lease Hurley. Photo: AFP)
It's not only the word Liz, but any word featuring the short i sound (bin, hit, sip, live, etc). But we particularly like the example of the word "Liz", shared with us by Facebook follower Liz Bennett. "I get called 'Lease' all the time," she wrote. Don't worry, Lease, it will get better with time.
Our tip to the French: Keep calling her Lease. She'll find it endearing eventually.

(Photo: William Warby/Flickr)
In all fairness, when testing out this list of words in our office, even our native English speakers stumbled on the phrase "three thousandths" (sree-sows-ence). But if we stumbled, the French seem to face plant. Look at all those horrible th's and s's. It's no surprise people can't say it. Luckily, it's not a common word. But "thousand" is, and often proves difficult all the same. 
Tip to the French: If an English speaker makes fun of your pronunciation, ask them to say it. They might just fail too. We did.

(Photo: Tiffany Bailey/Flickr)
Yes it's true, the French don't have much time for the 'umble H. They'd rather enjoy 'appy 'ours in 'otel bars without 'aving to think it. But a reader favourite in pronunciation was the double barrel H word - hedgehog. Or as some French people say, edgeog. 
Our tip to the French: Keep saying edgeog, it's very charming.

(A blue moon occurs rarely. Photo: Shutterstock)
Those pesky Rs again. English teacher Crystal Gibson says her French students always struggle with "rarely". And who can blame them? The French roll their Rs, and rarely has two very unrolled Rs very close together. 
Our tip to the French: Say "Not often".

(Photo: Michael Dales/Flickr)
And lastly, a few readers pointed out that when some French people say "focus", it can sound similar to "f**k us". Very disturbingly so. To make matters worse, notes blogger Oui in France, business language can become a minefield: "I want to focus hard on next week’s presentation..." Beware.
Our tip to the French: Pronounce the first syllable like the French word "faux".
That wraps up our list. Honourable mentions to the words: South, thriller, and depth, which were all brought up by readers too but which we found to be too similar to other words above. 
Finally our editor still can't get used to being told to "take the shits (sheets) out of the washing machine" by his French partner.


Comments (2)

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Anonymous 2018/04/24 06:15
Anonymous 2018/04/23 19:47
(I've given up Susan) my neighbour had me in fits when she had to mime "ships, chips and sheep" Ended up drawing them. They all sounded the same!

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