Queen Elizabeth at 90: Is she really fluent in French?

On Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday, it's time to examine how good her majesty's French really is.

Queen Elizabeth at 90: Is she really fluent in French?
President François Hollande and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo (right) seem delighted with the Queen's level of French. Photo: AFP
Parlez-vous francais, votre Majesté?
The Queen, who celebrates the grand-old age of 90 on Thursday, speaks French. That much is sure. 
But how well? Can she say the number 90 in French without hesitating?
Her press team confirmed to The Local that she spoke French, but refused to go into any detail whatsoever, preferring to remain tight-lipped about the monarch's ability to speak Moliere's tongue.
Unable to get a direct line to the Queen, here's what we could find out elsewhere. 
The official website for the Royal Family describes the Queen's French as “fluent” (but let's face it, we've all exaggerated our language ability on our CVs before).
It also says she does not need an interpreter, so it must be fairly accomplished. But when does she really get to use it? We all know that a language is like a muscle and needs to be stretched regularly.
How often does she get to stretch her tongue? Certainly on state visits to France. Pictures from her 2014 visit show her apparently at ease as she wanders around a Paris flower market with President François Hollande and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, neither of whom speak English that well.
And below she can be seen giving instructions to Hollande as she boards the plane home, perhaps asking him to keep quiet about her level of French. Ma'am's the word.
(“You don't say a word about my French.” Photo: AFP)
Whenever she does speak French, the English-language press certainly get excited about it. Indeed, after she had a tiny French conversation with a 13-year-old last year, one paper went with the headline “Mon Dieu! Queen Elizabeth Speaks French at School Visit“.
This, however, may speak more about the (lack of) French skills of the rest of the us than the Queen's impressive French.  

The Queen made her first state visit to France in 1948, shortly after her wedding. Since then she has been back five times on official visits.
And she often switches between English and French when giving speeches in France and other French-speaking countries, something she has been doing for some time.

In fact, there is video footage of her holding a nearly ten-minute speech in French when visiting Quebec in 1964.

Yes, she was reading the entire speech from cue cards, but her pronunciation was excellent. 
But just because she could read French well in 1964 doesn't mean she could waltz into a Parisian coffee shop tomorrow and order “un café à emporter” (or 'a takeaway coffee', for you non-French speakers out there) without being asked to repeat her order three times by a confused waiter.
More recently, in 2012, footage emerged of Sa Majesté speaking French with France's President Francois Hollande in what appeared to be an off-the-cuff conversation. 
She even took the small talk to an impressively high level (and quickly) by blaming the bad weather in the UK and France “on the jet streams, or something like that”. 
This video is one of the most interesting of all. It's seemingly unscripted, for one, but even better – Her Majesty uses the word “jet streams” in English. 
This could be interpreted in two ways:
1) She knew that the French use the English word “jet streams” (suggesting she is an advanced speaker).
2) She panicked and decided to use a well-known tactic of just throwing in an English word during small talk (and hope to get lucky).
More perplexing still, the quick cuts on the footage leave a lot to the imagination. Was Her Majesty scrambling for her French-English phrasebook after every sentence?
We may never know. 
In 2014, she spoke again in French (and English) during the State Banquet for her fifth French State Visit at the Élysée Palace in Paris. 
In the clip below she makes the switch to French at the 27-second mark (watch Hollande's ears prick up) and again at 4min45.
Once again, the French sounds very impressive. But who are we at The Local – native English speakers (like the Queen) – to judge Her Majesty on her French?
We asked French language expert Camille Chevalier-Karfis, the founder of the language site French Today, for her opinion on the above videos. 
“Her reading skills were excellent – both pronunciation and rhythm were very good, but you could feel she was quite tense,” she said.

“I was impressed by the quality of her French (yet, I bet she could read a speech in Chinese if need be…). No stuttering pour la reine.”
As for the impromptu chat with Hollande, our expert says the Queen's response about her husband “was answered perfectly, but this is quite basic French”.
“So, with these clips it's quite hard for me to say the level of French the Queen speaks. She seems to be understanding basic conversation and can read a speech perfectly, but I don't know how would she manage a whole conversation or watching a movie in French.”

So it's unlikely we'd ever see her wandering around Paris holding a French phrase book, but nor will we see her sneaking into the cinema to watch a French language movie without English subtitles.
So she's probably pretty much at the same level as most of us. Except she's 90.



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French magazine must pay 190,000 euros over Kate Middleton topless pics

A French court ruled Tuesday that a French celebrity magazine must pay 100,000 euros in damages to Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate over topless photos of the duchess published in 2012.

French magazine must pay 190,000 euros over Kate Middleton topless pics
The court also ordered Closer magazine's editor Laurence Pieau and publisher Ernesto Mauri to each pay 45,000 euros ($53,000) in fines, the maximum possible.
The couple had sought 1.5 million euros in damages and interest.
Closer magazine's lawyer Paul-Albert Iweins said he was “pleased” with the ruling on the damages to pay, but said the fine was “exaggerated for a simple private matter.”
For his part, the royal couple's lawyer Jean Veil declined to comment, adding that Kensington Palace would make a statement.

The grainy snaps of Kate Middleton sunbathing in a bikini bottom were taken while she was on holiday in September 2012 in the south of France with her husband, the second in line to the British throne.
The couple were snapped with a long lens relaxing by a pool at a chateau belonging to Viscount Linley, a nephew of Queen Elizabeth.
The pictures triggered a furious reaction from the royal family in Britain, where several newspapers rejected an offer to buy the pictures.
Closer, a glossy gossip magazine, was the first to splash them on its cover, and they were later reproduced in several other European publications, including Chi in Italy and Ireland's Daily Star.
The royals — who announced Monday they are expecting a third child — filed a criminal complaint for invasion of privacy and obtained an injunction preventing further use of the images.
In a letter read out in court, William said the case reminded him of the paparazzi hounding of his mother, princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash in Paris 20 years ago.
Two Paris-based agency photographers,  were each given fines of 10,000 euros, with 5,000 euros suspended.
'Positive image'
The prosecution had called for “very heavy” fines for the editor of the French Closer and Mondadori France, which is part of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's media empire.
The royals had joined the case as civil plaintiffs.
During the trial, Closer's lawyers argued that the pictures were in the public interest and conveyed a “positive image” of the royals.
The court also ordered the magazine to hand over the files with the images to the royal couple.
They learned of their impending publication while on an Asia-Pacific tour to mark the diamond jubilee of William's grandmother Queen Elizabeth II.