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How mastering the French language really messes up your English

The Local France
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How mastering the French language really messes up your English
Photo: CollegeDegree360/Flickr

So you've mastered French, but now it's time to learn English all over again.


1. You've started pronouncing French words "properly"
"I'll meet you at the restaurant near the cinema," you tell friends, pronouncing both the italicized words with a flawless French accent. 
You can't help it. They're French words, you're used to pronouncing them as they should be pronounced. 
Except to your English friends it's sounds like your being a language snob and therefore likely to be abused for it.
Photo: Jakob Montrasio/Flickr
2. And that goes for place names too
You pronounce the French capital as "Paree", you say Bretagne instead of Brittany, and Bourgogne instead of Burgundy. 
Because that's what they're called, right?
Except no one understands where you are talking about now.
Photo: Jagrab/Flickr
3. Quoi?
Rapid responses to a situation in English sometimes prompt French words, especially like quoi? instead of "what?". 
Similarly, visits back home can bring out unexpected French phrases like attends or merci instead of "wait!" or "thank you". It's in your subconscious now. 
4. Which are my real friends (and which are my false ones)?
Those blasted false friends have made you stumble again. At first, when learning French, you were walking on egg shells so you wouldn't call a preservative a preservatif (because that means condom). 
But now, you have to think twice when speaking English to remember whether "sensible" actually means sensible, or whether it means sensitive.  You get stressed about saying the words "excited" (excité), jolly (Jolie) and chat (Chatte). The confusion is real.
Photo: Rorro Navia/Flickr
5. Your word order is all messed up
"I play sometimes basketball," you might find yourself saying, as one American readers explains or you might say "these are the shoes of Brian".
It's a real mess.
Photo: AFP
6. Literal translations
You walk into a bar and say "I'll take a glass, if you please, sir" (which translated into French would be perfectly normal).
Just because you think in French, doesn't mean you should translate it into English. 
Photo: Paul Rysz/Flickr
7. Using French words in English sentences
"Shall we meet for an apéro?"
"Ah putain, I can't come. Probably a good thing anyway because I need to watch my couvade."
Some words are just better in French, especially swear words and some words like "couvade" which is the 'sympathetic pregnancy' belly that new dads get. These words just don't exist in English. But they should do.
But the danger is you over do it and end up sounding like Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses.
8. Weird intonation when you speak

"Why are you speaking funny?" is a common question we head "back home".

Whether it’s from learning French or perhaps from speaking English in a different way to suit your French audience, you end up sounding very strange to your friends back home.

9. I can’t think of the English word for it

Your conversations are interrupted frequently because you can’t remember the English world for something, as all you can think of is the French word for it.

Except that won’t really get you anywhere back home.

10. You sound like a horse
Gone are the days of "umm" and "ah", now you're peppering your speech with "bah", "hein", and that unusual "pfft" noise that sounds like a horse blowing air through its lips.
Photo: Dave Wild/Flickr
11. Adding a "no" to the end of every sentence, no?
The French love tacking a "non" at the end of sentences when seeking for an agreement, but it sounds kind of funny in English. We've been here before, no? You've met her, no? 
This is probably something that you do yourself, no?
Photo: The Local
12. Getting your capital letters all wrong

The French and the English have an different relationship to capital letters. We say today is a Wednesday in October in English, whereas it would be a mercredi en octobre en francais
They also capitalize just the first letter of the first important word in a proper noun, so while NASA is National Aeronautics and Space Administration in English, it's just the Administration nationale de l'aéronautique et de l'espace in French. 
Photo: AFP
13. You find yourself using the word "super" a bit too much
Want to stress how big, good, fun something was? Well, once your French starts improving you'll find yourself stressing those things with the word "super" rather than "really". 
Rather than try and get yourself out of the habit, it might be wise to just go with it and try to claim it's a new "super" cool way of speaking. 
14. A split personality?
Do you feel like a different person when speaking French to when you speak English? If so you're not alone. Because there's now two of you.
And developing an extra personality - different jokes, different way of speaking, different ways of getting angry can be complicated when you need you need to go back to your original personality, which may have gone into sleep mode by now.


Comments (3)

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Anonymous 2019/03/17 20:15
Speaking of NATO which is abbreviared to OTAN or maybe otan? in French conversation - French friends thought I was very ignorant because at first I didn't know what they were talking about! I find turning long titled descriptions backwards is one of the hardest things to do fluently.
Anonymous 2019/03/15 20:03
Before we moved to France I always used to look down on fellow Brits who used the French words and pronounced them correctly.... <br />And now.....after more than twelve years, oh dear, I do exactly the same thing, especially when in England, having lost certain English words and I say I love pintade, the voisins are really nice, and so on; and then realise - dommage - what a fool I look....It's the pitying expressions that hurt most.... <br />
Anonymous 2019/03/15 18:35
Not just vocabulary, but different pitch of speaking and different body language. I took English friends to our local wine cooperative (Cave des Vignerons de Saumur aka Robert et Marcel) and (obviously) spoke to them in English, at which point the person serving us exclaimed 'mais tu (I'm a regular) n'es pas la meme personne!'

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