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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Ten French words you’ll never pronounce right

French may be beautiful sounding language - but some of those Gallic words can be a real ordeal for us foreigners to pronounce. Our readers have picked out their most unpronounceable French words. How many can you (confidently) say?

Ten French words you'll never pronounce right
This is what a frog might look like trying to pronounce the French word for frog. Photo: Yamanaka Tamaki/Flickr
We put the shout-out on social media and we were flooded with responses.
 
We gathered what we thought were the best responses and the toughest words – from beginner level to extremely advanced. And a warning: Number ten is really hard.
 
Without further ado:
 
1: Mille-feuille
 

(If you can't get your mouth around the word, get it around the cake instead. Photo: Alpha/Flickr)
 
Fancy some custard slice? Well not if it's mille-feuille, says Facebook fan Deborah Adams Kutch. “It's physically impossible for me to pronounce correctly,” she says. 
 
“I have had more than one session with several obliging patisserie ladies trying to teach me, much to their hilarity.”
 
2. Brouilly
 

(Welcome to Brouilly itself, with some vineyards in the background. Photo: JaHoVil/Flickr)
 
Another item that's top of the unpronounceable list is “Brouilly“, a type of red wine from the area bearing the same name in the Beaujolais region. Lynn Segal on Facebook says: “I don't drink it anymore because I've been laughed at so many times! I can't figure out how to say the B at the front of the mouth and the R at the back.”
 
3. Rouen
 

(Photo: Thomas Hammoudi/Flickr)
 
Another answer that got people talking was “Rouen“, a town in northern France. Iris Weintraub Lachaud says it's hard to pronounce “unless you're a goose”. 
 
But it's not just us foreigners who think it. Facebook follower Onürb Öhn is a Frenchman who describes himself as “nearly Rouen native” – but he says that the town's name “is still a mystery for me to pronounce… rouan, wran, roin, roan, rouen”.

 
4. Bouilloire 
 

(Photo: Cheryl Harvey/Flickr)
 
Tweeter Richard Milne says that “without a doubt” the hardest French word to pronounce for him is bouilloire (which means kettle).
 
“It's got so many vowels/soft sounds that I sound like somebody is strangling me when I say it,” he says. 
 
5. Pneu
 

(Photo: Oriolus/Flickr)
 
Another common response was “pneu“, which means tyre. Ruth Trevanion on Facebook says she “just can't get to grips with that one at all”. That seems like a pun Ruth, and we salute you for it. But you're not alone. A number of people said they couldn't pronounce the word either, with one follower saying it's the “least French sounding French word” they know. 
 
6. Heureuse
 

(Photo: Liz West/Flickr)
 
Yet another common response was “heureuse” (meaning happy). Karen Hermann laments: “It doesn't sound like a word when I say it, it sounds like I'm trying to speak through a piece of gum stuck in my airway.”
 
7. Froid
 

(Photo: Laszlo Ilyes/Flickr)
 

On Facebook, Shelby Marcus Ocana says the toughest for her is the word “froid” (which means cold). And it sounds as if it's that pesky rolled r in the middle that's causing all the problems. 
 
“My kids always crack up when I say “J'ai froid” – they say I pronounce it like “foie” [which means liver].” She then has to endure inevitable series of jokes about foie gras from the little ones, she says.
 
8. Grenouille
 

(What a frog would look like if it tried to say grenouille. Photo: Yamanaka Tamaki/Flickr)
 
This word, which means frog, popped up a lot. In fact, many readers sent in words ending in “ouille”. Jay Fogler on Facebook says the problem with the word grenouille is the complex rolling of the r and the combination of the ou i and ll. Enough to drive you hopping mad!
 
9. L'eau
 

(Photo: Gib3102/Flickr)
 
Catherine Gheribi on Facebook says it's one of the simplest, yet most important words of all that she gets tangled up on.
 
“When I say l'eau – no one ever understands what I mean,” she says. 
 
In fact, she says that even when a waiter asks whether she would like water or wine and she responds “L'eau s'il vous plait” – they still look at her blankly. 
 
“I want to shout 'I DIDN'T SAY DU VIN DID I? – SO IT MUST BE THE OTHER ONE'!!. She says that she's learned to order 'une carafe' now.
 
10. Serrurerie
 

Photo: Susan S/Flickr
 
Brace yourself: The hardest French word to pronounce is the word for locksmith – “serrurerie“. It was the most commonly repeated response. Blogger Polly-Vous Francais even sent us an entire blog entry about the word. 
 
She says: “Forget it. It is not happening. It requires too many mellifluous, throaty French r's in too short a time frame (…) I find that I've barely recuperated from rolling out the first r when the next r and the next r need to come flying out of my tonsils.”
 
With this in mind, we decided to test tourist in Paris to see if they could pronounce the word. Here's how it went:
 

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POLITICS

French elections: What is ‘parrainage’ and how does it affect candidates?

If you follow French politics, it's about this time that you will start to see a lot of mentions of parrainage - here's what that means and how it affects the race for the presidency.

French elections: What is 'parrainage' and how does it affect candidates?

The French word parrainage means sponsorship or guardianship and it comes from parrain – godfather.

Just as in English, parrain can be used in its literal sense for a child’s godfather (godmother is marraine) or a more general sense for anyone who is a powerful figure – the classic mafia movie The Godfather is Le Parrain in France.

But in the context of presidential elections it has a more specific meaning, which is to do with how you get onto the ballot paper.

In order to be a candidate in a French election you have to be a French citizen aged 18 years or over. 

But you also need to collect at least 500 signatures (or parrainages) from elected officials to back your campaign.

These can be from anyone elected to public office from village mayors to MPs, MEPs and Senator but there are some rules – the officials must come from at least 30 different French départements or overseas French territories and no more than 50 signatures can come from one département or overseas territory.

This year, candidates have until March 4th to gain the signatures they need, if you’re on French social media you may recently have spotted lots of obscure politicians tweeting pictures of either a signed form or a letter being popped into the postbox – they’re making a public declaration of their parrainage.

You don’t need to be on Twitter though, the names of all the officials who have given their signatures will be published on March 8th, along with the list of candidates who have gained the required 500 and therefore their place on the ballot paper. 

Until that date, the question of who has the required numbers of parrainages is the subject of a lot of speculation and newspaper headlines, as well as charts like the one below, which are generally based on public declarations of support.

You can follow all the latest news and explanations of the 2022 presidential election campaign HERE.

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