Why trying to protect the French from English may be a losing battle

French fashion magazines talk about 'le spark', TV characters can be heard discussing a 'job' while technology has unleashed a positive flood of English words into the French language, but is all this a cause for concern?

Why trying to protect the French from English may be a losing battle
Olivier Karfis, co-founder of the language-learning website French Today and a bilingual former tech employee, says that while English words do have a certain cachet, especially with young French people, there is little point in worrying too much about the issue.
“It’s inevitable. Complaining about it is like complaining about the effect that computers have had on the typewriter industry,” he said.
“But there are other areas where the French language has the advantage. When you’re talking about cooking in English, most words come from French. You don’t hear English speakers complaining about it.”
He was speaking after French language guardians Langue française published an open letter calling on Emmanuel Macron to protect French from the “invasion” of the English language.

The letter notably demands that the President (a fluent English speaker) stop using English in public appearances at home and abroad, to reinforce legal measures requiring the use of French, and to put an end to a “sacrilegious” project to offer some general education courses in English.
And it's certainly true that that if you hang around the Paris café terraces long enough you will hear young people throw the occasional 'cool' or 'has been' into conversation (as they check their 'smartphones').
Olivier thinks that the influence of English on French culture is growing, visible in the way English words tend to crop up more and more in French sentences. 
He said: “I have a 14 year-old daughter, and everything she watches – whether it’s YouTube or television series – is from the US and in English.
“She and her friends watch them on the internet, long before they get translated or dubbed into French.” 
Emmanuel Macron gives a speech to unveil his strategy to promote French. Photo: Ludovic MARIN / AFP
The French media collaborate in this process, he points out, by picking up terms from the anglophone media and diffusing them among the francophone population.
Secondly, Karfis believes that many French speakers use English words because they believe it gives them a certain cachet.
“It’s kind of hip, kind of fashionable to throw an English word into a sentence,” he explains.
While he acknowledges the influence of English, the former tech firm employee is skeptical about attempts by linguistic actors to redirect people towards French, especially when it comes to technology-related terms, like le smartphone.
“It’s a lost combat”, he says.
This is largely due to the fact that the language police simply can’t keep up with the rate at which language is changing.
Olivier Karfis cites the telling example of a document published by the Ministry of Culture, with the collaboration of, among others, the Académie française.
Initially published in 2009 – not exactly the beginning of the information age – this Vocabulaire des techniques de l’information et de la communication (Vocabulary of communication and information technology) was not again updated until 2017.
“In the tech world, new terms are introduced every day. They’re working on something that’s eight years old!”
“By the time they find a French term, the English term has already been in use for years. If they were more responsive – if they updated it every six months – maybe it would be possible, but once a word is in everybody’s mouth, you can’t take it away.”
Olivier Karfis is the co-founder of French learning website

Member comments

  1. This should be obvious. “Protecting” a language from foreign invasion makes as much sense as trying to keep back the waves, or was it the tide?

  2. Why are these people unable to understand and accept that language, no matter what country it is, is a living entity that is always changing and evolving.

  3. I see a lot of similarity between the French and the Japanese in this matter. These are two people that I love and respect greatly, and both have a distinctive culture in which they deservedly take great pride. And, it seems to me, that it is that pride which makes it difficult for them to accept speaking in English, perhaps a language that they consider inferior — just a guess.

    I don’t blame them, but English is the de factor universal language, and I for one wish the French and the Japanese would see it that way — it is just a tool for communicating with others in the world. Learning to speak English well helps to advance your proud culture; it does not diminish it in any way.

  4. I am a 68 year old Brit living in France with my French wife. I have many young friends on Facebook and they ask me to write in English. They want to speak English when they visit. They watch Netflix in English.As an ex teacher I am happy to help but this is the future. We’re I not bilingual I would have very little communication with family and friends in the village. Sometimes I wonder what my 92 year old mother in law thinks when she is watching tv and half the ads are in English

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Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.