The 9 French words that foreigners never quite pronounce right

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 30 Apr, 2020 Updated Thu 30 Apr 2020 13:19 CEST
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As a foreigner trying to wrap your tongue around French, some words will be more of a challenge than others - as one Australian Formula 1 driver found.


Aussie racing driver Daniel Ricciardo is part of the Renault Formula 1 team and it seems that his French colleagues have been having some fun with him.

The below video shows them giving him a quick French test, where it slowly becomes obvious that they have picked for him all the words that foreigners find famously difficult.


And while les pneus (tyres) might be handy for a F1 driver, we're not sure how often he's going to need l'écureuil (squirrel) in his professional life.

So, in sympathy for poor Daniel, here's our look at some of the worst tongue-twisters the French language has to offer.


1. Le pneu

Contrary to English words like pneumonia and pneumatic, in French the p is pronounced in le pneu - a tyre.

Pouvez-vous m'aider, j'ai un pneu crevé? - Can you help me, my car has a flat tyre?

The cathedral in the city that is the capital of Normandy. Photo: AFP

2. Mille-feuille

This is well worth learning because if you can manage to ask for one in the patisserie you get a delicious flaky pastry and custard confection.

The double l in the feuille makes a 'y' sound in this pastry which literally translates as '1,000 leaves' - a reference to the layers of flaky pastry.

3. Grenouille

Two reasons not to call your French neighbours frogs: firstly they may not like it and secondly you'll almost certainly pronounce it wrong.

There's something about the combination of the rolling r and the double l 'y' sounds that Anglophones find very difficult.

4. L'eau

This sounds like it should be a simple 'oh' sound, but it's one that Anglophones frequently don't get quite right when ordering.

Rather than just asking for water, we find it's simpler to order une carafe d'eau or un pichet d'eau if you want tap water or une bouteille d'eau minérale if you want mineral water, just so everyone is clear about what it is that you want.


This body part often causes some trouble. Photo: AFP

5. Se débrouiller

This is a handy little verb, meaning to manage or to get by, a sensation familiar to most new arrivals in France.

Comment est votre français? Je me débrouille - How is your French? I get by.

Just look out for the rolling r and the 'y' combo again when you're getting by. 

6. L'écureuil 

If you're living in a French city you might not have much use for the word for squirrel, but it is something of a tongue twister. If it helps at all, a lot of French people find the English word 'squirrel' quite hard to pronounce, so at least it's even.

7. Rouen

But if you're planning on moving to a city, don't make it Rouen.

Not that there's anything wrong with it of course, it's a lovely city with a lot of employment opportunities. It's just that you'll never be quite sure whether you live in rouan, wran, roin, roan, rooouen. There's even some debate among the French on exactly how to say it.

8. L'oeil

Another puzzle is the word for eye, and if you can think of adapting your sentence to talk about two eyes les yeux that is considerably simpler.

Oh, and if a French person invites you to jetez un oeil (throw an eye) it's not an invitation to throw body parts around, they're just asking you to take a glance or run your eye over something.

9. Serrurerie

The French word for locksmith has been the despair of many an Anglophone. In fact if you accidentally lock yourself out of your home we hope you've left a key with a neighbour.

It's the repeated rolling throaty 'r' that seems to be the problem, as the below video demonstrates.

And this is before we even get started on the many French words that are virtually identical in pronunciation to other words with a very different meaning.

So if you want to learn the difference between kissing and screwing in French, or how to avoid accidentally telling your mother-in-law that you have a sore dick, click here.






The Local 2020/04/30 13:19

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[email protected] 2020/04/30 13:50
No love for 'chirurgien'?

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