French phrase of the day: Parler comme une vache espagnole

The Local (
The Local ([email protected]) • 22 Oct, 2021 Updated Fri 22 Oct 2021 11:28 CEST
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If you’re not yet fluent in French, use this to explain away any of your linguistic idiosyncrasies and - perhaps - elicit a little sympathy...


Why do I need to know parler comme une vache espagnole?

If you’re learning and improving your French, but not yet fluent, this phrase could come in handy.

What does it mean?

Literally translated as 'talk like a Spanish cow' it means that you speak a language badly, perhaps with a dodgy accent or lots of grammatical errors.

It’s one of a few colloquial phrases in the language that involve cows - here’s another good one for when it’s raining.


You could use it, to extract a little sympathy from a hard-nosed fonctionnaire if you're struggling to find the mot juste, by explaining that your French isn’t that sophisticated. It may - though there are no guarantees - persuade them to speak a little more clearly, or be just a little more helpful.

Alternatively, if you hear it used about you when you’re trying your best, the speaker isn’t being very kind.

It can be used for any language, and you may hear a French person say that they speak English 'comme une vache espagnole', to explain away some of their linguistic idiosyncrasies.

Use it like this
Je m'excuse, je parle français comme une vache espagnole – I apologise, my French is terrible

Get sniffy if you hear someone say

C’est difficile de l’écouter parler en français. Elle le parle comme une vache espagnole – It’s hard to listen to her speak French, her language skills are awful



The Local ([email protected]) 2021/10/22 11:28

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caig02 2021/10/29 19:54
"WOKE ALERT" As a spanish speaker, I have always had reservations about this term. Mind you, as usual, things sting the most the closest you are to being the object of the ridicule, in this case, a spaniard or a spanish speaker. Therefore, I will not use it. But, this is french and France, who am I to tell them what to do or think.. I am sure that there are expressions in spanish that are not pleasant, nor pleasing towards the french. But, I will not go into that. Be very careful, though when using the example mentioned in the abover link: "Expressions françaises synonymes : parler petit nègre". A lot of people in France, from Africa or Haïti, may take offense.
kimmen 2021/10/25 10:08
I learned this expression when I was a teenager (i.e., many decades back), and found it very useful when introducing myself. Some years back, I read that "vache" was derived from "Basque" -- i.e., to speak French like a Spanish Basque. Is this generally understood (or believed) in France, or is the origin a mystery to most? See

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