Learning a new language can be challenging. Not only do you need to know a whole new vocabulary, but you also need to twist your head around different grammar rules and your tongue around different pronunciation rules. But here’s a little news that may make the task seem a little less daunting: You already know quite a few French words and expressions. How Because the English language, being the borrower that it is, contains many French words and expressions, and French has absorbed some English words, too.
In this Article, you get to explore some French words and phrases without having to know pronunciation or grammar rules (that info comes in next post). Here, we include French words that are spelled the same and mean the same as their English counterparts, as well as words that are close in meaning and spelling. But because not every French word that resembles
an English word shares its meaning, we also tell you what words to watch out for.
In addition, we include some French expressions that you probably already know and understand. By the end of this chapter, you may discover that you actually know more French than you previously thought.
The French You’re Familiar With
With just a narrow stretch of water between them, the English and the French have historically been pretty close, even if they haven’t always been the friendly allies they are today. In fact, French was the language of the English court for a very long time — a fact that many people tend to forget. (The Normans who invaded England in 1066 with William the Conqueror were
French, as were some of the most prominent people in English history).
What does this have to do with your learning French? Well today, about 35 percent of English vocabulary is of French origin. That being the case, you already know an impressive amount of French, whether you realize it or not. The only pitfall you have to watch out for is that sometimes the English words have a different meaning from their French counterparts, and they
almost certainly have a different pronunciation.
Friendly allies — bons alliés
Several French words are spelled the same and have the same meaning as their English counterparts. The only thing that may be different is the pronunciation (for more on pronunciation guidelines, head to Chapter 3). Take a look at these bons alliés (bohN-zah-lyey) (friendly allies):
Some French words, while not identical in spelling to their English counterparts, look very similar. These words also have similar meanings. Table 1-1 shows words that fit into this category.
Words Similar in Meaning, Slightly Different in Spelling
|l’ acteur (m) (lahk-tuhr)||actor|
|l’adresse (f) (lah-drehs)||address|
|l’aéroport (m) (lah-eyroh-pohr)||airport|
|l’allée (f) (lah-ley)||alley|
|l’ hôtel (m) (loh-tehl)||hotel|
|le kiosque (luh kyohhsk)||kiosk|
|la lampe (lah lahmp)||lamp|
|la lettre (lah leh-truh)||letter|
|la mémoire (lah meymwahr)||memory|
|l’âge (m) (lahzh)||age|
|le miroir (luh meerwahr)||mirror|
|la musique (lah mewzeek)||music|
|la banque (lah bahNk)||bank|
|la nationalité (lah nahsyoh-nah-lee-tey)||nationality|
|la cathédrale (lah kahtey-drahl)||cathedral|
|le chèque (luh shehk)||check|
False friends — faux amis
Some French words are faux amis (foh-zah-mee) (false friends). They look similar to English words, but they don’t have the same meaning. Misusing these words can be quite confusing. For example, if you tell someone that your young adult son or daughter is in a collège (koh-lehzh), they’d probably look at you — or your child — strangely because the French word collège means middle school, not university.
The following list shows some of these easy-to-confuse words:
Borrowed English words
The preceding sections note quite a few English words that have been borrowed from French and that have retained their French meaning, even though the pronunciation is different.
But English isn’t the only language that’s nicked a few words. French has also borrowed many words from English and continues to do so in spite of the loud protest by purists who condemn this trend as a sign of cultural contamination and name it franglais (frahN-gleh): Here is a list of some of the terms borrowed from English and absorbed into the French language. Note the different pronunciation:
✓ le budget (luh bewd-zheh)
✓ le business (luh beez-nehs)
✓ le camping (luh kahN-peeng)
✓ le chewing-gum (luh
✓ les chips (ley sheep[s])
✓ le coca (luh koh-kah)
✓ cool (koohl)
✓ le fast food (luh fahst foohd)
✓ le hamburger (luh ahmboohr-
✓ le jet set (luh jeht seht)
✓ le manager (luh mah-nah-jehr)
✓ le marketing (luh mahr-kuh-teeng)
✓ le parking (luh pahr-keen)
✓ le rock (luh rohk) (as in rock music)
✓ le shopping (luh shoh-peeng)
✓ le steak (luh stehk)
✓ le chat (luh chaht)
✓ le tunnel (luh tew-nehl)
✓ le week-end (luh wee-kehnd)
Idioms and Popular Expressions
French, like English, has many idioms (unusual ways of expressing feelings and ideas). You may find the meaning of these expressions puzzling if you try to translate them word for word.
These fixed forms of expression belong specifically to the language in question. If you walk up to a French person and say Il pleut des chats et des chiens (eel pluh dey shah ey dey shyaN) (It’s raining cats and dogs), he or she would question your sanity. On the other hand, you may find yourself wondering what a French speaker means when she says Il tombe des cordes (eel tohNb dey kohrd), whose literal translation is Ropes are falling, but it’s roughly equivalent to It’s raining cats and dogs.
Apart from those idioms, which take a long time to comprehend and belong specifically to a culture, every language has many expressions and phrases that, although they cannot be translated word for word, can easily be learned and used. Here are a few of the useful expressions you frequently hear in French:
✓ À la vôtre! (ah lah voh-truh!) (Cheers!)
✓ À mon avis (ah mohN-nah-vee) (in my opinion)
✓ À tes/vos souhaits! (ah tey/voh sweh!) (Bless you!/Gesundheit!)
✓ Allez! Un petit effort! (ah-ley! uhN puh-tee-teh-fohr!) (Come on! Try a little!)
✓ Bien sûr. (byaN sewr.) (Of course.)
✓ Bon appétit! (bohN-nah-pey-tee!) (Enjoy your meal!)
✓ Ça vaut la peine/le coup. (sah voh lah pehn/luh kooh.) (It’s worth it.)
✓ D’accord. (dah-kohr.) (Okay.)
✓ De rien. (duh ryaN.) (Don’t mention it.)
✓ Jamais de la vie! (zhah-meh duh lah vee!) or Pas question! (pah
kehs-tyohN!) (No way!)
✓ Revenons à nos moutons. (ruh-vuh-nohN ah noh mooh-tohN.) (Let’s get
back to the subject at hand.)
✓ Tant mieux. (tahN myuh.) (So much the better.)
✓ Tant pis. (tahN pee.) (Too bad.)
✓ Tout à fait. (tooh-tah feh.) (Quite.)
✓ Un coup d’oeil (uhN kooh duhy) (a glance, a quick look)