1. The Pronunciation is Similar
If there’s one question that every student of French finds themselves asking, it’s ‘Why are there so many silent letters?’ The short answer is that the way French is spoken and the way French is written evolved separately, leading to the present-day disparity between the two — but that doesn’t make it any less confusing!
However, the problem of silent letters is one that speakers of English will already be familiar with. Think of words such as ‘plough’ or 'assign', for instance, or the silent ‘e’ at the end of so many words in English and French alike. Understanding the logic of confusing spelling isn't as hard for students who already know that there often isn't any logic!
And when it comes to the letters that are pronounced, they’re often the same in both languages. Pronouncing the letter ‘c’ in French words, for example, will often feel intuitive to English speakers, who might at first struggle with the same letter in Italian or Turkish. And while the soft, uvular ‘r’ in words like 'rien' might stump new students, it’s still typically easier to say than the rolled ‘r’ you find in Spanish, or the retroflex 'r' that forms a part of so many Chinese characters.
2. ...and so is the Vocabulary
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that English and French have a lot in common when it comes to vocabulary — France and England are near-neighbours, after all. But even compared with other neighbouring languages such as German, Norwegian or even Irish, English vocabulary overlaps with that of French the most.
This is because English — as we speak it today — is largely derived from French. Compared with Greek at 6%, and the Germanic languages (Norse, Dutch, Old English) at 26%, 29% of the words we use in the English language come directly from French - a proportion the language shares with Latin. However, the majority of Latin-derived words are technical and scientific, whereas the French-derived words we use tend to be much more quotidien. As a result, you’ll have little trouble memorising the French words for foods such as beef (‘bœuf’) and carrot (‘carotte’) and salad (‘salade’), or colours like blue (‘bleu’) and orange (‘orange’).
3. English Speakers are Already Surrounded by French
Not only is so much of English derived from French — many of the words we use are actually direct loanwords, which means we simply use the French term for a word or expression we don’t have in English. Ever had 'déjà vu'? Or an 'au pair'?
In fact, French terminology permeates English in a number of ways. It’s there in the culinary world (‘connoisseur’, ‘gratin’, ‘torte’), as well as economic (‘laissez-faire’, ‘bureau de change’) and artistic nomenclature (‘nom-de-plume’, ‘bas-relief’, ‘genre’), so even a complete beginner to French will have a head start if they can already speak English.
4. French is Extremely Popular
French is one of the most popular languages to learn as a second language. On the Duolingo app, for instance, French is the most popular language to study in 24 countries, the highest after English and Spanish, and an estimated 200 million people speak it as a second language.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, there are countless resources and media available to help you learn the language, not to mention other students willing to practise it with you. So whenever you come up against an obstacle, whether it’s the meaning of a phrase, which tense to use, or the pronunciation of a certain word, you won’t have any problems finding the solution!
5. French People are More Likely to Speak to You in French
Because of English’s status as the global lingua franca, you may find it’s often the case that when you visit another country with the intention of practising the local language, people are more than happy to speak back to you — in English.
Not so in France! For starters, the French are less likely to be able to hold a conversation in English, with 39% of the population claiming to be able to do so (compared with 62% in Germany, and 72% in the Netherlands). And then there is the fact that the people of La France take a lot of pride in their language. The Académie Française even tries to counter the influence of English in France by rejecting or ‘Frenchifyng’ English loanwords, so you won’t be able to fall back on familiar words like ‘e-mail’ and ’digital’. Try ‘courriel’ and ’numérique’ instead.
This might be a little daunting for English-speaking visitors, but it makes learning French and immersing yourself in the language that much easier.
Check out some of our other blog posts!
One of the most popular questions we receive at Learn French with Alexa (LFWA) is "how to type French accents". É, è, ê, ë and ç are still the bain of existence, despite French being my first language. The French language uses five different accents to indicate variations in pronunciation and distinguish between similar words. Those accents are accent aigu (é), accent grave (è), accent circonflexe (ê), cédille (ç) and tréma (ë).Read more
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