French is the official language of France and it’s also spoken in Monaco, Luxembourg, some parts of Belgium and Switzerland, in the Canadian province of Québec, parts of North and Central Africa, Vietnam, Cambodia, Madagascar and the French Overseas Departments and Territories. It can still be heard in some communities of French origin in the USA, in Maine and Louisiana.
The French alphabet has 26 letters. You may well have to spell out your name and perhaps your address in French. Here is the alphabet and how to pronounce it a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z.
Vowels Interestingly, there are six vowels:a, e, i, o, u, y The most challenging vowel to pronounce is probably u as this sound doesn’t exist in English. Try sayingmenu, déjà vu, bus It’s also very common for French vowels to be combined to create specific sounds. Here are a few that are worth remembering: au, eau as inrestaurant, gâteau ou as inrouge, red, beaucoup, a lotai as inaimer, to like, français, French oi as incroissant, toiletteseu and œu as inbleu, blue, œufs, eggs Nasal sounds French is well-known for its nasal sounds and they don't have any equivalent in English. Want to give it a go? Try this sentence, which sums up all of the nasal sounds: un bon vin blanc - a nice white wine Consonants Unlike in English, h is generally silent, e.g hôtel, hôpital, habiter, to live You might be familiar with the r sound, which comes from the throat: adresse, dormir, to sleep You may have also come across ll in the unusual ouille sound, as ingrenouille, frog and ratatouille And a typical aspect of the language is that not all letters are pronounced at the end of a word, e.g.restaurant, Paris, dessert, canard, duck
What are they all about ? There are four accents: acute (é), grave (è), circumflex (ê) and trema (ë) The accents on the vowel e indicate different sounds: é as in cinéma, été, summer è, ê, ë as in crème, fête, Noël, Christmas Accents are often used in writing to differentiate meaning, even when the pronunciation is the same: a / à - has / at ou / où - or / where la / là - the (fem. form)/ there sur / sûr - on / sure The cedilla, ç, is used before a, o, u and sounds the same as ‘s’, e.g. français, French, leçon, lesson, un reçu, a receipt
When giving an email or website address the conventions are: @ arobase . point, dot / barre oblique, forward slash - tiret, hyphen
More than 200 million people speak French on the five continents. The Francophonie, the international organisation of French-speaking countries, comprises 68 states and governments. French is the second most widely learned foreign language after English, and the ninth most widely spoken language in the world. French is also the only language, alongside English, that is taught in every country in the world. France operates the biggest international network of cultural institutes, which run French-language courses for more than 750,000 learners.
Since a large number of English words and expressions are of French origin, you’re actually already au fait with quite a lot of French vocabulary Had a déjà vu lately? Did that glass of wine have a certain je ne sais quoi? In a restaurant or café, you might find olives, pâté, omelette on the menu, along with soufflé or chocolate mousse for dessert. Feeling flush? Wash it all down with champagne. Ah, c’est la vie ! Helpfully, most French words ending with -tion or -sion are spelt almost exactly the same in English and generally have the same meaning, e.g. participation, action, intuition, élection, décision, infusion, passion Lots of English loan words are used in French, but the Académie française, French Academy, which sets the rules of the language, recommends using words derived from French instead. For example: un walkman / un baladeur un tie-break / un jeu décisif un software / un logiciel un e-mail / un courriel However, this has been received with a mixed reaction in France and the English versions are more commonly used!
French grammar has similarities to Spanish and Italian If you learn French, you’ll have to get your head around the genders, verb conjugation and pronunciation of nasal sounds Some vowels have accents and a few commonly used verbs are irregular, such as: être - to be avoir - to have aller - to go venir - to come Words that end in -ly, in English, usually finish in -ement in French, so you can usually spot them by swapping the endings, e.g. rapidement - rapidly exactement - exactly and so on. It won’t work every time, but it can help!
The French would probably tell you their longest word is anticonstitutionnellement, a long adverb meaning ‘in a very unconstitutional way’. It contains 25 letters but is hardly ever used! Try your luck with some of the most challenging virelangues, tongue twisters: - Practise the sounds ‘s’ and ‘ch’: Les chaussettes de l'archiduchesse sont-elles sèches, archi-sèches ? Are the Archduchess’ socks dry, very dry? Un chasseur sachant chasser sait chasser sans son chien de chasse A hunter who knows how to hunt knows how to hunt without his hunting dog - And for good practice with homophones, ie. words that sound the same but are written differently: Si six scies scient six cyprès, six cents scies scient six cent cyprès If six saws saw six cypresses, six hundred saws saw six hundred cypresses - Lastly, a tongue-twister poem to practise the ‘on’, 'en’ sounds and to differentiate between ou and u: « Tonton, ton thé t'a-t-il ôté ta toux, » disait la tortue au tatou. « Mais pas du tout, » dit le tatou. « Je tousse tant que l'on m'entend de Tahiti à Tombouctou. » "Uncle, your tea has cured your cough," said the tortoise to the armadillo. "Not at all," said the armadillo. "I cough so much that you can hear me from Tahiti to Timbuktu."
Parodies, slapstick humour and a play on words are very popular in France and newspapers usually feature cartoons and comic strips making fun of politicians Here are a couple of jokes using French puns: Au restaurant, le garçon demande au client : « Comment avez-vous trouvé le bifteck ? » « Tout à fait par hasard, en soulevant une frite ! » At the restaurant, the waiter asks a customer: "How did you ‘find’ your steak?" "Just by chance, when I picked up a fry!" Playing on the two meanings of quartier, ‘neighbourhood’ and ‘slice’: Deux asticots se retrouvent dans une pomme : « Tiens ! Je ne savais pas que vous habitiez dans le quartier ! » Two maggots meet inside an apple: "Hi there! I didn’t know that you lived in the same area/slice!"
French is both a working language and an official language of the United Nations, the European Union, UNESCO, NATO, the International Olympic Committee, the International Red Cross and international courts. French is the language of the three cities where the EU institutions are headquartered: Strasbourg, Brussels and Luxembourg.
In a foreign language, you can easily find yourself in embarrassing or funny situations. For example, if you want to thank someone, you could say Merci beaucoup, Thank you very much. Take care with the ou and try not to pronounce it u, otherwise you could be complimenting somebody on their ‘beautiful bottom’! Direct translation might not works in some situations. For instance, if you’re after a hot dog in France and you ask for un chien chaud, its literal translation, you’ll get a puzzled look from the waiter. Simply ask for un hot dog Beware of false friends, which can create confusing situations. Just to mention a few: sensible means sensitive déception means disappointment journal is a newspaper Finally, even if you don't know much about the language, it always goes down well with the locals if you mind your p’s and q’s and use s'il vous plait please andmerci, thank you
Je pense donc je suis I think therefore I am René Descartes (1596-1650) The famous philosopher and mathematician used a method of doubting the truth about everything, which led him to this now famous conclusion Rien ne sert de courir, il faut partir à point Running is worthless. You have to leave on time Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) He became famous for his fables and nowadays, it’s common to hear his morals in daily conversation. This is a popular one from Le Lièvre et la Tortue, The Hare and the Tortoise
French is a good base for learning other languages, especially Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian) as well as English, since fifty per cent of current English vocabulary is derived from French.
Like other Romance languages, there are different ways of saying ‘you’: tu, for people you can be on first-name terms with, and vous, in other cases. The plural in both cases is also vous When greeting, men usually shake hands. In informal situations, women meeting men or other women will kiss them on the cheeks, although it’s more like quick 'cheek-touching' rather than a kiss. The number of kisses, bisous or bises, varies per region and can go up to four!