It’s not because you speak French now that you should actually talk like them
I’ve been living in France for 17 years and speak very good French, but I’ll never get rid of my British accent. It’s too difficult and you have to take serious phonetic classes to do so. But why would I? There are lots of fantastic reasons why it’s great to speak French with my accent. Here are 10:
French women think it’s charming and say so
I still make mistakes in French, and I ususally know I’m making one at the time. A lot of the time, it’s cultural too – I might say something bluntly when a little more decorum is needed or vice versa. I usually apologise, and French women, without exception always say “That’s all right, I figured you weren’t from here. I adore your accent, it’s charming.” If I wasn’t happily married….
You can surprise the French with your language skills
Remember that great scene in Braveheart when Mel Gibson let’s Sophie Marceau know that he understands Latin? That is a pretty awesome feeling. It’s easy to trick the French into thinking you don’t speak good French, or any French at all. And when they realise that you do, you’re putty in their hands…
So many English natives are so crap at speaking French that when the French find someone who does, they are besides themselves
The French are the first to admit they’re horrible at learning languages. They literally have a psychological complex about it. They don’t watch English TV, hate classes and prefer a good Gallic shrug to making an effort to speak English. However, the same can be true of English natives. As English is the global language par excellence, we have a tendency to walk around lording it in the knowledge that someone somewhere is bound to understand us. The French know this, so when they realise that you speak good French, they’re delighted.
They can’t make any disparaging comments anymore about being different
The French suffer, especially now, from being the laughing stock of the world economy. The better quality of life here, the worse the economy, and they’re pretty sick of playing Baldrick (British reference to the BBC show “Blackadder”). They usually blame it on their differences to any other country in the world. “No one understands us so no one can help us”, sort of attitude. So it’s a lot harder for them to maintain that attitude when they’re with someone who speaks French properly and can understand them. Suddenly, there’s nowhere for them to hide.
You can understand their jokes but you won’t have to laugh
Some things make me laugh in French. There’s a comic called Nicolas Canteloup who does a brilliant impression of the president François Hollande, and every time I laugh cos it’s so convincing and he makes Hollande out to be some sort of buffoon. A lot of things I find less funny. But at least I understand the literary context, even if not the humour itself. So I can be easily forgiven when I don’t laugh. Which is a lot.
A lot of the time, the French know I’m foreign, but don’t know where from exactly
I’ve had people convinced I’m Spanish, Swedish, American, French (!), German, Italian, the list goes on. The French are so crap at recognising accents (even their own), that I could be from Mars if I wanted to. So it’s easy to make up convincing stories if you never have the intention of being caught. Just say you’re Bob from Kansas.
You can swear in French and get away with it
I’ve written a pretty successful article about French swear words here. I say in it that it’s difficult for me to understand the “weight” of the swear words when I swear in French. I know what the words mean, but I just don’t care as much about their effect. Which can mean that when I swear I go overboard a bit. However, people let me off because they know I’m foreign. Except with policemen, that still hasn’t worked.
Your parents-in-law are so proud of you
I came to France with a pretty poor level, and now can converse freely as I said before. So when the ignorant, British youngster turned up on his future father-in-law’s door step with the intention of doing naughty things with his daughter, not speaking his language wasn’t a good start for me. Now I can speak to him properly, I get forgiven loads of things. Except confusing foie gras for paté, that’s never been forgotten.
You don’t have to join in the French sing-songs
The French like to listen to the same old songs again and again. It’s like being stuck in a Shakin Stevens (another British reference – look it up) time warp. All the sogns all from the same era, and everyone knows the words, even kids who weren’t even born then. Luckily, I don’t have to participate as I can use my foreigness to excuse myself to the bar. Until “Wake me up before you go-go” comes on and then I’m back in a flash.
French women think it’s charming and say so
I mentioned this as the first one, but I think that it’s so important it needs saying twice. French women LOVE English natives speaking French properly. More than French men. But you didn’t hear that from me, right?
To learn to speak French properly, please click here.