The Académie française was founded long ago to regulate French grammar and spelling. It still does that, but often finds itself pulled into arguments over what words should be allowed in French. English words that find their way into common usage are a particular sore point.
Should “computer” be allowed? No, let’s coin the word ordinateur.
How about “software”? Mais non ! We must use logiciel.
“Weekend”? Well, ok, but let’s add a hyphen so it’s not really English.
The latest battle is over French national identity cards. European regulations require that the words “Identity Card” be included, but the French government has gone further, much further. All the terms are shown in French and in English, so there’s “SEXE / Sex,” “LIEU DE NAISSANCE / Place of birth,” and on and on.
Cue the gasps.
The Académie is up in arms (they all have ceremonial swords, after all) and are threatening to sue the government to have all that nasty English removed. This would be a unique case, and a treat for legal scholars.
Will the government back down? Will the Académie? No one knows…but watch out for those swords.
Read all about it in My French Life!
Parlez-vous français? (“do you speak French?”) For most of us the answer is non, but there are more people who have mastered the language than you might expect.
Some you might already know about, like Jodie Foster and Serena Williams. But how about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II? Or her Prime Minister, Boris Johnson?
Check out this list of surprising French speakers in France Today. And be sure to watch the funny video of a famous actor speaking French…and then being graded by a group of French teachers!
We use lots of different words to describe animals. It’s a flock of sheep but a herd of cattle. A pride of lions but a gaggle of geese. A litter of puppies but a swarm of bees.
Do the French use the same terms? Yes and no. Many are the same but not all, and that raises some interesting questions. For example, English-speakers refer to a chattering of starlings but in French it’s a murmur (murmure.) Does this mean that French starlings are better-behaved? Or maybe they’re just shy?
I list some of the fascinating words that are the same in both languages, like an exaltation of larks. And I explore the differences and what they might mean, like why French mice should be avoided and why you run from English crows like your life depends on it.
Read all about it in France Today!
French is a beautiful language with a rich literary history. And unless you are one of those rare people with a gift for languages, it’s challenging to learn.
But in spite of the effort involved, it is sooooo worth it. Even if your French isn’t perfect, French people really appreciate it when you make the effort to speak their language. They’ll chat with you, ask you questions about yourself and where you come from, and offer their opinions on anything and everything. Such fun! Being able to break through the language barrier opens up a new world with new perspectives.
There are plenty of ways to learn French, from classroom work to apps like Duolingo, and Rosetta Stone. Those are great for giving you the basics, but what if you want to progress to a real conversational level, or read something beyond a few simple paragraphs? Let me share with you some helpful ideas on how to accelerate your progress and have fun doing so. And you might enjoy the intriguing question I ask at the end.
Read all about it in My French Life!
With all the craziness in the world today, who couldn’t use some laughs? Let me introduce you to Toto, a little scamp who has been the subject French humor for over 100 years.
Toto is the archetypical naughty schoolboy, always causing trouble and exasperating grownups. Toto jokes usually revolve around school, homework, and talking back to adults. The jokes are short and are popular among elementary school children. Their innocence and simplicity are refreshing!
Check out these Toto jokes, first in French and then in English, in My French Life!
People sometimes ask me how I learned to speak French and I always tell them that the key was when I discovered language partners.
There are plenty of ways to learn French, such as traditional classroom courses, apps like Duolingo, and listening to podcasts. But while these can teach us the basics, what we really want to do is communicate. We want to be able to make our way around Paris and Provence on our own. We want to connect with the locals and learn about life in la belle France. And for that we have to speak, which can be scary. Which is where a language partner comes in.
A French language partner is someone who speaks French and is trying to learn English. You get together regularly and speak one language and then the other, encouraging and correcting one another.
Unlike a classroom where the opportunity to speak is limited, a meeting with a language partner gives you plenty of time to talk, listen, and ask questions. It allows you to learn not only formal French but also real-life French, with all of the slang and nuance that French people use in everyday conversation. And because you’re working with someone who is also learning a new language, you skip the usual embarrassment because you are both making the same kinds of mistakes. It’s relaxed and informal and downright fun.
Want to know more? Check out my article in Frenchly!
Sex permeates French society, including the language. All nouns have genders—either masculine or feminine—though it’s sometimes unclear why a word is one or the other. Chemise (shirt) is feminine, for example, while chemisier (blouse) is masculine. Go figure.
And just when you think you’ve figured out the gender rules, somebody goes and changes them. That somebody is the Académie française, the arbiter of all things having to do with the French language. And the new rules they just announced are such a big change that some consider them “true barbarism.”
Only in France!
Read all about it at Frenchly!
In the old days in the US, doctors were kind of like gods–Me Important Doctor, you lowly patient, that sort of thing. You certainly didn’t ask questions or share what you learned on the Internet. It’s still like that in France. So imagine visiting a French doctor and being interrogated…in French. It happened to me, with a surprising result.
You can read all about it at Perfectly Provence.
My wife Val and I live in California but spend several months every year in St-Rémy-de-Provence. When we first started doing this some years ago, Val spoke basic French and I spoke next to none. So we each took classes in the US to improve our French and then, after a few years of this, started private lessons in Provence with a professor named Geneviève.
I was nervous about starting a weekly class of just Val and me. On the one hand, it would really help me improve because I’d get lots of attention from the professor. On the other hand, Val’s been studying the language a lot longer than me and all that attention would make abundantly clear how much better she is. But part of learning any language is accepting occasional (or in my case, frequent) humiliation so I’ve resigned myself to it.
The first time we had a class with Geneviève, she pulled a book off a shelf and asked us to each read a few paragraphs to test our pronunciation.
I knew we were in trouble as soon as Val started. As she spoke, Geneviève began writing notes on a pad of paper. After a few sentences, she started grinning. Then she started giggling. When it was my turn she put down her pen and started laughing out loud and wiping her eyes.
You can read the rest of the story at Perfectly Provence. It is adapted from my new book Are We French Yet?