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Fascinating French language facts

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Read our top ten fascinating facts about the French language! You may be surprised at how au fait you are with French or aghast at the most difficult words and phrases for non-French speakers…

1. At the time of the French Revolution in 1793, 75% of French citizens did not speak French as a mother tongue. Each region had its own dialect and patois.

2. Until the 19th century, French was spoken more widely in Holland and Germany than in some parts of France.

3. You are probably far more au fait with the French language than you think! It is estimated that around 50% of English words come from French. For three hundred years after William the Conqueror landed on the beach of southern England and took over the throne, French was the official language of England. Even today English language is peppered with French words – reading this you may feel déjà vu or a little je ne sais qois – but c’est la vie!

4. French is the official language of the United Nations.

5. French is the mother tongue of almost 2 million Americans and up to 11 million Americans speak French fluently as a second language. In the US, half of all foreign films watched, and 30% of foreign books read are in French.

6. Impress your French friends with a few famous sayings! “Rien ne sert de courir, il faut partir à point” (Running is worthless. You have to leave on time). The sayings of fable writer, Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) are common in France.

7. In French the word “you” can be formal or friendly. Generally one should use the “vous” term but if you know someone well you can use “tu”.

8. Difficult French words! Try saying “anticonstitutionnellement” – you’ll be in a minority though, hardly anyone ever says this word which means ‘in a very unconstitutional way’. Practice with tongue twisters like “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) or “Si six scies scient six cyprès, six cents scies scient six cent cypress” (If six saws saw six cypresses, six hundred saws saw six hundred cypresses).

9. The word “salut” means both “hello” and “goodbye”.

10. Celebrities who speak French include Serena Williams who is happy to answer questions in fluent French when playing tennis at famous Paris stadium Roland Garros. Johnny Depp, John Malkovich,  Elton John, Ewan Mcgregor, Halle Berry, Madonna, Mick Jagger, and John Travolta all speak French.

More on learning French:

5 Unconventional Ways to practice French
French language Faux Pas
Top 5 Phrases NOT to say in France
Tips to learn French quickly

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