French is a Romance language, meaning it comes from what is known as Vulgar Latin (spoken Latin as opposed to literary Latin). French evolved, influenced by Gallic, Anglo-Norman and regional languages of what is now modern France over hundreds of years. This hotchpotch of influences become the modern French we know today. English is a Germanic language. It too is heavily influenced by Romance languages, such as 300 years of French being the official language of England thanks to William the Conqueror!
It’s not what you say it’s the way that you say it
You’re actually already au fait with quite a lot of French vocabulary – it’s just that the way the words are pronounced can be very different. Avant-garde, bureau, cabaret, detour… they’re the same in both English and French, as are thousands of words. The more you think about it, the more you realise that often it’s a matter of pronunciation (and speed of talking) that differentiates French from English. Had déjà vu lately? In a restaurant or café, you may start the meal with an aperitif. Or perhaps Champagne. And you may find pâté or omelette is served, and the meal may end with soufflé or mousse for dessert.
French tongue twisters
When it comes to tongue twisters – virelangues – it gets a little more challenging. But you’re sure to recognise some of the words in these examples:
Les chaussettes de l’archiduchesse sont-elles sèches, archi-sèches?
Are the Archduchess’ socks dry, very dry?
Or how about this tongue twister that’s full of words that sound the same, but are written differently, known as homophones:
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
And this one is perfect for practicing your ‘on’s and ‘en’s and ‘ou’s and ‘ue’s:
‘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.’
Have a listen to our “How to speak French” podcast episode to learn the three most important words in French!