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Thoughts on French

Many people traveling in France would share the frustrating experience that they are ignored speaking English. Although English has borrowed and adopted French words, the French language has not welcomed the invasion of English words. They have been more resistant than most. The French have had a low against the encroachment of foreign words since as early as 1911, but this was considerably bolstered by the setting up in 1975 the Maintenance of the Purity of the French Language law, which introduced fines for using illegal anglicisms. You may safely conclude that the French take their language very seriously indeed.

No you won’t be fined for speaking English, but you won’t go very far either. In some of the old Paris dining establishments, especially the ones removed from the tourists’ tread, a hamburger is a steak haché (not le burger). A steak haché is made from minced beef, which is formed into patties ready for cooking and originates from France. Filet mignon generally refers to pork rather than beef. Some menus might provide a one-line English descriptions but don’t expect it to be the convention.

Estimates of the number of anglicisms in French have been estimated to be 2-3 percent or less. So it is altogether possible that the French are making a great deal out of very little. I suppose what really ranckles the French is not that they are borrowing so many words from the rest of the world but that the rest of the world is no longer borrowing so many from them. From the outset the government conceded defeat on a number of words that were too well established to drive out: gadget, holdup, weekend, blue jeans, self-service, and many others. They do recognize the global importance of English but prefer to speak French. But it’s a different case when it comes to relaxing at home in the evening.

But the English-speaking world can be better at looking after the borrowed words than the French were. Quite a number of words that English has absorbed no longer exist in France (at least not widely spoken). The French do not use nom de plume, double entendre, panache, bon viveur, or R.S.V.P. for répondez s’il vous plaît. Instead they write prière de répondre.

French Step by Step

Since completion of French 1 at l’Alliance Française last fall, I haven’t been able to schedule the subsequent course due to scheduling conflicts. Business and leisure trips conflicted with the spring term. In addition to reviewing course materials from French 1, I’ve been reading and studying the book called French Step by Step by Charles Berlitz.

I picked this one because Berlitz is a linguist. I don’t particularly care for this book as an instructional book. However, it is an excellent way to figure out how to translate from English to French. I used this book by covering up the French sentence and the phonetic sentence so only the English sentence showed and then translated it into French. It is excellent for what it is written to do: teaching the everyday language that you need in order to make yourself understood in France. When I was in France last summer, I was speaking the phrase book French that sounded stupid, even though the French people appreciated my effort. The whole purpose of enrolling in French course with l’Alliance Française was to seriously engage in learning the language. French Step by Step is a nice supplement to class because it teaches real French expressions. The book has 26 chapters and 24 conversations. Every chapter is a few conversations, with a translation, and an explanation of new grammar point. It introduces a few thousand words, and almost every tense including the subjunctive. Each sentence is written three times, one in French, one in phonetics, and one in English.