Avoid These Common Pronunciation & Vocabulary Mistakes in French
English learners of French often make these mistakes when speaking the language.
While some of the below mentioned mistakes will not prevent you from communicating with relative success, others might cause quite a bit of confusion or even become a cause for offence.
In this brief list we cover the most common mistakes English speakers make in pronunciation and vocabulary areas.
Look through this list carefully and correct your French, if needed.
- When you speak French, remember that letters at the end of the word are often silent. For example, French people don’t pronounce the ‘S’ when it’s at the end of the word so ‘vacances’ is pronounced like ‘vacance’ and ‘joues’ is pronounced like ‘joue’.
- Try not to emphasize words when you speak, because the French don’t. Each syllable is stressed the same way. For example, in English you would say ‘biology’ with a stress on the [o], but in French, ‘biologie’ has no stressed syllable.
- French people never pronounce the ‘H’ when it is at the beginning of the word. So just pretend it is not there like in hérisson, heure, habiter…
- Never say Je habite for ‘I live’ but J’habite (remember, the ‘h’ is silent).
- Usually if you have to fill in a formal form in French, it is written like this:
- Nom……. Prénom….. à Last name….. First name…. (unlike in English, where first name always comes, well, first.)
- Although in Irish you say ‘Tom is ainm dom’, in French you would say ‘mon nom est Tom’ or ‘Je m’appelle Tom’.
- When greeting your French friends or a teacher in the morning or in the evening, you should say: Bonjour! (Good morning! Or Good afternoon!), Bonsoir! (Good evening!), Passe une bonne journée! (Have a nice day!’).
- Don’t say ‘bon matin’- this is a direct translation from English.
- In French you ‘have an age’ so you say: J’ai 25 ans.
- The French translation for ‘I miss you’ is ‘tu me manques’ which literally means ‘you are missing from me’.
- In French you cannot ‘visit’ a person, you can only ‘visit’ a place. e.g. you cannot say ‘J’ai visité ma grand-mère’, you have to say ‘J’ai rendu visite à ma grand-mère’ or ‘je suis allé(e) voir ma grand-mère’.
- Never say ‘Bien Fait’ to someone if you mean ‘Well done!’ because it actually means ‘I’m glad bad things happened to you, you deserve it’… (!)
- When you are done eating and feel full, don’t say ‘Je suis fini(e)’ but ‘J’ai fini’. We know it might sound strange because it would mean ‘I have done’ if you translate it, but that’s what they say in French.
- In English you always put prepositions before morning or afternoon: ‘in the morning…’ ‘in the afternoon…’ but in French you don’t, you rather say ‘le matin…, le soir…’
- Every language has a lot of homonyms and French is no exception. It is hard to know all of them, you just have to learn them all by heart. Here are two examples: ‘Chapeau!’ means both ‘hat’ and ‘congratulations’, and English word ‘turkey’ can be translated by both Turquie (the country) or Dinde (the bird).
- The order of words in a sentence is essential for understanding. For example, in English you can often start a sentence with ‘also…’. However, in French you don’t start a sentence with aussi. French people would understand you but it is not idiomatic. Rather, you put it in the middle of the sentence: J’ai une soeur. J’ai aussi un petit frère. (I have a sister. I also have a brother)
- Now let’s talk about false friends (faux amis). Again, there are no exact rules telling you how to master false friends, you just have to memorise them. Let’s have a look at some of them:
- une licence: a degree
- demander: to ask
- une journée: a day
- attendre: to wait
- actuellement: nowadays/currently
- éventuellement: potentially
- une librairie: bookshop
- sympathique: nice
- Blesser : to wound/ hurt
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