French Language

My favorite impossible French words

Hi, or rather Bonjour.
I’ve been living in France for more than 25 years now.
Living and working every day with French speaking people.
My sons are both French, the youngest is 14 and the oldest has just turned 18 and is awaiting the results of the famous “Bac” exams.
We live in the countryside, in a small farming village with about 120 inhabitants. A very typical village with mainly old houses and barns, no pavements, no stop signs on the road and the street lights are turned off by the mayor before midnight.
Basically, I never speak English, as there are no English speakers in the village. I would say that my spoken French is very fluent, although I do admit that I have difficulty with the spelling and conjugation.

On a daily basis, when I’m dealing with people who do not know me, they assume that I am a French native, not that I pretend to be one. We can talk about this and that, politics, sports, gardening and many subjects.

Then suddenly… I will pronounce a word.

And the people to whom I am speaking, stare at me with big eyes.

“You are not French!” They will say.
“Err… Non” I’ll reply.

I’m not embarrassed nor ashamed for the mistake. However it is frustrating !
Some words are just impossible to say if French is not your native tongue.

The first word that comes to mind is : Ratatouille.
No matter how hard I try, it never passes through my vocal chords the same way.
I have tried rat-ta-touille, ra-ta-ouille and other combinations, but before those syllables come out of my mouth, my tongue is twisted.
Just for information “Rataouille” is a traditional French vegetable recipe made of aubergines courgettes ( zucinni ), green peppers, tomatoes, onions, olives, garlic and thyme; generally served with a meat of some sort.

The French “Liaison”, now this is a real give away when you fall into this trap.
In French, you say “Le garçon” ( The Boy ) and “Les garçons” (The boys). Easy.
Yet things are not that simple because when the noun begins with a vowel, for example “Oiseau” ( Bird ), you will say “l’oiseau” in the singular and “les oiseaux” in the plural form. Things become more complicated when you actually have to say the plural version because you do not say “les oiseaux”, but “lez oiseaux“. And do not forget that the “H” in French is like a vowel.

The other give away comes from mistakes with the masculine and feminine. No matter how hard I try, I find it impossible to remember the gender of every noun.
A typical example would be during a conversation with my wife and we are talking about clothes, shirts to wear etc. I wear shirts for men, so to me they are masculine shirts. My wife wears blouses and again, to me they are feminine. However in French it is the other way around. Men’s shirts (une chemise) have a feminine gender, whilst the feminine blouse (un chemisier ) has a masculine gender.

Then we have those famous English words which are used by the French and with their own special accent. Take for example “Football”, in English it almost sounds like ‘foot-bole’, yet on this side of the Chanel it is pronounces ‘fout-bal‘.

There also many many words which are the same in both languages, so you can easily use them and just put a good French accent on the word, like ‘important’ or

You also have to be careful of those “false friends / faux amis” (false cognates).
Assumer and Assume
So in French, “Assume” means to take control, or assuming responsibility. A typical phrase would be “J’assume mes responsabilités”, which you translate to “I assume my responsibilities.”

You can’t help but make mistakes, but it’s a problem with both languages and no one is at fault. You just have to keep talking.

2 replies on “My favorite impossible French words”

Just to correct a little mistake, in french, “blouse” is feminine (une blouse) and it’s not a shirt, but rather a very long thin working shirt (going down to the knees) with or without short sleeves used by women (usually older ones) to protect your real clothes underneath while you’re doing cleaning tasks. It’s also a professional piece of clothing used by nurses, cleaning ladies and so on.

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