I speak French with an English accent. Try as I might, I can’t get rid of it, even though my French is now pretty fluent after 18 years here. As soon as I open my mouth, I give myself away as non-French. However, this is apparently not the disadvantage it might at first seem to be. All is revealed at the end of this post.
Giving yourself away
At one time, I used to get really fed up about my inability to sound French. A soldier from the nearby military camp once asked me for directions to the local tabac. I supplied them in what I thought was impeccable French, grammatically and accent-wise. ‘Thank you,’ he said. I fumed.
Similarly, I have lost count of the times that shop assistants look perplexed when we speak, since they assume that they won’t be able to understand us. Or they start replying in English. Now, of course, I should regard the latter as good customer service, but I can’t help feeling obscurely insulted.
Then there is a local medical specialist who wants to try out his somewhat inadequate English on you as soon as he realises you aren’t French. I beg him to speak French, since it’s rather important that you understand what’s going on where medical matters are concerned.
Accent and pronunciation are closely linked. Anglophones invariably get some aspects of pronunciation wrong, but they are relatively easy to fix. For example, they never taught us at school that, in French, you don’t put the stress on the first syllable, as we do in English, but commonly on the last one. So, in English it’s MISSion, in French it’s missION. This was a big step forward for me – but I had to move here to find that out.
But it’s not just the pronunciation: it’s also the cadence of the spoken language and the modulation of the voice that we Brits find difficult to master. And those rolled R’s are just a distant dream.
Nowadays, I am a bit more relaxed about it. I realise that native French speakers develop a musculature of the mouth and vocal chords and a way of forming the words that few people can mimic if they are not born to it. And French people find it hard to make some of the sounds that the English language demands; they really do say ‘ze’ for ‘the’.
The good news? According to The Connexion newspaper, a recent worldwide poll of language learners came up with a surprising result. The French people surveyed said that, of all the accents of foreigners speaking French, the English accent is the most attractive.
Our French friends’ reactions bear this out. When I grumble to them about having kept my English accent, they say, ‘Mais non, c’est joli!’ (No, it’s lovely).
You might also like:
Copyright © 2015 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved