If you’re thinking about learning French, you’re not alone. French is the third-most-studied language in the world, so you’re bound to find a study partner. As a matter of fact, there are around 220 million French speakers globally. Whether the only French word you know is baguette or you can string together a whole sentence, there’s a lot to learn about French. Just getting started? Check out these five cool facts about the French language, and you’ll be ready with some great conversation starters for your next dinner or happy hour with friends.
1. These English Words are Actually French
Yes, you do! Even if you’ve never taken a single French class in your life, you already know a few French words. There are about 7,000 French words that we use in the English language. Some of the words we’ve adopted are from Old French and Middle French. Of course, some of these words are still used by French speakers today. Don’t believe us? Here is a (very partial) list of French words commonly used in everyday English:
See? You’re already on your way to being a fluent French speaker.
2. French Words Typically Don’t Start with the Letter W
It’s true! The letter W was not always present in the French alphabet. W and the letter K were introduced into the French alphabet in the 19th century. French speakers have adopted some words that start with W from other languages, though. A few examples:
If you need help pronouncing “W” sounds in French, check out some French TV shows as a guide.
3. French Wasn’t Always Spoken in France
The people of France used to speak Latin. French is considered a romance language. While French may sound romantic, that’s not what “romance language” means. Simply put, a romance language is one that was derived from vulgar Latin.
Before the French Revolution, it’s believed that many of the people in France still didn’t speak French. After the revolution ended in 1799, the government stepped in and made French the common language.
4. French Words Don’t Mean What You Think
Just like in other languages, French has false friends (faux amis). That means that the words don’t mean what you think they mean at first glance. For example, un bras in French means arm, not bras. Here are some other faux amis you need to look out for:
Attendre – to wait
Un car – bus or coach
Une caution – bail or guarantee
La chair – flesh
Un coin – corner
Génial(e) – brilliant
Un habit – item of clothing
Une main – hand
Le pain – bread
Sale – dirty
Don’t worry: The more time you spend with French, the easier it will be to remember these faux amis!
5. There are French Words with No English Translations
We use some of these words in our daily English vocabulary, but others may be unfamiliar to a non-French speaker. One of our favorites is l’esprit d’escalier. Have you ever walked away from an argument and thought of a great comeback afterward? Well that’s l’esprit d’escalier!
Here are a few more phrases you should know:
Déjà vu – a feeling of having already experienced the present situation
Élan– preparations leading up to a movement
Je ne sais quoi – To say something has a certain je ne sais quoi means it has an indescribable quality.
Spleen – The sensation that comes from intense dissatisfaction and discouragement
La douleur exquise – The pain someone feels from unrequited love
If French seems like a cool language to learn, it’s time to get serious about it. While watching your favorite shows in French can help you with pronunciation and vocabulary, nothing beats conversation. Our French tutors prioritize having conversations in French so that you can effectively communicate in the language. If you’re not sure if a language tutor is right for you, you can try our $35 trial class. We’re sure you’ll love it, but even if you don’t, you’ll leave the class being just a little better at French. It’s a win-win.