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Dealing with the French language (1/2)

August 5, 2013

A trip to Paris would not be totally complete without getting a taste of the French language, one of the  cultural assets the French are the most proud of. Granted, nowadays French is the official language of only 200 million of people, i.e. less than 3% of the world population. Granted, both Chinese and English have long replaced French as the international language for business. However, it is deeply anchored in French mindset that their language has brought to the world the ideas of freedom and democracy which were developed by philosophers during the Age of Enlightment. You may argue that it was a long time ago but some facts still perpetrate the tradition: for instance, French is still the official language of the Olympic Games and it is, along with English, the official language of the UNO or the Unesco. French is also the first foreign language taught in the USA, Canada and United Kingdom and it has always been a member of the top 10 languages most spoken in the world.  

But how to learn French? With its myriad of grammar rules, past tenses or exceptions, the “langue de Molière” (literally “Moliere’s language”) , as the French like to call it, is incredibly hard to perfectly command. The difficulty doesn’t lie in its vocabulary: surprisingly enough, there are only ~200.000 words used in the French language, while there are more than one million in English. Rather, the tricky part of the French language lays in its grammar and  pronunciation, which are a challenge not only for foreigners but also for natives speakers. The French have had a long love-hate relationship with their language… They cheer it as much as they criticize the endless list of exceptions and illogical grammar rules. Most adults have painful memories of the spelling tests they had to take at school when they were kids but each year, they will turn in mass to watch a popular TV show called the Dictée de Pivot “Pivot’s spelling test” to assess their command of the French language and compare their results to those of some French celebrities who take the test in front of millions of TV viewers.

On a similar level, journalists won’t miss the opportunity to comment French politicians’ misuse of the language or slips of the tongue but it is nearly impossible to read a newspaper without at least one spelling mistake on every page…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. julia permalink
    August 11, 2013 2:32 pm

    the number of words in a language has nothing to do with the actual usage… just because english absorbs words from every other language it is meeting on its way, it does not mean that the average english speaker uses all of them in daily life. in fact, most english speakers use less words than average french or german speakers… much less.

  2. max permalink
    October 20, 2013 7:50 am

    Beginner can use the free language-learning interactive software Imagemo (French language) for building vocabulaire.

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