I have returned to foreign language learning after many years. (My holiday this year in Nice, France, was mostly spent at a language school. It was a lot of fun, although I’d like to report that while I can understand more French, I still can’t speak it.)

Studying French made me appreciate my mother tongue English even more. We are so lucky to have such a wonderful language and speak it fluently!

Because so many English words derive from French, it can make it a bit easier to know what a French word means even if you’ve never heard it before. But this can be a trap: a similar-sounding word may have a completely different meaning. For example, the French verb attendre means ‘to wait’ not ‘to attend’. These actually have a name, I discover; they’re called faux amis (false friends) and happen between other languages too.

It’s also very tempting to fall into Del Boy-style French, and just say English words in a French accent, or random phrases that spring to mind. Don’t do it…you end up talking nonsense (à la Derek).

The English language has not just been influenced by French, though. As native English speakers, shouldn’t we be really good at learning other languages, as our own has borrowed so much from a variety of tongues?

On the flip side, maybe this is why English has become the world language: everyone can recognise a piece of it. Mind you, learning English as a foreign language must be really hard. There are so many exceptions to the rules, I wonder how it can make sense at all.

Advertisements