Whoui Spik Inglish

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Whoui Spik Inglish!

The other day, we went to see Kiss & Kill, a U.S movie. You may have heard of it: the English title is “Killers”. Why did the French bother changing the original English title to another English title? No idea. Similarly, “The Spy Next Door” is “Kung Fu Nanny” here. Go figure!

We sat in the Gaumont’s tiny seats with no cup holders (French don’t eat or drink during movies) and watched the commercials. Two minutes later, I burst out laughing when I heard that the ice-cream advertised was “as good as gold” – it sounded like “has goude has golde”, pronounced with the worse French accent you can imagine. Yes, I know, some of you find it sexy. But it doesn’t mean it’s not ridiculous.

When you sit in the T.G.V, you hear loud and annoying announcements to encourage passengers to talk to the “rail team” (the “rele teeme”?) should they have any questions. It’s only after the third announcement that I actually understood they meant “the rail team” – that bad.

Okay, don’t get me wrong. I know I have an accent. I must have one anyway even though apparently I don’t really sound French. Yet I can’t help wondering why French are obsessed with English words they can’t pronounce correctly.

French already use a certain number of “English” words: le parking (for parking lot), le pressing (dry-cleaner), les baskets (running shoes), le pull-over (sweater)… These words, like many other foreign words (Kalashnikov, pesto…) came to be part of the French vocabulary and are pronounced with a normal French accent. Similarly, English people say “déjà-vu” and “maître d'” after all. I personally don’t have any problem with that and I do find Quebec’s tendency to come up with a translation for every single word of English origin a bit annoying at times. I mean, “le chien chaud” for “hot dog”? Come on!

Now, what I truly dislike is the current trend of using English words or sentences just to sound cool. First, I don’t see why English would be cooler than French, and second, the accent is just laughable at best. If I hear one more person saying they study “business” (“bouzinez”) I’m gonna laugh. Various media use a lot of English words as well, presumably to sound modern and cool. The slogan of one of the leading radio stations, NRJ, is “hit music only”, pronounced “it mousic only”. They have their “top vidéo” (why the accent??), a “music store”, and a “people” section — in French, “people” means famous people, as in stars and jet-setters.

The hardest thing for me is to revert to pronouncing these words with a French accent, to drop the “h” for instance. Otherwise, people don’t understand. And yes, it’s harder than it seems!

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

17 Comments

  1. I’m having a hard time with this too! At the University I go to, I had a teacher that would always turned to me when he said an English word and I could never understand what he was saying!

    Plus, I’ve started speaking English with the dreaded French accent, so much so that the people in the US were asking me if I was French, something that would never have happened before!

    As for the whole Quebec-translating-thing, I was accused at my university of “translating too much” as most academics will use american terms in their text. I don’t do it because translating helps me to think about how to explain things!

  2. Let’s see, as I recall you speak French, English, Spanish, Chinese, passable Portuguese, and probably several others. You should be up for about anything. I love it when you travel and take me along for the ride. Have fun.

  3. The same reason was the one I had when I decided that I didn’t like Japanese pop and rock music. There were too many English words in the lyrics, and some of them didn’t even make sense in the whole story of the song. They were just inserted there just to sound cool, which I totally don’t get.

  4. I hate English words spoken with a French accent too!! It sounds so ridiculous and there is always a French word they could use anyway. And I especially hate how the word itself or the meaning is changed from the original English so that even if Anglophones understand the pronunciation, we still don’t understand what the heck the French person means. At least when Quebecois French uses an English word, we know exactly what it means and the pronunciation isn’t as bad as the European French accent.

  5. I hate when people pronounce ‘deja-vu’ as in ‘deja-vous’. Urghhhhh…it’s so irritating.

    On another note, many Taiwanese people think it’s cool to throw in one or two English words in a sentence. But they often don’t make any sense and it makes me want to laugh as well.

  6. French-speakers may find English words cool, but English-speakers may also find foreign-sounding words cool. Consider these: el cheapo, adios…

    Many things are sold in different markets with different names. Canon’s low end DSLR, for example, are sold in North America with the names of Rebel something. Elsewhere, they are simply given a 3-digit number, such as 400D, 450D, 550D.

  7. The ones that really get me are the English words with different meanings in French. I think I know what’s being said, and then it turns out I don’t!

    The pronunciation that drives me INSANE is “shampoi” for “shampooing.” Drives me up the freaking wall! If you’re going to turn a verb into a noun, please at least TRY to pronounce it correctly!!!

  8. @Vanessa – Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment!

    @Cynthia – I like to translate too but sometimes in Québec translations just don’t make any sense. Like translating the movie Trainspotting by “ferrovipathe”, or Pulp Fiction by fiction pulpeuse.

    @Bill Miller – Thank you! Well, enjoy the traveling, still a few posts and back to Canada next week.

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – HK pop music is the same if I remember correctly, And yes, it is annoying, especially when like you said foreign words are just thrown in and don’t make any sense!

    @Jennie – It’s just super hard to know what people are talking about sometimes. Honestly, even as a French, because I got used to the proper pronunciation.

    @Poem – My personal pet peeve is “maître d'”. Maître de quoi???

    @khengsiong – I guess American English does have a lot of Spanish words, but Canadian English doesn’t.

    @Soleil – Gosh, I can’t even spell shamppoing correctly! Why not use “shampoo” then? I agree with you.

  9. you’d probably laugh at me trying to sound out all of the words and phrases from your post with a faux-french accent. and i’m terrible at accents because i never practice them. really, it takes practice (just like your experience in not sounding the h sound).
    prok-tees make perr-fikt <== see, i told you i was bad at accents.

  10. On the other hand, across the Channel, people like to use French words.
    Especially in posh restaurants.
    Apple pie with custard is “Apple pie with Crème anglaise”.
    Ha ha… Ordinary stuff suddenly sounds posh with a French touch!

  11. And it’s not just the spoken English word that gets jumbled. A waiter once gave me an English menu at a restaurant because he heard my accent, but I had to ask for the French one because the descriptions of the food in English were jibberish! Terrible translations. The experience also reminded me to never go to a French restaurant that offers menus in other languages.

  12. Hey Zhu,

    Ahhh, I missed you and your posts!

    “I mean, “le chien chaud” for “hot dog”? Come on!” – LOL LOL LOL LOL le chien chaud? C’est terrible, ça!

    LOL LOL I loved this post.
    But the way I see it: France is advancing, because a decade ago it hardly spoke any English; and the French looked at those who spoke the language askance..as if it were vulgar or something *nodding*.

    Loved it!

    Cheers

  13. @Seraphine: well, I have a bad accent for some words myself. The weirdest thing for me is to pronounce French words with an English accent to be understood by other anglophones!

    @London Caller: you are right; especially when it comes to food.

    @Tanya: I know what you mean, most translations are awful. Makes me want to correct them all the time.

    @Max Coutinho: most young people speak English, at least those under 40 years old because English is pretty much compulsory at school. Speaking may be hard for them because of the lack of practice but they can read it I’m sure.

  14. Alan Froshaug on

    Hi Zhu,

    I love you blogs on French and English. When I lived in Edmonton, I pulled the muscles in my chest while renovating my basement. I was in a lot of pain so I went the the physiotherapist for help. Lucky me, she had a very sexy French accent so I was happy when she told me to come back for another treatment. The first time she put ice on my chest. The second time she said that she was going to put moist tea on my chest. It didn’t sound like a standard treatment for pulled muscles but I thougt what the hell she can rub moist tea on my chest and I won’t mind if she thinks it will help. She came back with hot towels. Then I realized that she meant moist heat, she just couldn’t pronounce the letter h. What a let down. Another strange thing that I found about French is that they say “Je suis nee” in the present tense, I am born, when in English it is the past tense, I was born.

    I think that you are right that learning another language teaches you a lot about your own language.

    I grew up in southern Saskatchewan in a largely French area with towns like Gravelbourg, Ponteix, Lafleche, Ferland and Val Marie. If you go to a Caisse Populaire in Gravelbourg they will speak French first and they switch to English if you speak English, no big deal, no one is offended. In my small Enlish speaking town the only other boy in my class was Jean Guy who was bused in from a French town. I didn’t know French at the time and I thougt that his name was Jongy. Lost in translation I know but I think that it adds to our social fabric and makes us a lot more understanding of each other. French and English out West are just good neighbours. I was always puzzled by the language controversies out East over French and English, although I understand the historical roots.

    Cheers!

    • I’m really proud to live in a bilingual country–and yes, I call Canada a bilingual country even if I am aware no all Canadians speak both official languages. We are all exposed to French and English one way or another though and it strengthens our identity.

      Ah, these damn “h” are so hard to pronounce for French! “H” are silent in French and it took me a while to pronounce mine properly in English. Words like “ship” and “sheep” (ahem, or “beach” and “bitch”) also sound the same to most French!

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