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Whoui Spik Inglish

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!


  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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!


  4. @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.

  5. 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 née” 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.


    • 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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