Guess What? You Already Speak Some French!

From the Lecture Series: Learning French — A Rendezvous with French Speaking Cultures

By Ann Williams, Ph.D., Metropolitan State University of Denver

Ann Williams shares her love of the French language as well as some insights into the French you already know.

Bonjour. Je m’appelle Ann Williams et je suis un professeur de français. Je travaille à Denver, dans le Colorado depuis 26 ans. J’adore les étudiants dans mon université. J’adore aussi le café!  My name is Ann Williams and I am a French professor. I have been working in Denver, Colorado, for 26 years. I love the students at my university.

Why I love French

I grew up in an English-speaking home in Colorado and I discovered my passion for French in my early 20s. So, to people who say that you can’t learn French as an adult, allow me to disagree.

Was it the sound of the language that first attracted me or was it the romantic idea of someday going to Paris? Maybe it was the literature I read in translation or the one French restaurant where we went for very special occasions. I might have been attracted by the fact that French is spoken in so many countries around the world! Whatever it was, here I am all these years later, sharing my passion with students and with you. And I’m wondering what sparked YOUR interest in French.

Learn more about how manners and politeness still matter in the French language

Couple sitting in French Café having Espresso and Pastry

Why You Should Love French

French is an important world language, and not just for me. It’s a working language for the European Union, NATO, the United Nations, and the Olympic Games. It’s among the top 10 most frequently used languages on the Internet. It is the official language of 30 countries and is widely spoken in at least 10 others. It serves as a common language in several multilingual countries, particularly in North Africa and West Africa.

This is a transcript from the video series Learning French: A Rendezvous with French Speaking Cultures. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

For example, some Berbers and Arabs in Morocco might not understand each other’s languages, but French might be a language they share. You see all three languages on the sign at the Green Party headquarters in Rabat.

French also allows those of us from the outside to get to know their cultures and gives them opportunities in global markets. When you speak French, you’ll join approximately 200 million people who use French every day, and it’s been projected that 750 million people will be speaking French in 2050.

image of flags for article on how to speak French.

Language Learning Never Stops

First and foremost, it is important to recognize that language learning is a process—a continuous process. It’s inconceivable to me that anyone could learn to communicate in a new language just by repeating phrases and conversations. Learn a language in “30 easy lessons” without memorizing “those troublesome verbs”? No. Conversely, just learning those verbs won’t do it either.

There is no perfect method for learning a language. However, there are the right tools for working with the language and it’s important to get experience in listening; reading; writing; and, yes, even speaking French, if only to yourself or to the friend you decide to share this adventure with.

Adventure? Mais oui! You’ll be taking risks when I ask you to make a funny face as you pronounce a new sound.

Learn more about methods to help you build your vocabulary and make connections across the language

You Already Speak French!

Nearly 30% of English words in an 80,000-word dictionary are of French origin.

Whoever you are, you already understand some French because you speak English! In fact, nearly 30% of English words in an 80,000-word dictionary are of French origin. French words are used in standard English in science (pasteurisation), in architecture (façade), and in art. French words are used in politics (coup d’état ) and in music (étude), and in cuisine  (Vinaigrette, coq au vin)… If I start listing the cooking vocabulary, we’ll never get past this paragraph.

Try it Yourself

Don’t believe me? Let’s try an experiment. [Here is] a paragraph in French. What words are you able to understand?

Tous les week-ends, il y a une grande réception à la résidence de l’ambassadeur américain. L’ambassadeur invite des entrepreneurs importants pour les échanges économiques entre la France et les États-Unis. Au début de la soirée, pendant le cocktail, des musiciens présentent un concert ou un récital. Les chefs d’œuvres classiques sont très populaires mais les invités apprécient aussi la musique moderne de Ravel ou de Debussy. Dans les jardins du château, il y a de belles roses avec un parfum intense et délicat. Quel plaisir!

Learn more about typical French routines throughout the day

If you understood, say, between 5 and 15 words, your English-language filter might be working a bit too well… Not to worry. If you understood between 16 and 26, your French ears are tuning in. If you understood more than that, félicitations / congratulations.

This little “test” is just to remind you that you have some vocabulary from the very outset.  Soon you’ll be talking, too!

Common Questions About Speaking French

Q: Where are places where French is spoken?

Outside of France, the places where you find people speaking French are largely in Switzerland, Monaco, Luxembourg, and the Aosta Valley region of Italy.

Q: How long does French take to learn?

Depending on the method of learning, it could take anywhere between 5-10 years to reach an intermediate level of speaking French.

Q: How easy is it to learn French?

French is thought to be the easiest language to learn of all, especially if one is a native English speaker, due to similarities.

Q: What is the best possible way to learn French?

Submersion is the best way to learn French; surrounding oneself with French media and people who speak French will greatly accelerate learning how to speak French.

This article was updated on 12/20/2019

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