King Charles III delivered a speech in French to Senators and MPs today (September 21) celebrating the ties between the UK and France, much to the pleasure of French observers.
The King returned the singular honour of speaking to both chambers of the French government by delivering a speech almost entirely in French.
“The United Kingdom will always be one of the closest allies of France,” he said (in French), “together, our potential is boundless.”
Referencing the two countries’ historic ties, Charles proposed working together in a new ‘entente cordiale’ that he called an ‘Entente pour la Durabilité’, to respond to the “global emergency of climate change and biodiversity.”
Senators and MPs applauded the King for nearly two minutes after his 17-minute speech.
After his arrival on Wednesday, the King and Queen Camilla were welcomed to the Palace of Versailles where along with more than 150 guests they dined on lobster, crab and a cheese platter organised by the master artisan who also served his mother. After dinner he delivered a speech in French in English.
“The King speaks French very well indeed. He does have an accent that I think is more pronounced than that of his mother, who spoke absolutely perfect French, almost with no accent,” said royal expert Stéphane Berne on TF1.
It is common refrain in France for politicians to be criticised for their foreign language skills.
President Macron, who speaks excellent English, was roundly teased in France for describing the wife of then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as “delicious”.
Again, in 2020 Mr Macron was judged to have a poor English accent following an altercation with Israeli police.
‘A charming accent’
King Charles seems to be above such criticism. However, at times he did appear to struggle with the pronunciation of some words and switched to English to give himself a break - leaving the television interpreter scrambling to catch up:
Click here to watch King Charles’ speech to the French Senate.
On Youtube, the majority of comments praised the King’s French:
- “A French speaking and francophile King who made the effort to speak in French with great humour. A true friendship with France.”
- “Deep respect from the King in his homage to France and the French people, all with a zest of British humour… Vive l'Angleterre and Vive la France!”
- “Whether you like the monarchy or not, this is a classy King! Long may he reign!”
- “He speaks almost perfect French… Incredible!”
The King who began learning French as a child and has visited regularly throughout his life, is a known francophile. Queen Elizabeth II insisted that her son, as the future head of the Commonwealth, speak the language of his French subjects in Canada.
Did Charles make any mistakes?
However, speaking in French certainly presented some difficulties for the King. French learners will note that he did not use the French guttural R, mispronounced words and spoke with a hesitant, saccadic rhythm.
At times, he corrected his gender agreement:
“Notre relation est plus important… importante que jamais” - Our relationship is more important than ever.
At other times, he used awkward mispronunciations:
“Merci pour votre hommage très pognon.. poignant” - Thank you for your very poignant hommage. Pognan is a slang term for money.
However, despite his mistakes, the King spoke clearly and his message was understood. Perhaps learners of French can take solace from the fact that sometimes having ‘un petit accent’ is no obstacle to making a good impression.