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How foreigners’ errors speaking English can help improve your French

Mistakes are often the best way of enhancing your language skills!

Speaking to non-native English speakers can improve your French Pic: Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock

You may not think you can learn from hearing French natives speaking English, but that is where you are wrong!

Often, hearing a French person speaking English can be a great way to understand how the French language is built and how you should go about conjugating and forming sentences. 

As embarrassing as it may sound, making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn French, as it means that eventually, you will have a better understanding of the language at its root.

Having spent the last year teaching English in a university - in classes that are taught entirely in English - I have found that my French has improved from seeing how my students attempt to translate phrases. 

Here are some of the common mistakes that will give you a better understanding of French: 

Mistake: ‘I am agree’

‘I am agree’ is one of the most common mistakes I hear among my students. This is because the French would say ‘je suis d’accord’, which literally translates as ‘I am in agreement’. 

Mistake: ‘You are learning me English’  

This is another really common mistake. In French, apprendre means ‘to learn’, while ‘apprendre quelque chose à quelqu'un’ means ‘to teach someone something’. 

For example, you would say ‘Je suis en train d’apprendre le français’ (‘I’m currently learning French’), but ‘Le prof apprend le français aux étudiants’ (‘The teacher teaches French to the students’).

While students are aware of ‘to learn’ they are often not aware of the nuance between the two different phrases, and thus end up using ‘to learn someone something’ instead of ‘to teach someone something’. 

Read also: Seven beginner mistakes in French to avoid

Mistake: ‘I took a pizza’

In French, prendre - which translates as ‘to take’ is used to describe having a dish in a restaurant, or you might say ‘je prends une baguette’ when you are ordering in a boulangerie. 

This explains why when you hear a French person speaking English, they may say ‘I took a pizza in the restaurant’ instead of ‘I had’ or ‘I ordered’. 

Mistake: Eventually (instead of might/possibly)

False friend alert! Often, when saying that they ‘might’ do something, French English learners will use ‘eventually’. 

This is because in French, ‘eventuellement’ means ‘might’, ‘potentially’ or ‘possibly’.

Keep your eyes peeled for this in French, because you will hear it more often than we would use ‘eventually’ in English, and it is a false friend that often catches people out.  

Mistake: Actually (instead of currently)

This is along the same line as eventuellement. Often in class, I will hear someone say something like ‘Actually, I am working on my final essay’. In English, we use ‘actually’ as a form of emphasis or to correct something or introduce an alternative opinion. 

In French, actuellement means ‘currently’ or ‘at the moment’. However, the proximity to ‘actually’ in English means that it often gets confused. 

Pronunciation 

You will notice that when there is an ‘s’ at the end of words in English, French people will rarely pronounce it. This is because in French, you drop the ‘s’ sound at the end of words. It is so ingrained into the French language that getting students to pronounce the ‘s’ at the end of words feels unnatural for them. 

This is something French learners can take on board - note when a French speaker drops the ‘s’ in an English word and apply that to your French language - drop the ‘s’!

Mistake: ‘I am not enough good’ 

This one is due to the placement in the French phrase. In French, you would say ‘je ne suis pas assez bien’ which translates as ‘I am not enough good’. 

Of course, in English we change the positioning and say ‘I am not good enough’, but it works as a good reminder to pay attention to your word positioning in French!

Mistake: ‘I listen radio’  

While in English, we say ‘listen TO someone/something’, French people often drop the ‘to’ when they are speaking English. 

This is because in French, it is simply ‘écouter la radio’, with no prepositions. 

However, be careful with this rule, as while you say ‘écouter la radio’ or ‘écouter son coeur’ (to listen to your heart), it is ‘ecouter de la musique’. For example, ‘j’aime écouter de la musique’ (‘I like listening to music’).

If you say ‘j’aime la musique’, you need to qualify the noun. So, for example, you can say ‘j’aime écouter la musique des années 80’. 

Read also: These 10 songs can help you improve your French

Mistake: ‘I offered a present’ 

This is one that goes both ways - French people speaking English often mix this up as do English speakers in French. 

While in English, we say ‘to give a present’, in French you say ‘offrir un cadeau à quelqu'un’, which translates as ‘to offer a present to someone’. 

Mistake: ‘I did an error’

This is a classic mix-up of faire, which in English means both ‘to make’ and ‘to do’. 

Faire is quite frequently employed as ‘to do’ when in English we use ‘to make’, such as in this case. ’J’ai fait un erreur’ is ‘I made a mistake’ but it is easy to see why it gets confused. 

Mistake: Persons 

In French, you can use personne in the singular or the plural: ‘il y a cinq personnes’ (‘there are five people’). 

It is clear why this gets mixed up - it seems natural that personne’ translates as ‘person’ and thus personnes translates as ‘persons’. 

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