Mistakes that English-speakers make in French that make natives laugh

Unwitting sexual nuances, difficulty with pronunciation, translating expressions directly - there are many ways to accidentally raise a chuckle among French people

A slight mispronunciation of a word can lead to a very different meaning - and fits of laughter from French friends
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Little nuances can often lead to drastic differences, especially in language. 

Sometimes, you may say something that seems completely normal to you and find yourself met with fits of laughter from native French speakers. 

It may feel a bit embarrassing at the time but, especially around friends, it is a good bonding experience - as long as you can also laugh at yourself. 

Mistakes are a normal part of learning a language. Below, we list some common mistakes that English-speakers make in French that are sure to raise a chuckle from native speakers. 

Pronunciation 

It is not kind to laugh at a foreigner’s language pronunciation and, in general, French people do not - they are more likely to be irritated by it, especially if they cannot understand and are wasting time. 

However, if you are with your friends, there are a few words that will likely result in a giggle. 

These mostly combine two sounds that English speakers find particularly difficult: the ‘u’ sound and the rolled ‘r’ sound, neither of which exist in English. 

Therefore, words like écureuil (squirrel), serrurerie (locksmith), quincaillerie (DIY shop) and lugubre (dismal or sombre) are difficult, if not impossible, for English speakers to pronounce without practice. 

Here, you can hear how écureuil is supposed to be pronounced. Remember, there is absolutely no shame in mispronouncing these words - even French people stumble over them sometimes. 

Read more: Four quick language tips to help you in everyday French

Préservatif

This is a classic and hilarious mistake. If you are particular about what you eat, then you might try to avoid foods with too many preservatives. 

However, if you are speaking French, do not ask whether a food has a lot of préservatifs in them or you will be met with laughs and bewilderment. Préservatif is the French word for ‘condom’.

Directly translating expressions 

Most expressions do not translate literally from language to language and doing so will lead to confusion and amusement.

For example, if you bought your friend a drink and he wants to pay you back, you may be tempted to tell him that it is sur la maison (on the house), but that expression does not exist in French. After the initial confusion, your friend will undoubtedly laugh. 

Another example is saying that you are ‘on the telephone’. If you say, je suis sur le téléphone, it will be understood as you are physically on top of the telephone. Instead say ‘je suis au téléphone’, which literally translates as ‘I am at the telephone’. 

Similarly, if you think something is not quite up to scratch, you might want to say ça ne coupe pas la moutarde (it is not cutting the mustard). However, French people will look at you as if you are an alien (instead try saying: ce n’est pas à la hauteur). 

Read more: 9 ‘English’ words in French that do not exist in English

Excité

One of the funniest and most tempting faux-amis (false friend) is excité(e). This is a mistake that is almost a rite of passage for an English speaker. 

Saying je suis excité(e) has a sexual connotation, meaning that you are in the mood. If you are having a drink with a friend and tell them ‘je suis excité(e) de boire un coup avec toi’, that is quite a forward thing to say. 

Over time, excité has gradually also come to mean ‘excited’ in the English sense, while also keeping its sexual connotation depending on context. 

Another similar mistake is to say je suis chaude. If you are trying to say that you are hot, then you should say ‘j’ai chaud’ with avoir rather than être. Chaude, especially in the female form, also has sexual connotations. 

However, young people have started using je suis chaud(e) to mean wanting to do something. For example, if someone asked ‘on va faire un tennis ?’ (do you want to go and play tennis), you could answer ‘je suis chaud’ (I am up for it). 

Baiser 

A baiser is a kiss. It is a fairly old-fashioned term and mostly used in books. 

The verb baiser though is a vulgar, informal way of saying ‘having sex’.

If you accidentally mix these two phrases up, you may say something outrageous. So, if you want to say that your mum is sending kisses to your friend, try saying ma mère t’embrasse rather than anything involving the word baiser

Read more: 6 ways to express your good mood in French

Mispronunciations 

Some words have very different meanings when slightly mispronounced. 

Beaucoup means a lot but the French ‘ou’ sound can be difficult for English speakers, who tend to pronounce it more like an ‘oo’ sound. If so, then it sounds like you are saying beau cul, which means ‘nice bottom’. 

Of course, no one will actually think that, so most people will be taken aback at first and then start laughing afterwards. 

Another example is the word pull (jumper). Once again, the pesky ‘u’ sound makes things difficult but if pronounced with more of an ‘oo’ sound, you would actually be talking about a chicken (poule), which can lead to amusing misunderstandings. 

Have you had experiences of making natives laugh with an innocent mistake ? What examples would you add to the list ? Send in your thoughts to feedback@connexionfrance.com