French accents sound great in English (unless you say one of these words)

Written by Diane on. Posted in on everything else

Sorry, what did you say_(3) If you’ve spent any time with a French person, you’ve probably fallen in love with noticed their cool accent. Americans (maybe just me??) are suckers for a foreign accent and French accents are right up there at the top of my sexy list. Lucky for me, my husband is French and I love his accent (which has lessened over time, dammit). At the beginning though, sometimes he’d say a word and I’d cautiously have him repeat it hoping I didn’t hear right. Yes, sometimes that French accent is tricky to decipher. WHAT did he say??

Here are some gems you should have your French guy or gal say for an entertaining time!

French accents

If you’ve ever learned a foreign language, it has no doubt provided you with endless entertainment. Let’s take Tom, for example. I like to tease him sometimes when I’m jealous of his language skills. He’s 100 percent fluent in English and doesn’t have a heavy French accent at all. But when he had a lower level of English, or is tired or not really paying attention, sometimes he’ll let one of these beauties below slip through. And sometimes he’ll do it on purpose…. because he can.

Focus sounds like f*ck us.

The first vowel sound here can trip up many a French speaker. A French person I know who works in an English speaking country actually avoids the word focus entirely in business settings (for fear of saying “I want to focus hard on next week’s presentation.” or “I want to focus all the time on the customer” or “I wanted to focus last night…”).

Remember, there's a _cow_ in accounts

Taking something into account.

I’ll let you figure that one out. With a French accent, account might sound a little, well, different. It’s uh-COW-nt. Don’t forget the cow!  

Is he angry or hungry?

That “h” sound doesn’t come naturally to French speakers since it doesn’t exist in French. When speaking English, sometimes French speakers add it where there isn’t supposed to be an “h” at all. I’m hangry. Huh? Is he pissed off or just in a rush for dinner? Better to clarify.  

Happiness is a penis?

Listen up when happiness is involved. The intonation makes all the difference on this one. The emphasis is on the first part of the word and not the last!  

Squirrel is a tricky one.

Squirrel just isn’t an easy word to say. Even when I was a toddler, I had trouble saying this one and would just squeal and point in front of the window if a squirrel was in the backyard. Luckily, I’ve since learned how to say squirrel. Now the problem is the name Aurore. Just a nightmare to say for a non-native French speaker.    

And if you had any doubts, this post is all in good fun. I would love to hear some French people weigh in with fun words that Americans mispronounce in French! You know, to keep it even and all. 😉

And wow, this is my 200th post since I started Oui In France!

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Comments (53)

  • Dana

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    Great examples! Although you forgot b*tch and beach

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Excellent additions! Thanks!

      Reply

  • Megan

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    The only thing I’ve really noticed my husband having problems with is the emphasis on some words. Like for example he was trying to say the word lavender, and instead put the emphasis on VEN making it sound like “luVENder” I seriously had no idea what he was talking about!!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Isn’t it strange how something as simple as word emphasis can render a word completely incomprehensible? Sometimes I can understand the word anyway, like MUH-chine (for machine) or REE-uh-LIZE for (realize) but others, no way. The kids I used to teach when I was an assistant would say American cities with French accents and I’d have no clue at all.

      Reply

    • Sarah Conte Philly

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      I did the same for the longest time with the word “category”. I went an entire business meeting saying “caTEgory” until someone asked a question and said: what “CA-tegory” are you talking about? Hurrah moment in my head *facepalm*

      Reply

      • Diane

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        It’s not easy at all, is it… Anyone who has the guts to pick up and move to a new country deserves a lot of credit in my book, so despite these little language mishaps, we’re pretty damn awesome. No need to be modest about this. 🙂

        Reply

  • scar

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    Ha, so true! My French teacher in high school once said “You must focus very hard” to the class and we all cracked up. I taught her ‘concentrate’ instead and from then on she just used that 😉

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yes, probably a safer bet to use around teenagers. Ha ha ha

      Reply

  • Sweetteamob

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    Hilarious! Sometimes I get so used to hearing the accent that I forget to notice the humor in it! Also it’s true that French people generally pronounce hungry and angry the same. It’s become a joke in my family when people are “hangry” – simultaneously hungry and angry!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      That’s the worst combination. I’m going to start using hangry!

      Reply

  • Ze Coach

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    I’m French and I have been living in Texas for 2 years. I sometime have hard time in restaurants to order a Coke. One of my colleague told me that I might mispronounce it and it might sound like something else… I tried to say “Coca Cola” instead but it does not always help so now I order a Pepsi 🙂
    By the way, I love your blog. I found it on Mathilde’s blog. When you live abroad, you get to know better your own country but also, when you see it through others’ eyes too. Please continue, it’s great.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Really appreciate the kind words, ze coach. Means even more coming from you since you’re French. Mathilde’s site is great and I’ve visited a bunch of states through her blog that I’ve never been to in person in my own country, so totally understand what you mean. 😉 Just remember, for Coke, there’s the letter O. And I tell my husband to overemphasize the vowels (almost to the point where he thinks it’s funny) but it helps in getting the sound across. He orders a “co-OH-ke” in the US. He also tries to pronounce it like the first syllable in the French pronunciation of cocaine. Sounds better than accidentally saying cock. Oops!!

      Reply

      • Ze Coach

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        Oh, ok, now I know how it sounds when I try to order a Coke! So embarrassing 😉 Thanks for the advice. I’ll try to overemphasize the O next time and I will let you know whether waiters understand me better or not.

        I forgot to tell you about American pronunciation. My team members are Americans and there is a story we like to make fun about when they went to France. The headquarter of our company is in the city of Evry. From the Airport, they had a hard time to tell the taxi driver the name of the city.
        “- We want to go to Evry
        – Évry or Ivry?
        – Evry, with an E
        – Ok, Ivry then?”
        As you might have understood, if they wanted to go to Ivry, they would have said “Ivry with an I”. The letter “E”, pronounced the English way sounds like the letter “I” for French people.
        Well, that’s my story with American pronunciation. Have a great week-end Diane.

        Reply

        • Diane

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          Hahah, yes the letters can be tricky the i/e an the g/j in particular. I hope they ended up in the right place! Vowels are not easy. The distinction between poignée and poignet is very difficult for Americans to hear the difference. I think context helps in those situations. And when it doubt, write it! Bon week-end aussi !

          Reply

          • Yann

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            Hello,
            I’m french and i’m so happy to read every day your blog.
            Today, i’m not sure that french people says “poignée” and “poignet” with a different sound.
            The difference is very “subtle”. For me, the meaning of the phrase tells me the real word.
            It’s the same problem with “es” (like “tu es jolie”) and “est” (“il est gentil”). We don’t make any more the difference.
            But, you can mistake “poignée” and “panier” if you don’t articulate correctly.

            Reply

          • Diane

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            Hi Yann, thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. For me, the difference between the last vowel sound in poignée and poignet is just as distinct as the vowel sound é versus ai. Like j’ai versus the “é” in regardé. Definitely not the same. Maybe some areas of France make more of a distinction? Bon week-end !

            Reply

  • Jennifer

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    Another one with the ‘h’ sound, a mistake I used to do with hair/air, hear/ear. I would say something like “i need some hair”, instead of “i need some air”.
    In the same style as “focus”, apparently when I try to say fox, it sounds like “f**cks”….

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Sorry for the late reply. No clue why I didn’t see this. Yes, the mystery ‘H’ is really common with French speakers. Sometimes Tom will add it when it’s not there like you mentioned and forget it at other times. But it’s a sound that I think French people find easy to say (not like the “th”) if they concentrate on saying it. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply

  • Axelle the french reader

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    A friend of mine who tried hard to speak your language with the correct accent, said :
    “Bat”, instead of “But”,
    “Fuck you” instead of “thank you”
    “Shit” instead of “sheet” …
    We convinced her to stop trying having the US accent and just speak with french accent ! 😀

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Haha that’s terrible. I think the vowels are particularly tricky but how did she mess up the F sound with the TH? Maybe it was on purpose? Hahah

      Reply

      • Axelle the french reader

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        😀 A lot of frenchmen can’t say correctly “TH” and say “fank you”… Come to hear some of my friends and you’ll understand !! :D.
        Truly, she was not saying “fuck you”, but it really sounded like this. It was so funny and terrific on the same way, because said with so much natural !
        “Do you want another cup of coffee, Corinne ?”, “Oh, yes, fuck you very much !”. My second friend and I just had a heart attack, this day. But not as violent, I suppose, as our american friend ! 😀
        I still laugh, today.

        Reply

        • Diane

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          Oh yes, I see what you mean! Hahaha

          Reply

  • Keith Kellett

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    Maybe you’ve heard the joke:
    ‘How much are your pancakes?’
    ‘Ponkex? M’sieu, they are crepes!’
    ‘Thanks for the warning! I’ll just have a cup of coffee then!’

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hahah, love it. Whenever I pronounce crepe like an American, my husband gets all mad. “It’s not cray-pe it’s crepe.” Have a great weekend and thank you for your comment!

      Reply

  • CatherineRose

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    I’m literally laughing out loud right now, because I can hear all of these in a French accent in my head! Angry vs hungry = SO TRUE! (although, friends and I have discussed that “hangry” should be a thing – when you’re grumpy because you’re hungry!) Also, squirrel is the most hilarious word. It’s no fun now that my cheri can say it properly, but sometimes he says “skweerell” just to make me happy.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yes, I have a lot of fun with squirrel too. And French people in the US always get a kick out of seeing one in the US. Don’t know why because I’m pretty sure they exist in France. And yes, hangry should def be in the dictionary!

      Reply

  • Alinya

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    LOL! All of these ring so true. One of the things I have trouble with in French are anglophone names with french accents. I can not for the life of me understand them! Once, I spent 5 minutes trying to understand “Alicia Keys”, and I only understood once they started singing one of her songs.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      OH man, I know what you mean. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand Hollywood or Las Vegas in a French accent. I made the kids write it on the chalkboard because I had no clue. Haha, but that only happened once. Now I know!!

      Reply

  • Michelle

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    Another hard sound/word for Americans is the “u” sound, like with the word Lourd. To this day I still try to get around it because I just can’t say it right. I get the deer in the headlights look every time. Brilliant article!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      You think the “ou” in vous is more difficult than the “u” in tu for an American to initially learn? There are no easy sounds in this language. Haha, even the “l” is different. My husband can’t say the American l (tongue is too far back). Ahhh, well we try, right? Thanks for your comment. 😉

      Reply

  • Ade

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    I’m studying in Paris, but i’m not a native French speaker, nor English. Here is a story from my first week in France:
    Have you ever heard about a wonderful city called Le Saint-Jolesse? It’s also called ‘the city of lights’, has an impressive history and we had our teacher talking for more than 30 minutes about it.
    It was painful to see her writing the name on the blackboard and realising that she was refering to L.A….
    Bon courage! 🙂

    Reply

    • Diane

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      SO impossible to understand. The worst is Kanye West. I don’t even think Kanye recognized his own name being pronounced the French way recently when on French TV. Terrible, le Saint Jolesse. hahahaha made me laugh

      Reply

  • Aurore

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    Hey !

    My name is Aurore and I can confirm that no non-native French speaker knows how to say it !
    Just think about the word “horror” without the “h” and you’re close enough 😉

    PS: I just discovered your blog and I love it !

    Reply

    • Diane

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      No clue why I never replied here. I apologize! I love your name but the French pronunciation still messes me up. Thank you for the tip. And hope you’re still loving the blog!

      Reply

    • Diane

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      FINALLY posted my first video where I try to say you’re name. Today’s new post 😉

      Reply

  • Rob

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    I have just bought a Dutch barge in holland with the intention to retire to the French canals. I speak a little French but the barge has the Dutch name “Dageraad” which means “Dawn” in english and “Aurore” in French. As I love France I am going to rename her “Aurore” but I agree with Aurore when she says that no non native french speaker knows how to say it, but her explanation has helped me tremendously thanks so much. ps I also love this blog.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Oh wow, sounds like fun! And the name Aurore really is a killer for an English speaker to say but it really is a lovely name. Thanks for checking out my blog 😉 Best of luck to you on your new endeavor!

      Reply

  • Christine

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    Hi Diane

    Before to enrolling at the College, I had (and still have) a tutor in English. I was doing an pronunciation English, and I had to read this sentence: “I put my toys away” Obviously I pronounced it like: “I put my TOES away”
    My tutor had hard time for continuing the lesson such she was laughing so hard. She told me after she calm down: “Hopefully you can’t put your toes away Christine!” Have a great week, Diane

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Haha well at least your mistake was just in front of your tutor and you just messed up toys and toes and nothing more shocking. Glad you all got a laugh out of it. Often it’s best to just laugh. 😉 Sorry for my late reply here

      Reply

  • Laly

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    Hi Diane,
    I’m french and I have to say there are a lot of funny misunderstandings between a french speaker and an english/american one :

    fuck and “un phoque” (a seal)
    “un coke” or “un Coca” for coca cola
    a seal and “un cil” (a lash)
    “du shit” and shit

    and a very funny one : we are used to say “les waters” (diminutive of water-closet) for “the toilets”. But if you think as a french native and asked where are the waters instead of the toilets, it’s very funny to see the reaction of people

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Haha, love this Laly and sorry I never replied. I don’t know how I missed it. Yes the seal/phoque is very funny, all your examples are. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply

  • Théo

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    Juste une question : Pourquoi aimez-vous notre accent ?, Why do you like our accent ?
    J’aimerais bien savoir !!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Théo, I think many Americans (and I’m sure other nationalities too) find foreign accents intriguing. Some more than others, but I love accents. They should exotic and interesting and worldly and sexy and cool. I think it’s cool to hear something different. I am not sure exactly why Americans get all crazy over a sexy French accent, but many of us do! 😉

      Reply

  • BPond

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    hello,

    I had a laugh reading all the comments, thank you for this page.
    I was wondering whether any of you could define what a sexy French accent is (and what an unsexy one would be?!)…

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi BPond, I speak for myself, but most Europeans speaking English qualify as sexy. For me, other accents aren’t quite as sexy like many an Indian or Chinese accent but that’s just my personal preference. Maybe the allure of French culture plays into why we find the accents so appealing. So happy you enjoyed the post!

      Reply

  • Jessica

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    My French boyfriend cannot, for the life of him, pronounce the word “healthy,” to my endless delight.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yah, that is a hard one! Air-zee or hell-zee or some combo of them

      Reply

  • Suzanne

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    For me, it was always the multiple syllable words (over 4) that ended up with the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble. But my biggest pet peeve: when English speaking people swear (in their own language) and then add “Pardon my French!” I just feel like slapping them. If you want your French pardoned, then swear in French and do it badly. “Nom de dieu de putain de bordel de merde de saloperie de connard d’enculer ta mère. It’s like wiping your arse with silk. I love it.” or something like that.

    Reply

  • Sheyei

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    Idea..french pronounce it “ID”…

    Reply

    • Diane

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      like idiot? i’ve heard idea pronounced the french way, eeee-day

      Reply

  • Caroline

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    This article is great! I just realised how “i focus on happiness” can sound weird when pronounced by a French speaker… °_°

    But it definitely happens the other way around! For instance, it’s so FUN when English people try to say “Grenouille” (frog in French) – they say something like “gwinouilli” 😀 so funny

    Learning languages with native speakers is always the occasion for a good laugh 🙂
    Caroline recently posted…Monkfish in a spicy tomato sauceMy Profile

    Reply

  • Hannah

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    I was listening to lecture by a doctor referring to information learned from ip dissection on a CAD dee ver. Huh, a what? Took a minute… Hip dissection on a cadaver. Could listen to her all day!

    Reply

  • Pierre

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    Have an English speaking woman say “kiss me in the neck” in French.
    Neck = cou, but as the sound ou is often said u by an English speaker, I let you guess or imagine…

    Reply

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