When you first start learning French, you might feel a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of words that you have to learn. After all, you’ve had your whole life to collect thousands upon thousands of words in English. How do you even start doing that in a new language?
Well, you might be a bit surprised to see just how many French words you already know – even if you’ve never spoken a word of French in your life!
French words used in English
Thousands of words in English are directly borrowed from French. These aren’t words that have the same root, or that are a bit similar in both languages – they are actual French words that English speakers have adopted as part of their everyday language.
Take a look at just a few of these “English” words and see how many are familiar to you:
words about food: entree, hors d'oeuvre, mousse, a la carte, creme brulee, haute cuisine, maître d', prix fixe
words about art: montage, collage, papier mache, encore, ballet
words that describe people: concierge, entrepreneur, fiance, liaison, protege, ingenue, attache, femme fatale, petite, gauche, chic, bourgeois, risque
expressions: rendez-vous, vis-a-vis, deja vu, a propos, bon voyage, creme de la creme, coup d'etat, en route, faux pas, laissez-faire, joie de vivre, nouveau riche
other words: RSVP, resume, genre, beige, potpourri, critique, repartee, repertoire, soiree
Add a few accents here and there, and you’ve got a long list of French words that you already know. And, that’s just a brief sample. There are many, many more!
English words used in French
In most parts of the French-speaking world, there’s been a conscious effort to limit the number of English words that make their way into the language. Consequently, there are many fewer English words in everyday French than there are French words in everyday English. Still, it’s inevitable that there will be some overlap!
If you’re in a French-speaking area, don’t be too surprised if you hear any of the following words:
weekend, hamburger, parking, steak, web, sketch, basketball, football, baseball, marketing, leadership, jogging, match, boycott, coach, sandwich, camping
Words that are similar in French and in English
Many French and English words share the same roots. They might look and even sound very similar. In some cases, they might be written in exactly the same way, although the pronunciation will probably be different. While it might take a bit longer to understand them when listening, you’ll be surprised by how many words you’ll recognize when reading French texts.
Here’s just a small sample of familiar words that you might encounter in French:
cognates (words that are spelled the same and mean the same thing):abdomen, danger, rectangle, signature
- words that are similar but spelled differently: professeur, environnement, galaxie, nécessaire
- words that end in –tion: attention, éducation, récréation, information
There’s always a danger of false cognates (what we sometimes call false friends – or faux amis – in French). These are words that look the same in French and English, but that have different meanings. Habit, for example, means “suit” in French, and sensible means “sensitive”. But despite this, using what you already know in English is a huge advantage when learning new French words.
Learning French – like learning any language – will obviously take time and effort. Learning a language is about more than vocabulary. It’s about rhythm, structure, culture, a different way of thinking. But, the good news is, if you already know English, then you might be farther ahead in French than you originally thought!