How To Speak French
History of the Language
French is one of the five main Romance languages – along with Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian. The term Romance has nothing to do with how romantic the French are (although they do have their reputation), but instead refers to the Latin phrase “romanica loqui”, meaning "to speak in Roman fashion.” When Latin speakers first began settling in the far corners of the Roman empire, their language collided with indigenous languages and the resulting mix formed new Latin dialects. When the Roman empire was in decline and Rome finally lost control over the provinces, these dialects finally diverged into distinct languages.
Since its humble origin as a provincial dialect of Latin, French has developed into a global language, spoken in 33 countries on five continents. Beginning in the 18th century, the French empire expanded its reach, bringing its language to new colonies far from Europe. In the same way that French first emerged from Latin, dozens of distinct French dialects are now spoken around the globe: in parts of Canada and the U.S., Haiti and other Caribbean countries, most West African countries, and parts of South America and Polynesia. French is also one of the official languages in France’s neighboring countries, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
While some of these French dialects have drifted far from each other over the centuries, Parisian French is universally intelligible to most Francophones around the world. It is the standard for anyone who wants to learn how to speak French and join the 220 million people around the world who speak French fluently as their native or second language.
The French Connection: More Than Just Baguettes and Berets
English is historically a Germanic language, but after the Norman Invasion in 1066, French became the official language of the nobility for over 300 years. As a result, several thousand French words trickled down into common English usage. By the time of Shakespeare, English had transformed into a truly hybrid language with French words accounting for half of English vocabulary. There are the obvious transplants like rendezvous, femme fatale, and croissant, but you might be surprised to learn that thousands of ordinary English words come from French. Without even exploring the rest of the alphabet, French has given us the words action, affection, agriculture, alligator, amusement, application, architecture, and attitude.
Pronunciation and Grammar
Pronunciation is the biggest difference between French words and their English cousins. For beginners trying to learn French, correctly pronouncing words can be a significant challenge. You can probably guess the meaning of French words like hôtel or phonétique, but the accent marks are probably unfamiliar. French pronunciation must be precise and written French reflects this with five different kinds of accent marks. The difference between où (where) and ou (or) is all in how you say it. Mispronunciation can lead to real confusion, but once you recognize the accent marks it becomes much easier to pronounce words you’ve never seen or heard before. With the help of Babbel’s speech recognition feature you will be able to practice your accent and help ensure that your French is understandable.
French grammar may at first seem strange to an English-speaker, but its rules are actually easier and less irregular than English grammar. Once you have a handle on French grammar, the rules are effectively unchanged for Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Since they are all derived from Latin, the Romance languages have several grammatical rules in common: adjectives come after the noun they modify, all verbs are conjugated, the subject-verb order is inverted when asking a question, and all nouns have a gender designation. Being familiar with one Romance language will allow you to pick up others more easily.
Ways to Learn French
French is the most widely taught second language worldwide after English. Over 100 million people today speak French as a second language or are currently learning. There are several options available when learning how to speak French: hiring a private tutor, enrolling in a language course (in school or online), studying alone with a CD-ROM or audio course, joining an exchange program, or practicing conversational French with a native speaker (a so-called tandem partner). All of these strategies can be effective, although some (tutors and CD-ROMS) can be expensive, while classes and exchange programs are also a huge time commitment. The fastest way to pick up French – and the biggest commitment by far – is still immersion. Moving to a French speaking country requires you to pick up the language in order to live day-to-day. This survival pressure usually produces fluency within a few months. If you do plan to immerse yourself in a Francophone country, it’s not a bad idea to prepare beforehand with one of the methods mentioned above. If you don’t plan to move and don’t have much spare time, an online program like Babbel may be your best bet.
Learn French the Babbel Way
Babbel’s French course is affordable, accessible online and via mobile devices, and proven to strengthen your reading, listening, speaking and comprehension skills. As a Babbel user, you have access to a diverse program of grammar, conjugation, pronunciation, listening comprehension and writing exercises. You can practice online or via your iPhone or Android device. Whether you are too busy for a language class, a complete beginner, needing to brush up before a vacation or business trip, or wanting to re-learn everything you forgot in high school, Babbel can be customized to your needs.
Try your first French lesson for free and discover Babbel’s easy and intuitive course system which determines your individual level and accommodates different learning styles. You can learn at your own pace, set your own lesson plans and receive helpful hints whenever you need them. You will also be joining an entire community of learners. Babbel users can easily share questions, experiences and advice via message boards and chat, and the Babbel support team is always only a message away. Take the test to see your current level of French.