Humor of English Accent in French

A true story about the Humor of an English Accent in French is told by world-traveler Barbara Dillon about her American friend Fred in French class in Paris.

Slow-talking Fred made no effort to say things with a French accent. Instead he merely pronounced all French words as if they were English.

For example, he would not omit to say the final silent consonants of many French words: for ‘good evening’ -- bon soir -- he would say something that sounded like ‘BONE SWAHRR’ instead of ‘SWAH’.

(One of the difficulties of French pronunciation is omitting all the final silent consonants of many French words, even not pronouncing the final ‘s’ of all plurals -- especially for English speakers who have spent years pronouncing the final consonants of almost all words in English, except for a smattering of French imports like ‘depot’.)

For another example, Fred would stress one syllable in each word as is habitually done in English, instead of pronouncing all syllables with almost equal stress as in French.

All the other students in this French class were making mangled attempts to pronounce these new French words in a correct French way. But the French way of pronouncing being much different than all the different ways the students habitually pronounced words in their many various native languages, the results were often hard to understand.

So the irony was that when out in the streets of Paris, French people often said that Fred’s French was clearer and easier to understand with his slow consistent American accent than any of the other students trying so hard to sound French -- but often not coming close to the real French pronunciations. This drove all those other students close to crazy.

(This story shows that your foreign pronunciation is close enough when the word is not mistaken for another word. As long as a foreigner hears something that sounds near enough to the word you intended -- rather than some other word -- then your pronunciation is close enough.)

As a final irony, Fred had grown up in the United States as the son of a French teacher!

But as a youngster Fred had neglected to take advantage of that opportunity, when learning French would have been easier, and was now trying to make up for lost time by coming as an adult to Paris, unable to speak the language at all at first.

But this true story has a happy ending, because after returning to the USA, Fred got a job with the airlines, and worked for many years as a bilingual steward on flights to Paris, speaking fluent French still with his strong American accent.

And Barbara Dillon continued her world travels and now lives on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and speaks only a few sentences of French to occasional French visitors, who say she speaks with an excellent Parisian accent.

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