You know those people – the ones that causally toss around global phrases in their everyday conversation, or maybe they so naturally add them to their written content in a way that makes everything shine. It’s lovely, yes? It adds a fun flair, a natural nuance, a bit of shall we say, je ne sais quoi. French words in English can enhance your content if you use them correctly. We love a good French phrase or word here or there. Let’s see why it’s an engaging trait and how to do it the right way. Allons -y!
A bit of history of the French language
Before we jump into our well-known and loved French words and phrases, let’s take a little look at some French history. We’d also like to share why people love to use French words in English and how they’ve made their way into the English language.
The French language is one of the Romance languages, along with Spanish and Italian, plus quite a few others. Babbel.com shares some of the major milestones of the French language from before its recognition in 1539 through today. Because French came from the Roman language, we know it as a Romance language. Whereas Latin was the original language in the area which now is France, the language gently made its shift to French over the centuries. When the Franks, tribes of Germanic origin, began fighting in the Roman army, the French language began to take shape. While they added new sounds and the lilt we identify with this language, they also gave their name to the language. Thus we have French.
It took a while for French to become a commonly spoken and written language, however. Even at the time of the French Revolution, the same article from Babbel.com shares that less than half the French population could speak the language. And of those that did, they were mostly the upper class. This perhaps, is where we have the connotation of French as a language of the high class. Maybe that’s what makes those French words in English so appealing.
And some numbers
As its influence and popularity spread, more and more people began to speak French, not only in France, but around the world. Today, we have close to 275 million global French speakers, and it’s the second most common language in the EU. French is also the official language in 29 countries, and many people who can’t speak the language, have some familiarity with the sound and the phrases used in other languages. That’s what brings us to the prevalence of French words in English.
French and English
French and English have quite a few similarities. They are spoken in many of the same countries, like Canada, and share the same alphabet. In fact, Canada has its own version of the language known as French Canadian. Much of English actually originates from French. This is just one reason French to English and English to French translation is so valuable.
While English is a Germanic language rather than a Romance language, it stills share many characteristics with French. And, actually, about a third of the words and phrases of the English language comes from French. Who knew?
Many English-speaking students take French as a second language to learn; it’s offered in most American schools and universities. And many of us use French words in English without even knowing it. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Some commonly used French words in English
English speakers often incorporate French words into our English language. Often we don’t even know we’re doing it. Let’s stop and think, though, and see how often you’ve used some of these words and phrases;
- Voila – Perhaps when you place your beautiful meal on the table in front of your guests, you say with a flourish, “Voila!” It simply means “here” but sounds, oh, so much better!
- Faux pas – Everyone has made that social blunder, maybe you called your boss the wrong name or didn’t open the door for your colleague whose hands were full. The phrase that sums this up comes straight from French, and we’ve even kept the correct pronunciation.
- Macarons – Perhaps we don’t say this word quite the same way the French do, but who doesn’t love this delicate, sweet confection. This is straight from the streets of Paris and into the mouths of the English.
- Crepe – Another great French food is the crepe. Though English speakers may pronounce this one a bit differently, too, we all know what it means. Wrap it with a little sugar, and oh la la, c’est magnifique!
- Joie de vivre – This charming way to describe someone literally means a joy of life. To say your friend possesses a joie de vivre is a big compliment, especially when pronounced correctly.
- Hors d’oeuvre – Sure, you could just say appetizer, but doesn’t this one have a bit of a more graceful and refined flair?
- Cul-de-sac – That quintessentially coveted, suburban hot spot. The cul-de-sac. This is one of those French words in English that not many know the origin of. It literally means at the bottom of the sac, in other words, no way out.
Many of our English cooking terms come directly from French. Think about these:
- mise en place
Fashion and beauty terms
We often incorporate French terms when we’re talking about clothes. From salon to bikini to cravat and haute couture, our language is laced with the beauty of French words. You’ll see plenty of American cosmetic companies incorporating french words and phrases into their brands, too.
The art of translation
It’s a lovely thing to incorporate French words in English, but it must be done the right way. When it comes to translation, it’s a combination of knowing your audience, being aware of the correct usage, and focusing on making it sound natural and organic. Whether you’re looking for a full translation of French to English or simply incorporating some French words, know your audience and know your languages. And if you don’t know them well enough, hire a professional.
There are a number of French dialects around the world, from the dialects spoken in America, Canada, Africa, Europe…the list goes on. When creating content for an audience, it’s best to keep that audience in mind. The article, French Dialects: Knowing Your Audience, shares some great information on identifying audiences and dialects.
Incorporating French words in English
When it comes to incorporating these words into your English content, make sure they are natural. Assure the usage is appropriate and that the content makes sense. It will be distracting and possibly offensive if your French words come across as clunky and awkward. But if used correctly, ahh oui, these words can make a lovely impression.
Working with a translator
If you simply want a few French phrases in your English content or you are just curious about some etymology, you probably don’t need a translator. But if your work is a bit more extensive or you’d like to take your content to the next level and translate it into French, a translator can be a huge help. We have a few recommendations in this area.
- Stay away from translation programs. Sure these have their place. Translation apps or other platforms are great at deciphering a few words or checking some vocabulary. Bur for a smooth, organic translation, use a well-qualified human.
- Find a professional. It’s easy to use a person familiar with the language, but a professional will have fluency and overall command of the language. Plus, if you are looking to translate in a particular field, like law, medicine, or academia, you’ll want someone adept at the technical terms. Remember, most things aren’t word-for-word translations, so a professional can work the language from one to another while maintaining the meaning, the voice, and the tone.
- Be clear and thorough with what you want. Let your translator know exactly how you want your translation completed. Do you want a literal translation? Word for word or a natural flow to it? What about those French words to English? Do you want to keep that little bit of French in your English translation? Make sure to let your translator know all of this, including names, phrases, slang, and that kind of thing.
- Be aware of dialects and slang. If you’re looking to focus on a certain audience, be it age-related or of a certain region, make sure to include the right slang or dialect. This can have a big impact on your translation, and your pro should be able to help out here.
Bunny Studio and summing up French words in English
When you have a translation project, let our pros at Bunny Studio help you out. We can include those delightful and impactful French words in English and keep your translations natural and organic. They’ll read well and resonate with your audience. Our translators are pros at this very thing.
Someone once said, If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
It can be a beautiful thing when you incorporate words from other languages into your prose. You can reach a broader audience, you can create more impact with your words, you can be part of a global community. The key is doing it the right way with respect and intelligence. Let one of our Bunny pros help out with your translation needs, and you’ll see the difference it makes. Bunny Studio is here to help; chat with us if you’re thinking of hiring a translator. You’ll love what we do!