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French as she is spoken in the UK


mint
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Have been wondering when UK schools stopped offering French in the curriculum?

Short winter days have left me more of a TV couch potato than at any other time of the year.

I am wondering about how French is now so appallingly spoken even by BBC presenters.

To name a few well-known and well-regarded presenters: Fiona Bruce, John Humphrys, Jeremy Paxman.  From their programmes Antiques Road Show, Mastermind and University Challenge.

I can't believe that presenters of their calibre seem to have little if no knowledge of French pronunciation![+o(]  Bring back Bamber Gascoigne, I say!

Can't help thinking that perhaps the days of French conjugasion and learning by rote have long passed, without my even noticing?

No, DON'T look at me, I didn't go to school in the UK.  Only to university and NOT one of your old prestige establishments either!

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Well what about the American and Australian TV presenters and the way they mangle the English language? As for the French pronunciation of English the mind boggles. You seem to think that unless you are 100% fluent in a language, you shouldn't be on TV or Radio, interesting mind set. Considering most of the UK population don't speak proper, I think you're tilting at windmills my dear Mint.
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100% fluent?  No, I don't expect it.

It's just that years ago, I heard about the BBC having a department called the Pronunciation Unit or some such where they teach the presenters how to pronounce foreign names.  After all, if you are reading the news and speaking to millions, I don't think it's much to ask that you checked the pronunciation beforehand.

I don't think that I myself would have been any the wiser if I didn't live in France and didn't realise that none of the mentioned announcers had even a modicum of French.

I myself knew fewer than probably 20 words or so.  I have only been noticing by virtue of living here and knowing better![]

Mind you, it's not just French, they can't get Welsh words right either; very obvious to me because I lived in South Wales and I heard them struggling with Pontyclun and Pontypridd [:D]

As for what Polish people must think of the way we pronounce their names..............less said the better, I think!

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Most French TV presenters are bilangue and have tremendous competence in the English language, when I hear them speaking it to an English audience they make me feel very humble.

However whenever they use English phrases or place names in a French program they dileberately pi55pronounce them in the French manner presumably in order for the viewers to understand.

Place names that change like Londres, Douvre etc I can understand but when they are interviewing an English speaking person and then repeat what they have said in French changing the prononciation on words which are in common use in French or place names when the context is obvious and thete would be no misunderstanding must make them cringe after all their years of effort to become competent in the English language.

By and large most French words and phrases that have found their way into the English language retain their correct pronunciation and most people say them in this way, those that dont can often be forgiven because they may never have heard the word spoken, they may have read it and pronounced it would be were it an English word, there are exceptions like charabanc but that does not retain the original French form and accent (char à banc).

Most English people who wish to have friendly relations with their foreign friends, neighbours and colleagues will make a serious effort to pronounce their given name correctly even if it doesnt fall easily off the tongue, do the French do that? Any Ians or Michaels here would like to answer that one?

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To go back to your original point, Mint, about the teaching of french in british schools, perhaps the method has changed. The emphasis now seems to be on conversation and colloquialisms.

I started french at age 11, and the first term was spent only on pronunciation. I still remember the pain in the nose from practising an, en, in, on etc.

Living in the NE the gutteral "r" was where  we excelled, also the broad vowels.

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I am sure that the pronounciation problems in both directions come from the fact that people begin with the word on the page and as the two languages use different letters for the same sound they are immediately lost.

A simple example is the letter 'i' which in French sounds as 'ee'...the very sound that letter doesn't make in English.

So  'it is a big tin of beans'  becomes 'eet eez un beeg teen off beeenz'

'Wifi' becomes 'Weefee' etc.

Then there are the sounds that don't really occur in the other language, or letters which are silent such as the 'knight' in English or the final 's' in almost all Frencj words..

If we threw away the printed word and just listened and repeated (as a baby learns from its mother) these mistakes wouldn't happen

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Oh, I forgot to mention those Place in the Sun type programmes with their presenters who are all teeth and [email protected] (and, no, I am not letting down the side).

I like to watch the ones when they go to France because I think it's one way that I can "visit" different parts of France.

There is one, all blue-eyed, TnT (as described above), who glosses over all the French place names at speed and it often takes me several minutes to work out where she has taken the househunters.  I have to rely on visual clues, direction boards, landscape, etc and make a guess and hope they show a map of France so that I can get a rough idea.

Only a week ago, she was in Colly-or (sometimes she said Colly-er)!  Still, if I told you that she was in southern France, it all becomes clear[:D]

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I really don't know, mint, what poor Fiona Bruce has done to deserve a place on your hit list. Apart from the fact that she graduated from Oxford with a degree in French and Italian, If you watched any of the series "Fake or Fortune" on BBC1 (which I loved) she seemed to me to acquit herself very well indeed when Dealing with the Wildenstein Intitute and the Chagall committee in French.....
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[quote user="NormanH"]

Then there are the sounds that don't really occur in the other language, or letters which are silent such as the 'knight' in English or the final 's' in almost all French words..
[/quote]

 

My attachment to France started by coming over every August bank Holiday to take part in a hillclimb with a group of other rosbifs.

We used to have great fun listening to the P.A guy struggling to pronounce our names, one guys surname was Knight and the guy pronounced it "knidjit" so was born his nickname of the ***kin idjit which remains to this day.

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Oops, JSKS and Betty, perhaps I got Fiona Bruce mixed up with someone else?  Not too difficult these days as I don't really watch much TV.

I must say I have not heard any presenter "speaking" any French at length, just the odd phrase; for example, the anwer to a quizz question or to give the contestants multiple choices.  I am thinking Jeremy Vine here on Eggheads.

I do have quite a "good ear" and I raise the point because I seem to notice more and more how unattractive these presenters sound when they speak French.  So maybe FB writes better French than she speaks it?  I don't think I can really accept that, just because somebody has a degree in a language, that they are necessarily good speakers of that language.  I would expect them to have a very good knowledge of it but I still want to make the point that speaking is always in a category of its own. 

How many English graduates have you met who don't in fact write that well?  I can promise you that I have met a fair few when I worked in a job recruiting agency.  Certainly, I have met one or two people living in France who have degrees in French from British universities and I don't think they sound that good although I am certain that their grammar is excellent and that they write perfectly well.

Now, I shall name a couple of peoplein the public eye who do have excellent French.   I have heard and admire Stephen Fry and Anna Massey; they really do sound very refine and classy.

PS  Tony Blair is also thought to be an excellent French speaker but I don't think I have heard him speak in French.

 

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It's often a lot to do with your English accent as to how successfully you can pull off a French one, IMO. But as FB was partly educated in Italy, and I've heard her speak French, I reckon she's pretty good.

Having worked for most of my career with French people speaking English and vice-versa, I count very few among them who could manage to do so without a fairly strong accent. Edward Heath, IIRC, spoke correct French but with an awful RP accent, Arsene Wenger must have lived in the UK for a long time now and still hasn't lost his accent, despite an extensive vocabulary..JP Gaultier is practically incomprehensible in English, even if, when not speaking at warp speed, the words are all quite correct. And then at the other end of the scale you have Eddie Izzard, who has just released the DVD of his live stage show in French and who makes mistakes in a quite reasonable accent.

Boris Johnston, who had a French mother or grandmother or something, proved perfectly capable of being interviewed on French radio in French, and whilst he still manages to sound like Boris, his French and his accent seemed pretty good to me.

I certainly wouldn't say that the average French person speaking English is better at losing their accent than the average English person speaking French.

And, in general, we come back to the issue of language in general, and the fact that English is spoken widely enough that a huge number of people can manage to make a half decent stab at it.

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what with 'already you' that the english say all the time............

........... and all those french people I know who say that they wear a 'sweet' ...........

I just have to accept that these things happen.

and I play along too........... as I would usually say Reims to english people as Reems, and not Rance as it should be said....... and maybe my accent is at play there, when I wrote 'rance'?[blink]

And yes, mint, I do expect journalists and newsreaders to get these things right, there again, they often have problems with place names in England, never mind anywhere else!

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Native speakers who work on the BBC and other channels cannot be bothered to speak grammatical English - they now can't distinguish between countable and uncountable nouns, for example. Perhaps it is all part of identifying with their audience, most of whom are ungrammatical as well.
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I was listening to a radio interview on France info the other day and I thought 'he sounds like Mick Jagger.' Turns out it was and he speaks very good French. Still sounds like him, but somehow his South London accent works much better in French. Tony Blair worked at the European Commission, where you have to be fluent in at least two of the European languages and understand a third. Accent and fluency are not really the same thing to my mind. Where I live here the locals speak with a very strong accent that is incomprehensible to many other French people but most are fluent in their own language. I'm not a grammar snob when it comes to TV presenters, but the ability to speak clearly helps
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It's a bit hard to expect TV journalists to have a perfect grasp of the correct pronunciation of all foreign words. If so imagine the linguistic dexterity required if they have several items from countries as varied as France, Germany, China, Iceland, Lesotho, Paraguay, Huddersfield.

Anyone here got a good Chilean accent?
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When I was a baby I was spoken to and started to speak English. A few years later I went to school and they started to teach me English grammar.

A few years later I went to the big school. They told me that in the first year I would start to learn French and in the second year German would be added. Unlike learning English it was not just the spoken but the grammar at the same time whoaaaa. So actually learning the words was a long process because I had to learn how to conjugate the verb 'etre' and recite it. Now to my mind if that had been unsaid and just a part of conversational learning they could then have started teaching the rudiments of grammar - they way I did with English.

Our French master was English and our German mistress (shame not the other way round :) )was actually German. To assist with Frecn h pronunciation that brought in a young French girl which seemed to be a mistake in a boys school.

As for pronouncing place names then it is very difficult to find out how they should be pronounced. I did once ask on here if there was a book to which Claire (where is she) replied that there was not.

But perhaps there are peculiarities in all language - for instance, the Norfolk village of Happisburg.

Some friends son is married to a Czech girl and they live in Czech and a couple of years back adopted a very young Czech boy. He has been brought up with his mother speaking to him in Czech and his father in English. The result is that he speaks Czech with a Czech accent and English with an English accent. One problem for the teacher when he starts to 'learn' English at school is that they may be picked up on a few things but for the other children they will be able to listen to what will be a genuine English accent which may also benefit the teacher assuming they are Czech.

But what about dialects - thinking for instance about Yorkshire and Glaswegian. A foreigner perfectly fluent in English may struggle.
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Here's an interesting one for your brains to fathom.

A few days ago, as it's currently the time of year for (no, not what you're all thinking) the Horse of The Year show, there was much coverage of the extremely successful English rider Charlotte Dujardin.

Ever since her Olympic success, I've heard her surname pronounced as French speakers would expect it to sound, as in the French "garden". However, on the BBC breakfast news some days ago, the presenters were making a conscious effort to pronounce it to rhyme with "in".... Because her mother had made a point of telling journalists that this is the way the family has always pronounced their name.

As for place names..present any non-Brit with a list of Leicester, Worcester and Gloucester, with or without their respective shires, and prepare for a world of pain. Why, even my old stomping ground of Slough is a problem for the non-initiated. If you spend even a few seconds making a list of words containing the "ough" combination and present it to a non native speaker of English, I guarantee you'll confuse them.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the situation and your viewpoint, whilst the rest of the world continues to perceive great benefit in mastering the English language, it will forever remain beyond the capacity of most of us Anglo-Saxons to reciprocate in kind. We can usually manage one or two, but we can't manage to cover the languages of every nation that teaches English to its kids. Why, some schools in London have in excess of 70 different mother tongues among their pupils. should the staff be able to master the rudiments of all of them? Of course not!

My son, then about 12 years old, summed it up quite well when I gave up being a corporate lackey to start teaching English as a Foreign Language.

"So, mum" he said " are you going to teach English to French people?"

"No, not just French people...they could be from anywhere"

"But you only speak French"

Long pause.......

"I think I've detected a flaw in your plan..."😕
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[quote user="JSKS"]It's a bit hard to expect TV journalists to have a perfect grasp of the correct pronunciation of all foreign words. If so imagine the linguistic dexterity required if they have several items from countries as varied as France, Germany, China, Iceland, Lesotho, Paraguay, Huddersfield.

Anyone here got a good Chilean accent?[/quote]

I have freely admitted that Polish names might be difficult for all except the Poles themselves[:D]

French, I do feel, is a special case.  This is because for hundreds of years, it was the language of royal courts; the English and Russian courts come to mind.  And British people have had hundreds of years of both admiration and exasperation for the French language, is that not so?

It was the language not only of diplomacy but, together with perhaps latin, was the international language of literary discourse.

Any lovers and readers of 18th century English novels, Jane Austen, the Brontes, would always find a smattering of French phrases in the stories.

Also, thank you, Patf, for telling me about the teaching of French in UK schools.

Of course, as has been pointed out, some of our own regional accents are diabolical to understand.  I do feel, however, that I am particularly noticing how French words are pronounced on British TV because (who'd have guessed?) I am learning French myself and so I pay more attention.  It's like when you buy a new car and you start noticing all the other cars of the same model on the roads or when you are pregnant (no, I am not!) and suddenly the world is full of pregnant women!

When Reith, the first Managing Director of the BBC, set forth their Mission Statement (actually, no, perhaps MS was not a buzz phrase in those days) he stated that the BBC was there to Inform, Educate and Entertain.  I like to think that it still sets standards for the commercial stations to aspire to.

 

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I'm afraid I hardly know the names of olympians so I don't know who you are talking about betty, but you made me think of Mrs Bucket and I smiled.

Tony Blair was on french news a few weeks ago, speaking in perfectly good french........ and not waving his hands about as he usually does, in fact he as much as it chagrins me, he seemed to be talking a bit of sense, which I found weird and spooky, as I wouldn't usually trust the man to pick up my dog's droppings.

I spent a very happy hour this morning on the phone to my best friend in France. She doesn't care about my iffy french, none of my good french friends do. They do take the mickey sometimes, gentle ribbing.....but nothing malicous. My grammar is lousy, my conjugaisons all to pot........... and so what. When I can laugh and get along splendidly with good friends...... and sadly sometimes cry ....... does it matter that I speak french like a vache espagnole![;-)]

Should tv and radio journalists get it right, yes, actually because in a way they are educating ie passing on information.

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To go back to a point made by Mint originally, yes, the BBC did have a pronunciation unit, I knew someone who used to be in it .. but seems all language learning is now tarred with some peculiar brush.  Here the daughter of one of our English friends who lives here, works as a translator etc, decide to go in for teaching English to the French and actually qualify as the French wished.  She was told to loose her slight northern accent and speak with a proper posh accent to teach English.

I give up!

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I was only friendly with a couple of other english families in France, none of us lived near one another, so all our kids went to schools all over the dept and even the one next to it. The problem we all had was with the english teacher's, french, correcting our children's english, with americanisms, or whatever 'other' english accent they wanted, which none of ours had. All of us families from north of the Watford Gap.

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Quote 'She was told to loose her slight northern accent and speak with a proper posh accent to teach English. '

Now I read somewhere that companies favour call centres in Newcas'le' because the accent is regarded as friendier.

Have a friend who has lived in England for many many years but has not mastered 'w' - but surely, the most important thing is to be understandable.

There is also a perception that Enlish spoken with a French accent is 'sexy'

Wonder how the oft quoted line in The Italian Job would have gone down if Michael Caines character had said in a very posh voice:

'I say old chap you were not supposed to remove the entrance points from the motor vehicle'.
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I have never been told that my english accent is sexy, but I have been told it is mignon.....quite what some french people 'hear', well, I 'm not sure. I have heard enough english speakers speaking french with an english accent, and I find it most unattractive........ mine included!

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