“Oh, that’s how you say it!”
Understand how English and French are different.
We all know that English and French are different: the spelling is different, the pronunciation, and the grammar is different too.
But the differences below are rarely talked about and yet are very important when learning English. Read about them and start learning about how French and English are different.
Syllables and timing
Firstly, French is a syllable-timed language and English is a stress-timed language.
In French e-ve-ry sy-lla-ble is important to understanding what is being said, but in English certain syllables are stressed (emphasised) while other syllables are reduced in importance.
When the vowels are reduced in importance you may think that you ‘didn’t hear’ correctly, because the syllables seem to disappear.
To understand this, it helps to understand how the sounds disappear.
How do syllables disappear?
In fact the sounds turn into a sound called the ‘schwa’ – the most common sound in English.
We have a video on the schwa to help you to understand the schwa.
(The schwa exists in French too, but it is much less common).
In English the schwa affects vowels and even combinations of letters, like -tion, (pronounced shun).
When the schwa replaces those letters it also replaces the sounds of those letters.
The schwa appears in the word ‘conversation’ twice – /ˌkɒn.vəˈseɪ.ʃən/)
The schwa can appear at the beginning or end of a word as well as in the middle, so it’s important to hear the words in conversation that are affected: for example, it appears in the word ‘conversation’ twice – /ˌkɒn.vəˈseɪ.ʃən/)*
This is the main reason why practising English speaking is so important and is much more influential in improving your English than re-learning grammar!
English and French are different: English speaking is as important to English as grammar is to French.
*If you want to understand more about phonemes (the sounds of letters) you can watch our video on phonemes.
(Although phonemes do not appear very exciting, they’re very useful, especially in understanding spoken English.)
Yes, English spelling and pronunciation can be difficult, but … English grammar is much easier than French grammar!
More importantly, English grammar is easy when you need it to be easy – at the beginning; when you’re a beginner.
French grammar is difficult from the start.
When you also have new spelling and pronunciation to concentrate on, new (and difficult) grammar as well can be very daunting.
Worse still, many teachers in French schools believe that, because a lot of time is needed to teach French grammar, the same amount of time should be spent teaching English grammar. It’s not true!
As a result, most students in France are experts in English grammar – but their confidence in spoken English is low.
It’s worthwhile trying to understand how English has become a language that more people speak in the world than any other language.
It is likely that one of the most important reasons for this is that grammar rules of English are easy from the start.
Yes, spelling in English can be very strange:
- Some words are spelt the same and pronounced the same but have different meanings.
- Other words are spelt the same but pronounced differently with different meanings.
- And other words can sound the same but be spelt differently and have different meanings.
- And then there are all the silent letters that aren’t pronounced!
The biggest problem is not knowing what these words are and this can lead to unnecessary stress.
So how can you make them easier to remember?
You can find a lot of them in our Clever English Mahjong game, – a great way to get words into your head without your brain guessing that you’re learning, haha!
You can find all the silent letters in our video on silent letters on our Youtube channel.
Spend a bit of time just studying them. Once you know they exist, you won’t be so stressed when you meet them. All Bards apps are free to download and use on iOS.
Everything else stays the same!
If you are learning English to use, you will find that everything that happens in your French life also happens in an English life.
When I try to get students to tell jokes or funny stories in English they always wonder why.
“Don’t you tell jokes in French?” I ask.
“Yes, but I won’t be asked to tell a joke in a test will I?” they reply.
And that’s because they are thinking about language as a test.
English and french are different – but your life can stay the same!
If you’re learning English to use, you should learn to use it exactly as you use French in your French life. See our blog on making English relevant, then think about how you use French in your daily life and start working out how you can say the same things in English.
To read more of our blog about learning English you can return to the home page here
Stuart opened Bards Language School, Nantes, in September 2017 – and Learnch, in March 2018 – to help French students develop their spoken English.