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The Frenchie’s Guide To Making A Splash in English

Published in Blog - 10 May 2014

Rule #1: You Shall Love Your French Accent

By Jean-Baptiste Benard, Founder of EnglishBooster  

Let’s go back to October 1995. I was in my early 20s. I was a lucky French student, invited to a six-month exchange program at Columbia University in New York. It was a Friday, late afternoon. A friend of mine named Florent (please pronounce the English way flo-oèn ☺) called me and suggested that we meet for a late dinner at – believe it or not, but it is really true! – Cafe Florent (please pronounce it keufééé flo-oèn ☺☺). The place to be in downtown Manhattan... before (or after!) going clubbing.

I arrived there a bit early, sat inside. Cafe Florent had a French name but all of a typical New Yorker diner: consistently smiling staff, seats in red sky, bacon club sandwiches (or double cheesy cheeseburgers) served with French fries, salad and the classic Russian, vinegar or blue cheese dressing. A typical diner restaurant but with a festive and glamorous touch, which made all the difference!  

While I was waiting for Florent at Cafe Florent, I noticed a young woman, speaking English with a French accent. I observed her and it didn’t take long to realize that she was super comfortable with connecting with people, and making them laugh too! She looked positive, confident, assertive. And yet, she had a French accent. Waah! It was a discovery: how come is it possible to communicate so effectively in English, in New York, with a French accent?*  

Her name is Jocelyne and she happened to be a friend of my friend Florent. Florent introduced us with each other and since that dinner at Cafe Florent, Jocelyne and I have been friends. A friendship that I’ve been cherishing for some 20 years now!  

After the Cafe Florent dinner, I had many opportunities to see and hear Jocelyne speak English. I learned a lot from her and speaking of the French accent, here are the three nuggets she gave me – I don’t know yet if she was aware of it.  

First nugget. The French accent gives you something more. It gives you contrast. Contrast is alluring, uniformity is boring. With your French accent, you get noticed. People listen to you. So use your French accent to create contrast!  

Second nugget. It’s all about posture and confidence. At school we’ve been brainwashed: to be a good speaker in English, you first need to have a very good perfect accent! By observing Jocelyne, I learned that other much more powerful tools exist: posture and confidence. Communicating with a positive, assertive posture will give you a much higher return than exhausting yourself polishing your accent. Stop working on your accent, start building a confident posture. In a word, be proud of your difference. Really.  

By the way, did you know that almost one third of the English words are from French origin? As strange as it may seem to you, it is a reality: the French and English languages have much in common. Which leads me to the third nugget. Simply because the French and English languages are not so far from each other, the way we spontaneously pronounce a word in English is, most of the time, fairly correct – at least correct enough to be understood. Plus the fact that, as questionable as the French education system may be, we still learned loads of things with our English teachers. Our pronunciation is not that bad: we just need to give us a try and get rid of this search for perfection which leads us to preferring saying nothing rather than saying something interesting with language imperfections. And the third nugget I learned from Jocelyne can be summarized in just three simple words: go, go, go!  

Unfortunately, keufééé flo-oèn closed their doors in 2008. No more Florent club sandwiches but thank God! The French Accent has survived.  

*Please note that I had gone for years through the French education system with its brainwashing key take-away message: perfection is the only way to get noticed.

MY THREE PERSONAL TIPS TO MAKE A SPLASH IN ENGLISH, WITH A FRENCH ACCENT

If you feel embarrassed about your French accent, here are some simple, personal suggestions that will help you change and accept it.

  1. Whenever you feel embarrassed or lack confidence because of your French accent, look at Philippe Starck’s TEDTalk. Refreshing, reassuring and compelling. You’ll feel much better!
  2. Pronounce French sentences with an English accent. Simple, stupid but very effective, believe me! And if you’re afraid of being ridiculous in front of your partner or friends, come and join our Speaking French With an English Accent MeetUp Group. We meet over lunch time or after work on a regular basis in Paris.
  3. If you really have no idea about the pronunciation of a word or expression, go to thesaurus.com, enter the word or expression you have in mind, click on the speaker button, listen to pronunciation and write phonetically. It will help you memorize it even faster.