Ever felt like you're finally succeeding in French and then you make one minor-yet-tragic, makes-you-want-to-disappear mistake? You're not alone. Learning a new language is a scary, fun, and hilarious mix of ups and downs: Moments of pride and moments where one wishes to morph into an inanimate, silent croissant are all bound to occur!
With that in mind, here are some of the most awkward—yet highly common—linguistic faux pas that French learners make!
1. Showing your (ahem) excitement
Be assured, somewhere out there, there is an awkward silence occurring over dinner as someone learning French has just confidently stated Je suis excité or C'est excitant with innocent hopes of expressing excitement… the only problem is that excité does NOT mean "exciting," sadly. It's a false friend! It actually means "turned on" or "aroused." 🙊 Thankfully, however, emotions are part of A1 vocabulary (A1 is the first level of the international CEFR proficiency scale that Duolingo uses). They show up early in Duolingo's French course, so you can safely swap out this common error for the more suitable expression J'ai vraiment hâte (I'm excited).
2. Missing the little details
So you painfully mastered the whole excité thing, and it's finally starting to look up for you… but not so fast! Now all you wanted to do was articulate a simple sentence using a very common verb, baisser (to lower), but ended up pronouncing the double "ss" as a "z"... which changes the whole word to baiser 😬 That might have raised some sourcils (🤨) as it actually translates to a rather vulgar verb!
Oh, and to add to a learner's confusion, un baiser means "a kiss," but you can't use it as a verb for "to kiss"—instead you'll find s'embrasser (to kiss) in your lessons on reflexive verbs.
3. Being deceived by faux amis
We've all been stabbed in the back by a fake friend at some point—a fake linguistic friend, that is. It doesn't stop at excité: Indeed, it turns out that préservatifs doesn't really mean "preservatives," actuellement doesn't mean "actually," and "sensible" never has and never will translate to the adjective "sensible." (They mean "condoms," "currently," and "sensitive"!) You may receive a couple of aghast looks at a soirée or some devastatingly snooty laughs, but these understandable mistakes are all a part of that beautiful language-learning journey. So cut yourself some slack and dare to err, even if that means stumbling on a faux ami—there's no more memorable way to learn!
4. Picking sides
Soon, you'll have practiced enough French to start having instincts about what sounds right, including about the gender of a noun. But it takes a while to build up this feel for the language! So it's highly likely that you'll be corrected for misgendering a noun 🤷♀️ Listen closely, but don't take it to heart! Sometimes the logic behind why it's une pinte (a pint of beer) and une boisson (a drink)—which are both feminine—but un demi (a half-pint, which is masculine) is hard to find. (Although it's all laid out for you here!) Frustrating indeed, but hey, they'll probably understand enough to serve you just what you were hoping for!
5. Obsessing over getting it exactly right
Ahh, the classic voiced uvular trill—that's the technical name for the French "r" sound that makes you feel like that little thing at the back of your throat might fall out when you try to pronounce grenouille (frog), froid (cold), or (even more daunting!) the ruthless écureuil (squirrel). You tried all those YouTube tutorials. You rolled your Rs with a pen in your mouth. But alas, you'll still have at least one embarrassing moment where your attempted pronunciation triggers a coughing fit. Soyez patients les francophiles, because the end goal is worth it! (That is, be patient, dear Francophiles!)
Laugh—don't cry!—at your language faux pas
For language learners, making a gaffe or two comes with the territory, so have a sense of humor! You'll be joining generations of learners around the world who have made language memories (and learned valuable language lessons!) from their missteps. Be fearless in your learning!