Life in Paris

French Accents Between Foreigners

Why are we like this?

Something that has confused me since I began talking to people in Paris (a solid 3 weeks into my stay…) is the pronunciation of French words while in the company of non-native French speakers. In a group of Americans, or anybody really (it’s mostly Americans…) do we need to pronounce the French r in “Notre Dame”? Is it the Eiffel Tour or La Tour Eiffel? Must we continue to force ourselves through “Denfert-Rochereau” ?? To my credit, I spelled that right the first time, but that doesn’t change the fact that tend to butcher the pronunciation.

We can admit that we sound ridiculous. Part of learning French is sounding ridiculous (It’s step 5 of the easy 25 step plan to speak Perfect French) but do we have to keep it up when native speaker’s aren’t around to hear us? We can admit that we desperately want to fit in (the days when nobody asks me where I’m from are very good days) with the native French speakers, but why does that carry over into expat circles? Are we putting on airs, or playing the “Who’s More French Now?!” game that no one will ever win because none of us, by definition, are ever going to be native French speakers?

Perhaps it bothers me because sometimes, I just want to relax my language around people who are less likely to judge my pronunciation choices. When speaking French with the French I try to stay as clear and understandable as possible, and entire days spent in French can either feel effortless, or like a rolling panic attack. It usually depends on the subject matter, to be honest.

For all the times that I pick apart a word in my head well before I try and pronounce it, I just want a minute not to do that with someone who ought not to care how my r’s sound.  French is my third language, and it’s the most difficult so far. I won’t tease you for mispronouncing “moelleux,” so cut me some slack when I tell you about my summer plans in “Bretagne,” ok?


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