French is the official language of France. But apart from France, many countries and independent entities list French as an official language. It ranks fourth in the list of commonly spoken languages in the European Union.
French as an official language
Below are just some of the countries that use French as the de facto or official language:
• Burkina Faso
• Côte d'Ivoire
• Democratic Republic of Congo
There are also independent entities like French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Aosta Valley that use French as their official language. In Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Mauritania, French is commonly spoken by one sector of the population although it is not an official language. In Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, it is not surprising to hear the elite and the elderly speak French. After all, these countries once belonged to the territory formerly referred to as French Indochina.
Many international organizations consider French as an official language. French shares the limelight with English, Spanish (Castilian), Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin) and Russian as official languages of the United Nations (UN). All six languages are used during UN meetings. Official documents of the UN are also written in these languages.
FIFA, the European Union (EU), the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International Red Cross (IRC), Interpol, International Olympic Committee (IOC), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) are just a few of the many other international organizations that call French one of its official languages.
The French language has always been a language of politics, class, and civility. It is also the language of romance and passion. French is considered sexy. Many women swoon when they hear men speaking French, especially if the man is not French at birth.
Case in point
Last June, the video of Hollywood actor Bradley Cooper’s interview on a French Television show went viral and drove legions of women crazy. Cooper spoke fluent French during the interview where he promoted his film Hangover II. Many articles and blogs came out as a result of this video. People, mostly women, were in awe that this handsome, blue-eyed hunk of an actor spoke the language of love oh so fluently. It did not matter that during the interview, Cooper was simply promoting his movie and answering standard interview questions. If he were reading a reference manual for a double door stainless steel refrigerator in French, women would still have gone ga-ga over Cooper’s flawless French.
Of course it was to be expected that green-eyed men scoffed at this whole brouhaha as evidenced by comments on forums and the like. They asked: “What’s the big deal?” The men may be on to something here. After all millions of people do speak French on a daily basis. So, what is the big deal?
To be fair, it is not only men who speak French that women get googly-eyed for. Men who speak fluent Italian, Spanish or even Portuguese often cause the opposite sex to stop and listen. Males who speak with a British accent can also make women’s hearts flutter.
But French, especially when spoken with authority, sounds very seductive and mysterious. It is viewed as one of the most, if not THE most, beautiful language on the planet. French is music to the ears; it is pretty. Often, it does not matter what is being said for as long as it is said gracefully and flirtingly.
The French language is not just a mere collection of words. It represents a whole culture that oozes with beauty, exquisiteness and magnificence. From its ostentatious palaces of old, well-manicured gardens, palate pleasing cuisine, luxurious fashion and more, the culture of France stirs images of beauty and passion in one’s mind. Hearing someone speak French can transport the listener back to the time when French royalty acted like, well, royalty. Where over-the-top decadence and opulence was once acceptable.
French words, when pronounced correctly, should roll off the speaker’s tongue. In the musical/movie My Fair Lady, Professor Higgins says: “The French don't care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.” Whether this is how the French people feel or not, pronouncing French words and phrases correctly is of utmost importance. Otherwise, the person speaking would sound like a trying hard wannabe, a silly, social climber that has no business speaking French. Before one even attempts to say or read out loud a word or phrase written in French, one must make sure he knows how to say it right. This is where French language lessons will come in handy.
An introduction to French words and phrases
The English language is replete with words and phrases of French origin. English uses French words on a daily basis. Many English speakers may not even know that some of the words that have been rolling off their tongues came from a country once ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte and where Marie Antoinette tried to have her cake and eat it, too.
French appeared in the English language by way of the Norman Conquest. English upper classes adopted French words, making these words an integral part of the Modern English language of today.
Below are just some of these words and phrases. They are defined according to how they are used in the English languages and not what these words and phrases actually mean in French. For the correct pronunciation of these words and phrases, you can always ask a fluent French speak for help or use software on web to hear how these words are meant to roll off your tongue.
à la … (in the manner of …)
à la carte (individual dishes as opposed to a fixed-price restaurant meal)
à la mode (dessert with a scoop of ice cream)
aperitif (a drink before a meal)
armoire (kind of cabinet)
art nouveau (decoration or architecture style between the late 19th century and early 20th century)
attaché (a person assigned to an embassy)
au naturel (natural state or undressed)
ballet (classical dance)
belle (beautiful girl or woman)
blasé (no longer impressed because of overfamiliarity to something)
bon appétit (enjoy your meal)
bon vivant (individual who takes pleasure in the good life)
bon voyage (have a good trip)
bonjour (standard greeting used either in the morning or in the afternoon)
bouquet (bunch of flowers)
brunette (brown-haired girl)
bureau (can refer to an office or a desk)
cache (group of similar items kept in a hidden storage place)
café (coffee shop)
café au lait (coffee with milk)
carte blanche (unlimited authority)
c'est la vie! (“Such is life!” or “That’s life!”)
c'est magnifique! (magnificent)
chaise longue (long chair for relaxing or reclining)
charlatan (con artists, fraud, hoaxer, faker or deceiver)
cliché (trite because of overuse)
clique (exclusive group of people, usually of friends)
commandant (commanding officer)
communiqué (official communication)
concierge (hotel receptionist)
cortège (funeral procession)
coup d'état (sudden often unexpected overthrow of government by force)
coup de grâce (final blow resulting in victory)
couture (high fashion)
crème brûlée (custard dessert with burnt caramel on top)
crème de la crème (cream of the crop or best among the best)
crème fraîche (fresh cream)
crêpe (very thin pancake)
critique (critical evaluation or analysis of a particular work)
croissant (crescent-shaped flaky pastry)
cul-de-sac (dead-end street)
de rigueur (expected or required)
décor (room layout and furnishing)
decoupage (cut paper decoration)
depot (transportation hub as in bus depot)
déjà vu (illusion of having experienced or seen something in the past)
derrière (buttocks or rear)
dossier (very detailed file about an individual)
double entendre (word/phrase with double meaning)
élan (distinctive style)
en route (on the way)
entrée (first course or main dish of a meal)
entrepreneur (individual who operates a new business or venture)
excusez-moi (excuse me)
façade (front view of a structure or a fake persona)
faux pas (mistake or false step)
femme fatale (deadly female)
fiancé/e (engaged male/female; betrothed)
foie gras (fatty liver usually of a goose)
gaffe (blunder or error)
genre (class or type)
Grand Prix (kind of motor racing but literally means “Great Prize”)
haute cuisine (upscale cooking)
hors d'œuvre (appetizer)
joie de vivre (joy of living)
lame (kind of woven fabric)
liaison (close relationship or an affair)
mademoiselle (young single woman)
malaise (depression or unease)
mêlée (confused fight)
ménage à trois (sexual three-way)
merci beaucoup (Thank you very much!)
monsieur (man or gentleman)
motif (recurrent element)
nouveau riche (newly rich)
nouvelle cuisine (new cuisine)
objet d'art (work of art)
par excellence (quintessential)
pot-pourri (combination of incongruous or odd things or dried petals mixed with spices in a jar used to perfume a space)
protégé/e (mentored male/female)
rapport (in synch or having a good relationship with someone)
répondez s'il vous plait or RSVP (please reply)
reservoir (artificial lake)
restaurateur (owner of a restaurant)
sabotage (subversive destruction)
saboteur (person who commits sabotage)
sauté (quickly fry in little oil)
savant (gifted or learned person)
silhouette (outline of a person or object)
soirée (evening party)
sommelier (wine steward)
tête-à-tête (private talk between two persons)
tour de force (brilliant stroke)
vinaigrette (oil and vinegar salad dressing)
vis-à-vis (in relation to)
voilà! (triumphant revelation)
voyeur (peeping tom)
Speaking French is chic! It alludes to fine living, haute cuisine, high fashion, the arts and anything beautiful and elegant. The list above barely skims the surface of French words and phrases used in the English language. If you want to take French seriously, enroll in a class, practice your French and visit France.