French language facts
|Native to||See below|
|Native speakers||75 million (2007)
220 million L1 and L2 speakers (2010)
|Writing system||Latin (French alphabet)
|Official language in||
Numerous international organisations
|Regulated by||Académie française (French Academy)|
Regions where French is the main language
Regions where it is an official language Regions where it is a second languageRegions where it is a minority language
The French language (French: français, pronounced "Fronce-eh") is a Romance language that was first spoken in France. It is also spoken in Belgium (Wallonia), Luxembourg, Quebec (Canada), Switzerland (Romandy) and many different countries in Africa (Francophone Africa). About 220 million people speak French as a native or a second language. It has also been one of the roots of other languages such as the Haitian Creole language. Like the other Romance languages, its nouns have genders that are divided into masculine (masculin) and feminine (féminin) words.
In ancient times, the Celts lived in what is now France. In those days, the land was called Gaul (Latin: Gallia). The Romans spread their power to Gallia and made Gallia one of their provinces. Because the Romans spoke Latin, the local people learned Latin and began to speak it. Their own language, Gaulish, tended to be spoken less often, although Breton is a language still spoken today in the part of France called Brittany, that came from the old Celtic language.
French pronunciation, more so than other Romance languages, became radically different from Latin. After the Roman Empire fell and Germanic peoples swarmed the countryside, Vulgar Latin was changing quickly. In medieval France it changed into two dialects or languages: langue d'oc and langue d'oïl. They both mean "language of yes", because oc was the word for "yes" in the south, and oïl meant "yes" in the north. Today, the word for yes in French is oui, pronounced like "we".
In 1635, France established the French Academy in order to standardize the French language. To this day,the academy establishes the rules for Standard French.
Langue d'oc is now called Occitan, and it is still spoken by many people in Southern France.
French uses the roman alphabet, like English. There are a few differences, because vowels can have three types of diacritics added on to them. These are the acute accent é; grave accent è and circumflex accent î. A cedilla can also be added onto a c to make ç.
- a is pronounced like in "father".
- ai and ei are pronounced like the "ay" in "say"
- an and en are pronounced like the "on" in "wrong", though not if there are two n letters or an e directly after it.
- au and eau are pronounced like the "o" in "note".
- In the endings er and ez, e is pronounced like the "ay" in "say".
- eu is pronounced like the "e" in "verse".
- Otherwise, e is like the a in "about". However, it is silent if it comes on the end of a word, unless it's a short word.
- é is pronounced like the "ay" in "say".
- è and ê are pronounced like the "e" in "bed".
- Apart from e, the three diacritics don't really affect how other vowels are pronounced.
- i and y are pronounced like the "ee" in "tree".
- in is pronounced like the "an" in "bank", though not if there are two n letters or an e directly after it.
- o is pronounced like in "note".
- oi is pronounced like a "w", following by the "a" in "father".
- oin is pronounced like the "wan" in "twang".
- on is pronounced like the "on" in "long", though not if there are two n letters or an e directly after it.
- ou is pronounced like the "oo" in "food".
- œ is pronounced like the "e" in "verse" but with more rounded lips.
- u is not a sound that exists in English. It is pronounced like saying the "ee" in "feed", but with your lips rounded in the way that you would say the word "food".
- un is pronounced like the "un" in "hung", though not if there are two n letters or an e directly after it.
- Like in English, c is pronounced as a "k" before most letters but as a soft "s" before e, i or y.
- ç is pronounced as a soft "s".
- ch, sh and sch are pronounced like the "sh" in "shop".
- g is pronounced as a hard "g" before most letters. Before e, i or y, it is pronounced like the "s" in "treasure".
- gn is pronounced like the "ny" in "canyon".
- h is always silent.
- j is pronounced like the "s" in "treasure".
- l is normally (but not always) pronounced like the "y" in "yes" if it comes after the letter i; otherwise it is pronounced as an "l".
- m and n change if they come after a vowel - see above.
- qu is pronounced as a "k".
- r is pronounced differently to English, being a gargling sound made at the back of your throat.
- th is pronounced as a "t", not like in English.
- x is pronounced "gz" or "ks".
- b, d, f, k, p, ph, s, t, v, w and z are pronounced the same as in English.
If a word ends with a consonant, this will usually not be pronounced unless the next word starts with a vowel. However, if the word is very short or the last consonant is a c, r, l or f, this is still pronounced.
Here are some examples of French words and sentences :
|Oui||Yes (si when used as a reply to non or negative expressions)|
|Salut||Hi and goodbye (informal)|
|Merci beaucoup||Thank you very much|
|En vacances||On vacation/holiday|
|Parlez-vous français?||Do you speak French?|
|Je parle français.||I speak French.|
|Comment allez-vous?||How are you? (formal or more than one person)|
|Comment vas-tu?||How are you? (informal)|
|Je t'aime.||I love you.|
|Où sont les toilettes s'il vous plaît ?||Where are the toilets, please?|
|Comment t'appelles-tu?||What is your name?|
|Je m'appelle... (your name)||My Name is... (your name)|
|Je parle anglais||I speak English|
|S'il vous plaît||Please (Formal)|
|J'ai besoin d'un taxi||I need a taxi|
Many French words are like English words, because English took many words from the Norman language, a dialect of French influenced by Old Norse. This is despite the fact that scholars consider English to be a Germanic language like German. Words in different languages with the same meaning which are spelled similarly are called cognates. Most English words ending with "tion" and "sion" came from the French language. See below for more examples:
French language Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.