Language by Adam on 2008-09-06 04:46

While traveling through France this summer, I had the opportunity to brush up on my French-speaking skills. One of my travel companions, who was also in the process of learning the language, commented that French is a more formal language than American English. The distinction isn’t visible in textbook French vs. textbook English. Rather, it can be observed in the way that the native speakers structure their everyday conversation.

French has fewer idioms and less slang. There is generally one way to express any particular phrase, and that way will be used in all situations. For example, I often heard the phrase “Regardez ici” (re-gard-ay ee-see) while traveling. I heard it from tour guides (who were addressing an audience of strangers in a relatively formal setting), from friends addressing each other in conversation, and from little kids calling for their parent’s attention.

Literally translated, this means “Look here.” Although that phrase would be perfectly valid American English, most of us rarely would speak that way, especially among friends. We’d use something more idiomatic, like “Check this out” or “Take a peek at this” or “Didja see this thing?” A foreigner with a very limited grasp of the language would be completely lost trying to follow these phrases. So while “look here” is more practical from a comprehension standpoint, but if you used it, native speakers would think your speech sounded stilted.

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