Beginners French

A warning – do not translate literally!

When first beginning to learn French, many people fall into the trap of thinking in English and trying to translate word-for-word from English to French. Unfortunately, they soon find that this approach will not work because the French say things in a different way to us, often using a different word order or expression, so that a literal translation may well be incorrect in French.

Here are some examples:

• If you want to say “My name is Julie“, you have to say the equivalent of “I-myself-call-Julie” – je m’appelle Julie.

• If you want to say “I am twenty (years old)”, you have to say, “I-have-20-years” – j’ai vingt ans.

• If you want to say “a blue car”, you have to say “a-car-blue”une voiture bleue, because adjectives (describing words) are usually placed after the noun in French.

• If you want to say “I have been here for two weeks”, you have to say “I-am-here-since-two-weeks”je suis ici depuis deux semaines.

• And if you want to use an idiom like “It cost me an arm and a leg”, you will have to find the French equivalent, which in this case is “It cost me the eyes of the head” – Ça m’a coûté les yeux de la tête.

So the best advice is, don’t translate word-for-word, don’t be surprised if the French put their words in a different order or use a different verb tense to us, keep an open mind and enjoy the differences between our languages! Before you know it you will be ‘thinking in French’ and it will all start to come naturally!

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