Common French-Speaker Mistakes in English, and How to Avoid Them or Fixing Franglais

Advice from our English trainer, Emily Kerr:

Do you feel you may be making the same grammar and vocabulary mistakes in English again and again? There are a number of very common mistakes that French speakers make when they speak English.

That’s right! You are not the only person who keeps making the same mistakes. The differences and similarities between French and English can be very confusing, and result in a lot of French speakers falling into the same traps when they communicate in English.

Whether you are studying English on your own or, for example, taking one of our English courses in London, we hope to show you some of the most common mistakes that French speakers make in English, and how to correct them.

False friends

To start with, there is the problem of false friends. These are words which sound very similar in both languages, but have different meanings. Here are a few very typical examples of French-speaker vocabulary mistakes because of false friends.

First example - sympathetic:

  • My colleagues are very sympathetic. (incorrect )
  •  My colleagues are very nice (correct)

In English, sympathetic is an adjective based on the noun sympathy. If you are sympathetic to somebody, you show that you understand their situation and how they feel about it.

  • I’m so sorry about your difficulties with your boss. I’ve had problems with her too, so I feel very sympathetic. (correct)

Second example - attended/assisted

  • They assisted to the conference.  (incorrect)
  • They attended the conference. (correct)

In English, to assist is a verb which means to help.

  • The doctor performed the operation, and two nurses assisted(correct)

Third example - actually/at the moment:

  • I’m working actually on the project. (incorrect)
  • I’m working on the project at the moment(correct)

In English, actually is a word used to give emphasis, mark surprise or say no politely. Its function is similar to in fact or really.

  • Actually, I’ve never been to Paris. (correct)
  • I’ve actually passed the exam! (correct)
  • Actually, I’d prefer it if you didn’t smoke here. (correct)

Fourth example - present:

  • Peter, I present you Mary. (incorrect)
  • Peter, I’d like to introduce you to Mary. (correct)

In English, the verb present means provide.

  • His resignation presents us with a problem. (correct)
  • We’ll present the financial results at the end of the year. (correct)

Fifth example - eventually:

  • The new system might help us eventually make savings. (incorrect)
  • The new system might possibly help us make savings. (correct)

In English, the adverb eventually means in the end or after some time.

  • The train was delayed, but it eventually arrived at midnight. (correct)

Common English Grammar Mistakes made by French speakers

Now let’s think about English grammar mistakes made by French speakers. Again, it’s possible to identify very typical French-speaker errors in English, because many of the mistakes result from differences in the grammatical patterns between the two languages. Let’s look at a few very common grammar mistakes that French speakers make in English.

In forming questions…

  • You live in London? (incorrect)
  • Do you live in London? (correct)
  • What time you usually arrive at work? (incorrect)
  • What time do you usually arrive at work? (correct)

Improve your confidence in spoken English with our General English course or Individual English training in our centre in London or online.

In French, you can make questions just by adding a question mark at the end of your statement. In English, we usually need an auxiliary verb (eg. do)

In question tags….

  • You love football, isn’t it? (incorrect)
  • You love football, don’t you? (correct)
  • They met at university, isn’t it? (incorrect)
  • They met at university, didn’t they? (correct)

In French, the question tag has a fixed form (n’est-ce pas). In English, we conjugate the verb in question tags.

In word order…

  • My boss speaks very well English. (incorrect)
  • My boss speaks English very well. (correct)
  • I meet always my friends on Saturday evening. (incorrect)
  • I always meet my friends on Saturday evening. (correct)

In French, the adverb often comes between the verb and its object. This position is not possible in English.

With infinitives after modals…

  • I must to finish this project by the end of the week. (incorrect)
  • I must finish this project by the end of the week. (correct)
  • We can’t to go out tonight. (incorrect)
  • We can’t go out tonight. (correct)

In English, modal verbs are followed by the infinitive form without to.

With gerunds…

  • I’m thinking about to go on holiday to Italy. (incorrect)
  • I’m thinking about going on holiday to Italy. (correct)
  • They are interested in to learn about French cinema. (incorrect)
  • They are interested in learning about French cinema. (correct)

French uses an infinitive when a verb form is needed in the place of a noun. In English, we use the gerund or –ing form.

So, there are a few classic vocabulary and grammar mistakes that you should try not to make. If you can avoid them, your Franglais will sound much more Anglais!

By Emily Kerr

Emily has been teaching at the London School of English since 2008.

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