You might think you know what makes the French language unique.
There are tons of silent letters. For some unknown reason, nouns have genders. You’ve already memorized all the lyrics to “Lady Marmalade.”
What else is there to know?
I can guarantee there’s plenty you’re not aware of.
There are tons of interesting, strange and fun facts about the French language and how it’s used across the world.
We’ll show you 15 of our favorites to remind you what makes the French language so unique and boost your motivation to keep learning it.
Is That a Fact? 15 French Language Fun Facts That’ll Surprise and Enlighten You
1. Facts About French Around the World
Americans have native French speaking neighbors at home:
Growing up in the southern states of America, I was constantly told that we needed to learn Spanish, because more and more people were immigrating from Central America.
While I won’t dispute the value of learning Spanish, as I’ve grown older, I’ve started meeting way more Francophones around the country than I ever expected to as a kid.
You may not be surprised to hear that some Louisianians speak a dialect of French. But how about locals of North Dakota? And Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont? Oh, and Missouri and Michigan?
That’s right, there are people from all these states who speak various vernaculars of French.
While surprising, it actually makes sense. Several of those states were founded by the French. And New England French is a spin-off of Canadian French, because Canada is those states’ upstairs neighbor.
Who knew you could find French speakers all over America?
French is the official language of 29 countries:
Let’s list all the countries where French is an official language. France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada… Uh, I’m out.
Did you know French is the official language of Senegal? And Djibouti?
How about Madagascar and Vanuatu? (Let’s be real, would you even know where to find Vanuatu on a map?)
Not to mention, there are several dependent entities all over the world where locals speak French. For example, French Guiana is in South America but is a department of France with representation in the French government, similar to how Hawaii is a U.S. state. That’s right—the French language has made its way to South America!
Pronunciation changes all around France:
It’s easy to think of French pronunciation as splitting into three main groups: European French, Canadian French and African French.
But it isn’t that simple.
In reality, even within France, not all French dialects are alike!
Just as people from Mississippi speak differently than those from New Jersey. Or someone from London sounds different than their friend from Liverpool.
For example, in Lyon, you’ll hear what’s considered to be the classic French accent. In Marseille, you’ll hear a thick twang. Of course, the Parisian accent is quite posh.
2. Facts About Spoken and Written French
Your favorite celebrities speak French:
When I think of Bradley Cooper, I think of a goofy (although talented) pretty boy. But did you know he actually speaks French?
So does Joseph Gordon-Levitt, aka Tom from “(500) Days of Summer.” Swoon!
Even Serena Williams speaks the language. I don’t see how the biggest tennis star in the world finds time to master a second language!
Famous stories were originally written in French:
I’ve always adored the musical “Les Misérables,“ and the 2012 movie remake with Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman rekindled the entire world’s love for the show.
As amazing as the film is, the story was originally a freakishly long book by French author Victor Hugo.
Remember the epic film “The Count of Monte Cristo?” That movie was originally a book by Alexandre Dumas, the title in French being “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.”
Those are a couple classics you might have already known were written in French. There are more surprising stories, though.
How about “Beauty and the Beast?” And “The Tales of Mother Goose?”
Those came as a bit of a shock to me!
French wasn’t always spoken in France:
Pop quiz: What’s a romance language?
Answer: It’s a language derived from Latin.
French is a romance language, so can you guess what language they spoke in France before French? Yep, Latin!
During the Iron Age, France was part of the region of Gaul, where people spoke Latin.
L’académie française (The French Academy), a council for the French language, was established in the 1600s, which was a huge step forward in developing the French language. However, most locals didn’t speak French until after the French Revolution. Different regions spoke their own patois, resulting in confusion and lack of communication.
After the revolution, the government stepped in and decided French would be the common language.
3. Facts About French Letters
There are no genuinely French words that use the letter “w:”
I know, I know, when you learn the alphabet in the first week of French class, you learn the letter “w.” It’s hard to forget, because the letter makes the hilarious sound “doo-bluh-vay.”
But have you noticed the letter “w” doesn’t appear in a single French word? There are borrowed words like wagon (the French use it as the normal word for a train car) and western.
Think about proper nouns in English that begin with the letter “w.” Now translate them to French.
Wales is le pays de Galles. Warsaw is Varsovie. The French have successfully avoided the letter “w!”
“E” is the most common letter in French:
It makes sense that “e” is the most used letter in the language. Think about all the common words with this letter.
Je (I), elle (she), au revoir (goodbye), merci (thank you). “E” is everywhere!
Not to mention, four of the language’s five accent marks can be used with the letter “e,” more than any other letter in the French alphabet. That’s a lot of opportunities to use “e!”
Try having a complete conversation in French without using the letter “e.” Can you do it?
Letter names don’t sound like letter pronunciations:
Think about the letter “h” in French. When you say it by itself, it sounds like “ahsh.” It’s definitely one of the most fun French letters to sing in the alphabet song!
But when you say the letter “h” in a word, it’s usually silent.
The letter “z” is another good example. The letter itself sounds like “zedd.” (Yes, like the famous record producer!) But in a word, it’s usually pronounced the same way we say it in English unless it’s used in a verb conjugation.
This distinction occurs in most languages, but with each new tongue you learn, it’s still surprising and tricky to master.
4. Facts About French Words
Many English words are French:
You may be aware that certain words you use in everyday conversation are actually French. For example, café, bourgeois and hors d’oeuvre. (Well, okay, you probably don’t say hors d’oeuvre every day. But you get the picture!)
However, there’s a slew of common words you probably never realized are actually French.
Do you see that woman’s silhouette?
Do you like being brunette?
Are you going to R.S.V.P. to that party? R.S.V.P. stands for répondez s’il vous plaît (please respond).
How about the word depot? Office Depot, The Home Depot… It’s everywhere!
But false friends abound, too:
Yes, there are many English words that are French. But there are also plenty of French words that sound like they should translate to a certain English word, but they don’t. These terms are known as faux amis (false friends).
The false friend that always makes me laugh is le bras (arm). I can’t help but think of a woman’s bra.
In fact, my mother once attended a conference where the keynote speaker was a French man. He was bilingual and gave his speech in English. But he slipped up in one crucial moment. When he wanted people to raise their hands, he declared into the microphone, “Okay, all you ladies out there, raise your bras!”
Some other common false friends are la librairie (bookstore, not library), gentil (kind, not gentle) and actuel (current, not actual). And that’s just the beginning!
FluentU is your best bet to learn French words the way native speakers actually use them.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% personalized experience.
It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
Counting involves a lot of math:
Counting in French seems simple enough. Until you hit the number 70, which translates to soixante-dix (sixty-ten). Then you keep counting up. For example, 74 is soixante-quatorze (sixty-fourteen).
Eighty translates to quatre-vingts (four-twenties). Eighty-five? Quatre-vingt-cinq (four-twenty-five).
Ninety? Quatre-vingt-dix (four-twenty-ten). Ninety-seven is quatre-vingt-dix-sept (four-twenty-seventeen).
I’m not sure why the French decided to make numbers this difficult. Maybe they wanted to keep their math skills sharp.
5. Facts About Learning French
It’s one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn:
I know learning French seems challenging sometimes. Heck, after reading all those numbers, it might seem impossible!
In reality, if English is your native language, French is one of the easiest languages to pick up. Both languages have Latin roots, so there are a number of similarities.
You don’t have the added challenge of learning characters when you write, as you do with many Asian languages. And you don’t have to learn tones when you speak as you would with, say, Mandarin.
French is a good second language for polyglots:
Want to become multilingual? Between global business and travel opportunities, there are plenty of reasons to learn three or more languages.
Because French is relatively easy to learn, it’s a good choice for your second language. Once you’ve mastered an easier language, you can transition into learning something like Russian or Japanese as your third or fourth language.
Learning French will help you take standardized tests:
Whether you’re taking the SAT, ACT or GRE, you might want to learn a little French beforehand.
Learning a foreign language, especially a Latin-based one, helps you become aware of language. As a result, you’re more likely to crush the reading, writing and vocabulary sections of standardized tests.
Watch out, college, here you come!
Francophone Missourians. Complicated math. Bras. There are so much strange and interesting fun facts to know about the French language!
I’ll bet your French textbook doesn’t seem so boring now, does it?
Laura Grace Tarpley is an editor at FluentU. She loves tinkering with crossword puzzles and playing with her puppy, Tuna. Follow her on Twitter @lgtarpley.
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