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Get ready for beginners’ French
Get ready for beginners’ French

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2 Words can travel: borrowings

It’s no coincidence that all of the loan words so far this week come from the world of food and the kitchen! Gastronomy has been an important part of French culture for a long time, and one that has been exported, both by French chefs working outside of the country, and cooks from other parts of the world travelling to hone their craft in France. Those chefs took their vocabulary with them on their travels, and so the language travelled too, and French words ended up being ‘borrowed’ by other languages. Even if you’re not a master chef yourself, you’ve most likely come across a few other culinary terms which are used in their original French. Some examples can be seen in Figure 4.

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Figure 4 French culinary vocabulary

Loan words can be found everywhere in everyday life, when you keep an eye out for them. You might like to start noting down other French examples as you come across them. In the next activity, you will identify a few more that are used in other, non-culinary contexts.

Activity 4 Complete the sentences

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Using the drop-down lists, choose the correct word to complete each of these sentences. The options are all words used in the English language that were borrowed from French.

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Of course, word borrowing is not a one-way street; the French language has ‘borrowed’ from English too. You will come across words such as le football, le rugby, le tennis and le cricket when you browse French-language media. There is a clear sporting theme here, which probably has a lot to do with where these sports have developed and become popular. But you will also see, for example, le marketing, le planning, le parking and le web among many other terms that originated in English.

Interestingly, words borrowed from English are not necessarily the same in different variants of the French language. Below is a list of English borrowings commonly used in the language spoken in France, and the equivalent word used by French speakers in Quebec.

Table 1 Examples of French variants
France Quebec
faire du shopping magasiner
le chewing gum la gomme (à mâcher)
le parking le stationnement
le ferry le traversier
le coach l’entraîneur
le cupcake le petit gâteau
vintage rétro
le week-end la fin de semaine

As a learner of French, spotting borrowed words in a text will provide clues to help you understand the meaning of the text, even if you don’t understand all the words.