I’ve been living in Strasbourg in France for almost three months now and still haven’t quite got the lingo down to pat. My biggest struggle recently is differentiating between similar sounding words. Why do VERY different words sound familiar?! And, conversely, why do similarly spelled words sound so different?! (Just think of ‘Through’ and ‘thorough’ or ‘polish’ and ‘Polish’ in English to name but a few). Indeed, my friend Kirsty, who I just went to visit in Paris, had a debarcle in her first week when she thought she had a very intelligent conversation with a shop assistant asking for a kettle (bouilliere) and ended up with a pack of plastic spoons (cuilliere). I myself have made a lot of mistakes in my French since I’ve been here, so I thought I’d give you my five best (or worst?) ones…
1) Corps (body), Coeur (heart) and Cours (lessons)
I was sitting in my poetry lecture last week and had NO clue what one she meant. She was describing the poem and repeating what I heard as “cor”. So does the poet have a body he’s upset with? Is he speaking about issues from the heart?! WHAT IS HE SAYING?! I asked the German girl next to me and she had written ‘corps’ and I had written ‘cours’. I still haven’t the foggiest.
2) ‘L’amour’ (love) and ‘La mort’ (Death)
There’s a fine line between love and death. When you’re speaking very fast. I have regularly thought that someone died when they’ve actually fallen in love, which really is rather sad the more you think about it.
3) La mer (the sea) and ‘la mere’ (mother)
You would think that seeing as I do a module called ‘Images of the sea’ I should have this down to an absolute T, which I probably would if I attended said lectures. Instead when there is little context I sit there perplexed. “Why would a mother have a stream coming off it?” “Why does the sea have three children?”
4) ‘Vol’ (flight or theft) and ‘Viol’ (rape)
Perhaps one of my worst mistakes – I was sitting all innocently with my Tandem partner saying that the British government give some money towards your flights on your year abroad. I accidentally, however, said that the British government give you money towards rape. I am so sorry, UK government, so sorry.
5) Pleurer (to cry) and Pleuvoir (to rain)
I always, ALWAYS have difficulty with the difference between these two. I regularly say “I am raining” or when describing the weather “it is crying”. Although, as I have said, ‘it cries over England too often’. Which made me sound really philosophical, when I was really just being rather bloody stupid.
What about you? Have you made any stupid mistakes when abroad or found two words (in English or any other language) which are ridiculously confusing? My tandem also thinks ‘question’ and ‘christian’ are very similar, which I had never thought of before. I’d love to know in the comment box below!