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5 fun facts about the French language you may not know

By Alliance Française Hong Kong Sponsored | 13 September 2020

Header images courtesy of Charles Deluvio (via Unsplash) and Augustin de Montesquiou (via Unsplash)

Ah, la langue françaisethe language of love, cinema, food, fashion, literature… The dreamy list goes on and on. Widely hailed as the world’s most romantic language, plenty of us have wanted to learn this fascinating, melodious tongue at some point. It’s never too late to start, so here are a few fun facts about the language to kick off your French journey!


French is spoken on all five continents

Apart from English, French is the only other language that is spoken on all five of the world’s continents, with over 220 million speakers in total. Because of this country’s far-reaching colonial past, French is the official language of an impressive 29 countries, which ranks the second-most used after English and surpassing even Arabic and Spanish. No wonder it’s also the second-most taught and studied language on the planet—and to think that some thought French was growing obsolete!


French used to be an exclusive language for the elite class

That’s right—many French didn’t even speak their own language back in the day! Around the time of the French Revolution, 50 percent of French citizens didn’t speak the language, and only 12 percent spoke it “fairly,” according to historian Eric Hobsbawn. This was because French was seen as an elite language, and most peasants just stuck to their respective divergent dialects.

In fact, French was even more widely spoken in the neighbouring Germany and Holland than in parts of France, at least up until the 1800s. Obviously, the language has since more than made up for it, as it’s not just French citizens but people around the world who speak it presently, with many publications even describing French as the fastest-growing language in the world right now.


French is a truly international language

If you’ve ever considered a career in international relations, then taking French is most likely the way to go. It’s both an official language and a working language of the United Nations, the European Union, the International Olympic Committee, NATO, UNESCO, Médecins sans Frontière, Red Cross, multiple international courts, and various more such organisations. French remains an influential diplomatic lingua franca, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise considering how many countries use it.


That said, counting in French is weird

Each language has its own way of tackling numbers and counting, but the French sure do start getting weird between the numbers of 70 and 99. The number 70 in French is “soixante-dix,” which translates to “sixty and ten” in English. The larger the numbers get, the wilder it becomes: 99 is written as “quatre-vingt-dix-neuf,” which is essentially “four twenty ten nine”!

The use of this vigesimal system—a numeral system based on the number 20, as opposed to the usual decimal system based on 10—was said to be first used by the Celts, consolidated in French after the French Revolution to unify their counting system. It’s definitely an interesting concept to wrap your head around, to say the least!


You already know some French

We bet that as an English speaker, you already have a sizeable French vocabulary—just maybe not with the right accent to go along with it. How are we so sure? Around a third to half of basic modern English words actually come straight from the French language, and much of these would definitely be vocabulary you’ve come across before. Such terms, where the meaning is the same across languages and the spelling is more or less also consistent, are called French transparent words, and they are much more prevalent than you may realise.

The fashion-conscious among us will definitely be more than aware of terms like avant-garde, haute couture, camouflage, and the popular adjective chic. Much of the food and beverage industry also take huge influence from French; examples of this include café, sauté, and of course, restaurant. Lastly, the term “RSVP” that’s often bandied around in emails also comes from French; an abbreviation of the phrase “Répondez s’il vous plaît”. Talk about getting a nice head start!

Want to learn more about the French language and their inimitable culture? There is no better place to do that in Hong Kong than Alliance Française, the city’s official stop for all things French. Established in 1953 with more than 66 years of expertise, Alliance Française offers French language courses for all ages.

Perhaps it’s finally time you started working on learning that second or third language that’s been sitting in your list forever, maybe you’d simply like to enjoy French cinema without needing subtitles, or maybe you want your kids to get a head start on language acquisition. Either way, Alliance Française can provide you with tailored classes to suit all needs in learning this globally influential language.

Seize your chance now and register for their upcoming autumn term and claim an early bird offer of five percent off French courses if you apply before 20 September! This year, Alliance Francais is offering both online and face-to-face courses at any one of their three easily accessible centres in Sha Tin, Jordan, or Wan Chai, and the autumn term runs from October to December. Sign up now and get started with learning the fastest-growing language on the planet. On se voit là-bas!

Alliance Française Hong Kong

Fostering French language and culture in Hong Kong since 1953, Alliance Française de Hong Kong is your premier stop for all things French. As a non-profit, Alliance Française offers French language courses to all ages with centres found across Hong Kong. This is part of L'Alliance Française, the world’s largest network of French cultural associations.