Are French spelling changes a sign of the apocalypse?

Boromir on French Spelling reform

In case you were wondering, a heavy dose of sarcasm was used when deciding on the title for this post… We may have some time to go yet before the apocalypse is upon us, but I think it’s fair to say that almost nobody likes change and that people love to overreact on social media. When a French spelling reform was announced in early February, the reaction to the news that appeared on my social media feeds and elsewhere online kept me entertained for a good few days. No one gets more irate than a French person faced with the suggestion that the French language is less than eternal, timeless and a beacon of light in a world full of savage languages that dare evolve because what is at stake here is the survival of France as we know it, the very foundations of the world. Will no one think of the children?????

The Independent and the Guardian were two among many to publish a nice little report on the scope of the reform and included some of the reactions, which were indeed enlightening, and by enlightening, I mean I rolled my eyes so much I feared I was going to lose my contact lenses inside my brain. It led to an interesting discussion with friends on Facebook, as English people were understandably befuddled by all the fuss (as English is one of those wild languages whose evolution is left at the mercy of the masses) and my attempts at enlightenment less than stellar.

I have always been very good at grammar, spelling and the French language in general, I always did well at dictations, and I can appreciate a nicely put French sentence. I’ve always found a great deal of satisfaction in being able to write properly. So I understand the value of having and following set rules for how language should formerly be written, and I understand the dismay of suddenly being told that your efforts to learn how to put the flipping ‘accent circonflexe’ in the right place was for nowt. I bet there hasn’t been a change in the French spelling curriculum in decades. The Académie Française, that illustrious gathering of old-fashioned French minds that dictates what is and is not acceptably French, is not exactly known for being responsive to change, and yet it is them that pushed these changes forward. It is not like the English language is without rules either. Some are quite convinced that English is very difficult to learn because of the sheer number of irregularities; I mean, do try to pronounce cough, plough and tough without getting a headache.

What I mean to say, is that there is most certainly beauty to be found in complexity, but it is simply wrong to imply that there can be beauty only in complexity, that simplicity cannot be beautiful, or that simplicity is a sign of paucity or ‘dumbing down’. That, is most definitely an overreaction.

French people keep saying that French is a ‘langue vivante’, a language that is alive, whilst all the time looking at every suggestion of its evolution as a sign of, well, the apocalypse. It’s not even as if it hasn’t changed before. The poor accent circonflexe that is being removed from so many words, this little hat sign ˆ that has been put at the forefront of the discussion, wasn’t always in use. It used to be that hôpital was spelled hospital, and château was spelled chasteau, and the sign was added to remove the silent ‘s’. Yet it is possible that some French nationalists would like us to revert to speaking like the playwright Molière did – can you imagine having to go back to speaking Shakespeare’s English? Yeah, me neither.

This said, I know that I am going to struggle mightily with many of the spelling changes when they come into effect in September, not least that of the humble onion. It is going to go from ‘oignon’ to ‘ognon’, and I won’t lie, it looks weird to me, and I doubt that it will ever look anything but weird and misspelled. It may take a generation for the change to embed itself but to say that it dumbs down language? Ridiculous.

Brush up on your Spoken French {day seven}

{day seven} Brush up on your spoken French
Now’s a good time to look back on those long-gone high school days with misty eyes and wonder why you didn’t keep up with the French once you left. You’re never too old to try again. And now, with companies like Skype making communication between humans even better and more streamlined, there really is nothing to stop you. There are plenty of ways to learn:
    • Evening courses at a local college or independent language school;
    • Private lessons with a tutor;
    • Online distance learning qualifications through a college or school.
    • Local conversation classes
    • Private lessons with a tutor online, like my old school friend Sandrine, or Geraldine, who as well as running courses through her blog Comme Une Française, also gives practical advice on all manners of French things with an entertaining vlog.
    • If you have children, your local French community may run toddler groups or after-school French clubs, like the one I attend in Brighton.
    • Rosetta Stone courses
However, maybe you know that learning French is just not going to happen for you. Well, what do you know, you can always learn how to fake it…

31 days button - Frenchify your life # font x400

Blog Writing: English vs Français

Anyone who has read the few entries in this blog will have gathered that I am French and have lived in the UK for over 13 years. My relatives still live in France and I have been asked, quite understandably, why my blog isn’t in French. Surely, it would be more interesting to the French to know what it’s like to live in England, than for me to blather on to an already informed community of fellow English-speaking people.

I did think about this when I first started the blog. I had thought I might do some posts in French and some in English depending on the subject matter, however the more I think about it, the less I think this would actually work in the long-term, it is convoluted and makes the blog too much of a mish-mash and ultimately less appealing.

The main reason is calculated; writing in English brings a wider audience and I hope to attract a variety of readers other than my immediate family and the French community living in the British Isles.

These days, I also feel more comfortable expressing my thoughts in English. After so many years, I think and dream in English; my working life has in its entirety been spent on UK soil, in fact I do not know the language of the workplace in French at all. Although I identify myself as French and am not currently considering taking UK citizenship, I also feel that I have lived in England too long to feel ‘fully French’. I have embraced the British way of life and have very few French friends in the UK (just one in fact). I am not one of those expats who hops on the train every month for a quick trip back. I know nothing of the trends, fashions and interests of my countrymen, I have not kept a close eye on political and cultural matters in France, other than what I have read in the media here and discussions with my family.

I am currently investigating whether it is possible to put a Translate button on these pages to allow translation into French, however there are complications in and I am not as ‘techy’ as I would like to think, so it may take a while.

All this to say that this blog is going to continue to be in English because it’s easier and I’m lazy.


Ceux qui ont lu les quelques entrées de ce blog se seront rendus compte que je suis française et que je vis en Angleterre depuis plus de 13 ans. Ma famille est toujours en France et on m’a demandé pourquoi mon blog n’est pas en français. La question ne me surprend pas; cela parait logique puisqu’il serait plus intéressant pour les français d’en savoir plus sur la vie en Angleterre, plutôt que d’infliger mes histoires au monde anglophone.

J’ai considéré tout ceci quand j’ai décidé de commencer ce blog. J’avais pensé avoir certaines entrées en français et d’autres en anglais selon les thèmes, mais plus j’y réfléchis, moins cela me parait faisable dans le long terme;  cela complique le format et transforme le blog en méli-mélo moins intéressant.

En réalité, la raison principale est calculée; écrire en anglais apporte une audience plus large et j’espère attirer une variété de lecteurs autre que ma famille immédiate et la communauté française qui vit dans les îles britanniques.

De nos jours, je me sens plus comfortable à exprimer mes pensées en anglais. Après autant d’années ici, je pense et rêve en anglais ; ma vie active a été passée en sa totalité sur le sol britannique, en fait je ne connais pas du tout le vocabulaire du monde du travail en français. Bien que je m’identifie comme française et que je n’ai pas le projet de prendre la citoyenneté britannique, j’habite en Angleterre depuis trop longtemps pour me sentir entièrement française. J’ai embrassé le mode de vie britannique et j’ai très peu d’amis français au Royaume-Uni (juste une en fait). Je ne suis pas de ces personnes qui sautent dans un train tous les mois pour passer un petit weekend sur le sol français. Je ne sais rien des tendances, des modes et des intérêts de mes compatriotes, Je ne suis pas restée informée sur les sujets politiques et culturels de la France, autre que ce que je lis dans les médias ici et les discussions avec ma famille.

Je suis en train de voir s’il est possible de mettre un bouton sur ces pages de blog pour permettre la traduction en français, toutefois il y a des complications dans et comme mes connaissances techniques ne sont pas aussi bonnes que je le pensais ça pourrait prendre un moment.

Tout cela pour dire qu’écrire en anglais, c’est plus facile, c’est plus pour moi que pour autre chose et que donc, ce blog est en anglais et va le rester.


UPDATE: if you want to translate the blog into another language, click on the Translate tab in the top header and select the language of your choice. If your preferred language isn’t there, let me know!

MISE A JOUR: Pour traduire ce blog dans une autre langue, cliquez sur le mot ‘Translate‘ sous le titre principal du blog et choisissez votre langue.