We’re learning to speak French at our house. Or, rather, we’re learning to speak French-ly.
It all started a few weeks ago when my daughter was auditioning for a play. Halfway through the audition evening, she comes to find me in a panic. Dad, they want me to speak in a French accent. What am I going to do? They want me to say a nursery rhyme or something, but to sound French. I’ve got half an hour till they call my name! You speak French, she says – quick, teach me! Great. It’s true I was pretty well fluent in French thirty years ago. But she’s not even asking me to teach her French. She is asking me to tell her how to sound like a French person learning English. I’m floundering for similies. That’s like asking Julia Child how to make French Toast. I mean, I’m sure she could do it, but it’s not what she did. She was FRENCH (sort of), she did proper French things. But French characters, on stage or on TV, they’re not French. They don’t speak French – they just speak English really badly. That’s what we need right now, we need fake French. Convincing Fake French. So, what to do… Well, do what anyone does these days – we look on the internet. Ten minutes of searching gives us a crash course for Tips On Sounding French. We draw up a checklist – and run through it together. Feel free to play along at home: First, we’re told, imagine you have a hot potato in your mouth. You can’t shut your mouth very far at the back because you don’t want to burn your tongue. So your throat just sounds OPEN. Next, your lips. You must force your lips forward, as if blowing a kiss. And keep them there! Because most things must be pronounced at the front of the mouth. Hot potato, blow a kiss… Got that? Good. Okay, now let’s talk about the “r” sound. You’re going to want to roll your R, but you mustn’t. Instead, you have to say it in the back of your throat – like you have a hair ball. Chh Chh Chh – we face each other, making chhheally chhhheally awful noises like cats unburdening themselves. Next the H. Don’t say your aitches. Period. They don’t exist in French. ‘Appy now?And any time you see the letter I in a word, be careful. Because a short I is pronounced E. As in, Eet Eees Eeenteresting. There’s more, but we only have ten minutes left – time to pick the nursery rhyme. We settle on an old standard. Mai – chreee aaad a leee-tul lammm.Eets fleece was white as snowhAnd ev’chreeee whaichhh that Mai-chreee wentThat lamb was shu-chhhh to go. It’s good, I say. But something’s still missing. The hand gestures, she says. Yes, that’s it! You can’t speak French without your shoulders and your hands. She’s right. We try again, this time our shoulders rising and falling, hands thrown wide in gallic zeal. With every gesture, we tell Mary’s story. Emphatically. My daughter takes her French accent and leaves. I put my head in my hands. I don’t know whether to feel ashamed or elated. But three days later the cast list comes out, and she’s got the part. Our reward, six more weeks of speaking Frenchly. I just desperately hope none of my French friends ever find out about this. Fahr Mee-chie-ahnn-ahh Cchh-aahhh-neee-kulls,I’m Andrew Kreider