Pour les francophones qui veulent apprendre l’américain / For French speakers who want to learn American English

Après quatre longues années en tant qu’enseignante d’anglais, j’ai envie d’aider les francophones à apprendre la langue des States, ou l’américain comme disent les français. Même si la plupart des manuels scolaires sont écrits en anglais britannique et la plupart des profs parlent anglais britannique, mes élèves et mes étudiants voulaient toujours mieux comprendre l’américain parce qu’ils préféraient l’accent ou ils adoraient le cinéma américain ou ils avaient l’intention de travailler pour une entreprise américaine. Malheureusement, il existe toujours cette idée ridicule selon laquelle l’américain serait moins correct et moins désirable (ce qui est complètement xénophobe) et même moins utile dans le monde anglo-saxon – une opinion absurde vu le nombre d’anglophones, ou américanophones pour être plus précis, dans le monde entier.

Donc j’ai commencé à écrire un tutorial pour les francophones qui veulent apprendre l’américain et réviser les bases de langue pour éviter les fautes gênantes ou traductions trompeuses. Il n’est pas encore fini, et par conséquent ne figure pas parmi les tutoriaux actuellement disponibles sur le site, mais voilà quelques petites leçons :

  1. Les américains ne disent jamais I speak American, mais seulement I speak English. American n’est pas une langue aux Etas-Unis, sauf si on veut être vu comme un nationaliste excessivement patriote. Par contre, American English est tout à fait normal si on veut distinguer les accents. On parle aussi de British English pour l’accent anglais (mais pas pour les accents écossais ou gallois ou irlandais – ils ont leurs propres adjectifs). Pour nous, British est égal à English dans le sens de nationalité ou de langue. C’est simplement pour éviter de dire English English qu’on dit British English.
  2. Méfiez-vous des différences de vocabulaire et des mots qui ont un sens plus péjoratif. Fag est de l’argot en Angleterre pour une cigarette, tandis qu’aux Etas-Unis, c’est une injure grave envers les homosexuels. Homely en anglais signifie quelqu’un aux goûts simples ou quelque chose de simple, familial, voire accueillant. Aux States, ça veut dire laid, peu attrayant, déplaisant, etc.  Rubber veut dire une gomme (pour effacer) en anglais, mais c’est un préservatif  pour les américains.
  3. Water with gas n’est JAMAIS correct en américain pour parler de l’eau pétillante. D’abord, les américains ne boivent presque jamais de l’eau pétillante. Je ne savais même pas que ça se boit avant mon premier voyage en Europe !  Si vous êtes serveur/serveuse et vous voulez parler anglais avec vos clients, dites sparkling water (le plus courant dans les restos) ou fizzy water. Carbonated water est même plus courant dans la vie quotidienne. Gas en américain veut dire l’essence ou le gaz en langage standard, mais il veut dire aussi la flatulence en argot. Donc la première chose à laquelle on pense quand on entend la phrase water with gas, c’est que soit quelqu’un a mis de l’essence dans l’eau, soit quelqu’un a pété dans l’eau – et évidemment on ne veut pas du tout boire ni l’un ni l’autre !
  4. De façon similaire, si vous travaillez chez un glacier, dites scoops et pas balls pour la traduction de boules de glace. Balls en américain, ce sont les ballons ou les balles en langage standard, mais ce sont aussi les testicules en argot. Mélanger des testicules avec de la glace, ce n’est pas très joli (ou confortable, j’imagine…)

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  • http://thejesspress.wordpress.com/ Jessica

    Not quoting a dictionary here, but homely for me as an American has the same meaning as you claim it does for the Brits. “Homey” to me is as you explain it: welcoming and familial.

  • Emcnaught

    Bravo! Great Ideas. I totally agree.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com Zhu

    That’s funny! I knew all that but had never really thought about it. What really confused me at first was the American accent, but I’m so used to it now that I find British English hard to understand.

  • Frecil

    The same “avoir les boules”, the ubiquous meaning of “gaz”, confusing british & english (whereas real british calls their country UK instead of england), considering american english as a subderivative of english rather a real language…

    About the british slang, french schools mostly teach abstract words (for writing essays) and very few concrete ones, it’s very unlikely they would dwelve into little details like this.

    Remember that in France, french was a minority language until 19th century, and the governement had to spread propaganda against local languages to convince people to drop “breton”, “basque”, “occitan” and others “patois”. A reminiscent of this propaganda, is that many people considers (or used to) that Parisian french is the most perfect form of french (that may explain why you don’t find teaching material for others accents than the parisian one even today).

    The same thing happened in the UK, where the governement fighted against irish or welch. I remember reading a BBC article where they explained that a long time ago people would have been shocked of hearing a speaker with a scottish accent instead of the usual London/Queen’s english one.

    So, i think so the old idea was just to find a “parisian” equivalent for english, and they settle to the queen’s english for that role (it seems to hurt your nationalistic feeling a lot, especially the implication about the inferior status of american english, hence your post on this subject)

    But remember that in France teachers are selected by the CAPES, a “concours” that involves mostly translating novels and writing essays : in most cases the only accent they can really do is the french one, so it doesn’t matter a lot to choose the one they are supposed to imitate… And when i looked into CAPES “annales” i found many american books for the translation exam, and one of the last civilization question they asked was an history essay about “the rise of executive power from Roosevelt to Kennedy”.

    I think the real problem is that any teacher, proud owner of a CAPES that required a lot hard work of his part but at least guarantee him a lifetime job as a french “fonctionnaire”, don’t like the idea of a lower paid and supposedly unqualified teaching assistant speaking a better english than him and had to find something to complain about in order to preserve order in hierarchy in “education nationale”.

  • http://cultursation.blogspot.com Margaret

    I’m going to be smiling for days over “water with gas”!!
    Thank you, I needed a laugh today.

  • http://parisatmyfeet.blogspot.com Canedolia

    I love the bit about the ice-cream balls.

    On ne dit pas “water with gas” en Grande-Bretagne non plus, et comme l’essence pour nous s’appelle “petrol”, ça nous fait tout de suite penser à la flatulence. Miam miam!

  • bAp

    Et j’ai cru comprendre que certains Américains appréciaient assez peu que les Etats-Uniens monopolisent le terme d’ “Américains”.

  • Claudius

    The term “Americans” has been used since before the US was independent to describe inhabitants of what would eventually become the USA. Marie Antoinette called Ben Franklin “L’Américain électrique”. It’s nothing new.

    Further, since no other country in the American continents has the word “America” its name, “American” seems perfectly reasonable as an ethnonym. The official name of the country usually called Mexico is actually “The United Mexican States”. To call Americans “United States-dwellers” (or whatever) would therefore also be slightly inaccurate. Why not stick with “Americans”? There’s no practical alternative.

  • Gem

    bAp does have a point – many Latin Americans do resent the fact that US Americans have co-opted the term “American.” In Spanish (including Latin American and Iberian Spanish), “estadounidense” refers to a US American, while “americano” refers to anyone from North or South America. Think, for example, of the Organization of American States, which “Promotes social and economic development in the Western hemisphere.” Obviously the “American States” referred to here are not the “United States of America.”

    In English or French, on the other hand, it does seem to make sense that “American” would refer to a US American, as there is less of a political investment in the term.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Really? Homely for me has always been a very negative thing (ugly, unattractive); much worse than just plain or simple.

    Homey means welcoming to me too.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    It makes me laugh when I hear it too, and it’s not just France/French. I see it in restaurants all over Europe. Even last week it was on a menu in Portugal. Plus the balls/scoops thing is widespread too. Buying ice cream in Croatia involved the same wrong translation. Who is teaching Europeans these awful translations??

  • Claudius

    No one would use “American States” to refer to the USA because they are able to use USA. Americans never “co-opted” the term American-it was assigned to them by Europeans during the colonial era.

    Anyhow, Spanish speakers are free to call Americans whatever they choose. For my part, “United Statesian” and “US American” are unwieldy and less euphonious than American. I would never expect someone from Uruguay to go by “Eastern Republic of Uruguayan” or a Brit to use “United Kingdominian” in English. I avoid the issue in Spanish by simply stating “Soy de los EE UU.”. It goes both ways-I can appreciate that some feel the the US appropriates “American”-but it’s hypocritical to do so AND insist on the use of a term like “estadounidenese”-which assigns a name those of us in the States wouldn’t use ourselves..

    Also, I doubt that many Brazilians or Nicaraguans would prefer to call themselves “Americans” in lieu of their specific nationality but have been stifled by the United States. Context is sufficient, IMHO, to tell if the word means something from the US or something from the Americas more generally.

    BTW, the Western Hemisphere doesn’t just include the Americas.

  • Gem

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to say… that “American States” never refers to a US state? (Not sure that’s correct… see for example “American States Water Company” or “Council of American States in Europe.”) But that’s beside the point. In my experience – I don’t speak for all Americans or Latin Americans – there are certainly Latin Americans who feel that the term “American” for someone from the US is incorrect.

    As I said in my earlier post, I certainly feel that in French or English it is perfectly normal to use “American” or “americain(e)” to refer to someone from the US – and if I didn’t make it clear, I do agree with you that in English and French there is “no practical alternate”. (You seem to think it’s hypocritical for a Mexican to call an American “estadounidense” because an American wouldn’t refer to him/herself as such. But it does seem to me to be a “practical alternative”…) I do think that there are some “americans” (people from the Americas) who do feel that using “americain(e)” to refer primarily to someone from the US is inaccurate. Just wanted to point out that bAp was not creating something out of thin air.

  • Claudius

    Oh, I meant more along the lines as the collection of all 50 states-those organizations refer to some group of individual states, but not the sum of all.

    Put it this way, if on wants to self-identify by nationality, American, in any language is pretty clear in my experience. In the event that people are IDing by continent, then the context would clear all confusing. We seem to agree on this. What I think needs to be clarified is that use of the term “American” by the people of the US is convenient and traditional. There is an element that believes that it is done instead to steal from or suppress those who feel they have a ‘continental’ claim to it, too. And again, Mexico is also a “United States”. If the we started calling ourselves “United Statesers”, no doubt some people in the sensitivity brigades would accuse Americans of stealing the appellation which rightly belongs to Mexico and trying “rob them of their “United Statesian” identity”.

    It’s funny how these things work. I understand that bAp’s perspective is nothing new-I’m familiar with “estadounidense”-but my larger point was that the issue is really about abbreviation rather than monopolization. Likewise, estadounidense is not *intended* to be hypocritical, it’s convenient for those in Latin America. What makes it somewhat hypocritical is that if we are to abide by a principle of self-determination in self-appellation, Americans-just like people in the other parts of this side of the globe-ought to be consulted as to what they’re called in whatever language.

  • jemblue

    I agree with you (i’m also from Michigan) – “homely” is definitely not a complimentary term.

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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