Remember how I complained about English words in French?

Loan words are definitely not helping my students learn English vocabulary. They were supposed to write partitive expressions to make uncount nouns countable on the test last week. All of the images they had to identify were used in their daily lessons, so they should have known which words to use.

The correct answer is a loaf of bread. What did some of my students write? Cake. Which is understandable since most bread in France does not look like this and in French, un cake is this (whether it’s sugary, salty or fruity):

I would call this a fruitcake in English, but all the others I would tend to call bread, i.e. banana bread, zucchini bread, etc. because they look like small loaves of bread even if they’re not really “bread.” A cake to me is much larger (round or square), usually in flavors of chocolate, vanilla, cherry chip, marble, carrot, etc. and covered in frosting.

This is a bowl (or box) of cereal. If the students didn’t write cereals (because it’s plural in French), they would write cornflakes and I don’t think it was because of the barely distinguishable green rooster on the box (which was black & white on the test anyway). David tells me that you can use cornflakes to refer to cereal in general in French, even though it only refers to a specific type of cereal in English.

Other answers weren’t so wrong, such as a pack of chewing-gum instead of just a pack of gum. The chewing part isn’t said very often in everyday American English, and there’s no hyphen (which annoyingly seems to make its way into a lot of English loan words in French.)

Yes, my students should have learned the vocabulary we went over in class, but I understand how it’s confusing for them to think they’re using English words properly when they’re really not. If the word was borrowed from English, why would the meaning be changed in French? I hope they’re just as annoyed about it as I am.

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.