Beginners' French: language hacks for word endings

Beginners’ French: language hacks for word endings

Once our journey around the world officially ends, we’ll be heading to France for a few months before finally returning to London. With only a short-course French qualification to my name (from my school days nearly 17 years ago), I need to improve my French quick smart. So far, I have been tackling the task digitally with a combination of Duolingo and the Michel Thomas Method. I’ve been using Duolingo for Spanish throughout South America with mixed success, but the Michel Thomas Method is a promising new approach for me.

The Michel Thomas Method has been around since 1947 when the eponymous Thomas moved to Los Angeles and set up a language school claiming to teach conversational proficiency with only a few days of study. A master of 10 languages, he taught beginners’ French to film stars Mel Gibson, Woody Allen and Barbara Streisand (all paying up to $30,000 for private lessons). He even taught Spanish to Doris Day so she could sing hit song Que Sera Sera.

Luckily for people like me with smaller budgets, he recorded his method allowing language learners to work through his process in small steps, building up knowledge and vocabulary as they go. So far I’ve completed just two of the eight audio sessions but have already made significant progress. This is largely due to the way Thomas breaks down the language, highlighting the multitude of words transferable from English to French. Here are some of his best hacks.

Oh, and what’s the best thing about this method? There’s no homework – perfect for a lazy learner like me!

1. Words ending in -ible and -able

At the start of the beginners’ French course, Thomas tells us that over 60% of English vocabulary comes from French. He demonstrates that words in English ending with -ible and -able are largely the same in French with a consistent change in pronunciation and sometimes in spelling. The mere knowledge of this can give beginners a huge boost in confidence.

English French
table table
remarkable remarquable
considerable considérable
accessible accessible
horrible horrible

 2. Words ending in -ion

Words in English ending in -ion come from French. The pronunciation is different, but the meaning and spelling is generally the same. For example, condition, opinion and reservation are all the same in both French and English.

As with any language, there are exceptions to the rule (Thomas points out that vacation, translationexplanation become vacances, traduction and explication) but as a general rule, it is incredibly helpful.

3. Words ending in -ical

Words in English that end in -ical become -ique in French. So English words such as political, economical, logical and philosophical, become politique, economique, logique and philosphique in French. These can be combined with the previous trick regarding -ion endings to produce the following phrases.

English French
the political situation la situation politique
the economical situation la situation économique

I must say I felt rather proud that I could engage in discourse about the political and economic situation in France.

 4. Words ending in -ary

Words in English that end in -ary become -aire in French. For example, words such as military, necessary and contrary in English become militaire, necessaire and contraire in French.

Beginners' French: language hacks for word endings - necessaire

5. Words ending in -ent and -ant

Thomas also explains that words in English ending in -ent and -ant come from French. They have similar spelling and the same meaning.

English French
different différent
absent absent
apartment appartement
important important
elephant éléphant

6. Words ending in -ance and -ence

Words in English ending in -ance and -ence come from French.

English French
difference différence
importance importance
preference préférence
vigilance vigilance
absence absence

7. Words ending in -el or -al

Finally, Thomas explains that all words in English words with the ending in -al or -el come from French. Furthermore, when adjectives such as general become adverbs (generally), they have -ment added in French.

English French
general / generally general / généralement
normal / normally normal / normalement
gradual / gradually graduelle / graduellement
special spécial
animal animal

As I come across more French language learning hacks, I’ll be posting them on this blog. In the mean time if you know of any other beginners’ French tricks and hacks please post them in the comments below.

The full Michel Thomas Method course is available to buy on Amazon.

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