Do French speakers understand English texts and vice versa?

As Alan described in his essay French of English, the English language contains so many French words. Now, do you think a native speaker of English could understand a text written in French even if they had never learned any French at school? Of course the answer depends on a variety of factors and I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.

Merci beaucoup,
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A native speaker of English with no French training cannot understand a text in even basic French, and the same goes for a native French speaker understanding English. The two languages may have many words in common – about 60% of the English vocabulary, they say, and French has been borrowing English words for centuries – but there is still the other 40% of the vocabulary and ALL the grammar to cause problems. Plus, all the most basic vocabulary is different. Native speakers of the two languages cannot understand the words for concepts as simple as “man”, “woman”, “dog”, “street”, “he”, “she”, “there is”, “go”, “wait” and thousands of others. Other words have been so phonologically transformed that they’re not recognizable (Latin “scola” => English “school”, but French “école”), or they have completely changed their meanings. A French verb that looks to an English speaker as if it means to take care of someone actually means in French to wait or expect.

English and German are both Germanic languages, with English having the older sound system. Can native English and German speakers understand texts in each other’s languages without training? No.

Now I know why my school bus card is called Ecole card. Thanks!

It would be interesting to run some tests on a few monoglottal English natives. I would hazard that they would do best with technical or abstract texts in French, Italian, Spanish, etc., but with simple texts in German and Scandinavian languages.


I agree that they would understand technical and abstract texts in Romance languages a tiny bit, but I can’t agree that they would understand any kind of German or Scandinavian text. The common words in the other Germanic languages have been so transformed over the centuries that they are largely opaque to English speakers. It’s even problematic with modern words. English speakers would understand the German word “Auto” as meaning a car, but the Swedes chose to shorten the word from the other end and call it a “bil”. Anglophones would never figure that out. One English speaker I know saw the word “Mietwagen” and thought it meant an ambulance.

Face it:

Native English speakers can’t understand a about half of Shakespeare without training.
They understand even less of Chaucer’s Middle English.
They can’t understand Old English at all, and that’s almost like modern Scandinavian languages.
They can’t understand French, Italian, Spanish or any Scandinavian languages.

I am now studying on English lexicology in my university. And I also agree with Jamie (K), English has had a long process of development. It belongs to Indo-European family of language. Although it has borrowed many words from at first Latin, Celtic, Scandinavian, then, French, Greek, Italian, Spanish, German, India or Russian and some other groups, these borrowed words must go through changes when they are used more popular. Borrowed works are adjusted in three main area: the phonetic. the grammatical and the semantic. So, one English person who had never learnt French could not understand a French text.

french is more latin, and english is a germanic language. therefore a german can understand english much easier than a french. an example that came first to my mind:

french: rue
english: street
german: strasse

and another one:

french: disx (10)
english: ten
german: zehn (pronounced tzen)


Hello everyone,

Almost every word end by -tion, like: attention, aviation, salvation and so on, have the same writing in French and in English, the same meaning but not the same pronunciation (English), prononciation (Francais/French).

If you, sometimes, find some similarities between German and English it’s because both languages have some roots in the Gaelic (Celtic) language.
Here is an example:
Breton (from Brittany, an old Celtic country): gwen, sometimes wen
English: white
German: weiss

thank u allan
You improve my general knowledge by introducing me some words which are invaded from french language

Hi, Mr. Torsten,
Mr. Alan

I am glad to read how the French and the Engliish language differ or close each other. I just started learning French last week. I had been thought that the French language may be easy since I try English. However, I found out that especially the pronunciation totally different from English. Even at my first class, when I look the text book and saw the English alphabte (ABC), I thought it is closely realted to English. But, when I go through it day by day, especially the pronunciation and the grammar totally up and down. But, I found even French is more realted to my native language ( Amharic)- In grammar part- I learnt in French, every thing has Gender/Feminine & Masculine, In English no. In my native language yes. In English " you" in French ‘tu’ but additionally ‘vous vous’ . In “Amharic” also ‘ersou’ to show prestige.

So, I learnt a lot in this discussion.


Hello Mr. Tosten,

I knew that many languages generated from others but I never went into details it is my first time to see some this comparison (french or english) and I realize that some of the French words relates to our official language ( Portuguese ) Ex. English you, in French is tu and in Portuguese is also tu. Now if we go feather will find many similar words. Some of the words in Italian are like Portuguese I understand very easily.


I am an English teacher . In my country Iteach English as a foreign language TFEL, that is what I studied in the university. And French is a second language for me I have learned it since I was a child.So, what I can tell you is that I learned English and I teach it because I like it and having an excellent level at Frech didn’t help me. .

Best regards

It’s not about where do we personally presume the english language comes from, or what we like to think. It’s about facts:
Originary “English is a West Germanic language that developed in England during the Anglo-Saxon era. As a result of the military, economic, scientific, political, and cultural influence of the British Empire during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries and of the United States since the mid 20th century, it has become the lingua franca in many parts of the world.”

[size=75](source: wikipedia)[/size]

no its not possible its totally different aspects

It was a fantastic article!. I am a student and I do not have enough time to read the recieve emails. but this one attracted me to read that and to post a comment here!
I am not a native speaker of english, so I can not answer this question. but I think that underatnding french should not be very hard for english speakers. they may do not understant a text in french by itself, but they can understand the meaning bye a little using of a dictionary!

It cannot be done. A native English speaker could not understand the first word in a text written in French if he had never learned the French Language. It’s a totally impossible feat.

Dear Alan,
Reading your essay is so wonderful! It makes me feel like talking with native speakers. I can understand 100% what you write in the essay. As a Chinese, I think learning languages needs to do more training, the more the better. I don’t think a native speaker of English could understand a French text without learning any French at all. One thing is for sure, the English speakers may learn French easier than the Chinese do.

Hi, Alan!
It was a very interesting article.
I really appreciate the way you give us real useful information about English language.
Thanks a lot!

Faithfully yours,

Cesar Lopez Petrovich.


I think this article give me more motivation to strength my English and study French which I started to learn one year ago and unfortunately stopped. I am not sure if the native speaker of English language may face difficulties in learning French or vice versa. That’s because as Mr. Alan said they have similar roots. From my experience, the common features between the two languages have made my French class easier. However, the only problem I faced in learning French is the pronunciations. It doesn’t mean English native speaker can totally understand a text written in French. Training is very important in learning any language not only the mentioned ones.

Many thanks,


I’ve been living in France for more than eleven years. From the experience I have with my French friends, I can say that they hardly understand an English text (of course, the level of understanding highly depends on the number of common words in both English and French in the given text). But this similarity of words may sometimes be misleading; since there are many word with the same form and spelling in English and French, but either their meanings or their usage and application are different.