Never apologise for your French. It very easily becomes a bad habit and inadvertently conveys to the other person that you aren’t confident in your own ability. More importantly, it communicates this message to your own subconscious!
Where does French confidence come from?
French confidence definitely comes from external sources, for example a compliment from someone about your French. However, a lot of comes from your own ability to believe in yourself and your abilities. If you say to yourself that you aren’t good at French, that will likely manifest itself as an apology in a future conversation or conversations, which in turn reinforces the belief. This also makes it harder for you to hear compliments when they come your way. So, even if you don’t believe it right now, stop apologising for your French and apply what’s in this article. Qu’est-ce que tu as à perdre ? (What have you got to lose?)
If you prefer, you can watch this in video format.
Your French is neither good nor bad
I believe that we all have a duty to try and be our best selves. To always strive to be better and to learn new things. It’s not always easy but it’s better to grow old and have no regrets than to have stuck with what was without risk or discomfort.
Speaking a new language, especially when it’s your first foreign language, takes a lot of courage.
I think we’d all agree that if we were giving advice to a friend who was just starting out with a new skill that we had mastered, we’d tell them it was normal to find the simple things difficult and feel exhausted after doing something that we can now do without breaking a sweat.
So when I hear French learners saying things like “je suis désolé pour mon français” or “mon français est mauvais” it makes me sad.
Ça me rend triste because it shows immediately that you aren’t confident in your ability as if it’s somehow a bad thing that you are still learning. Who cares if you’re 55 and still finding it difficult? Maybe you only started 5 years ago and only really found the method that worked for you 6 months ago. It’s bound to be difficult.
Remember this: It is neither good nor bad to be at the level you are. It just is.
It’s often far from obvious that such a simple thing as saying “sorry” – which we think we’re saying just to be polite – actually betrays this total lack of confidence in our ability.
You can be considerate of them without putting yourself down
Apologising shows the other person that you care what they think of your French. Think about that for a second. Why do you care?
Often, you might say that you don’t want to waste their time and that’s very considerate of you. However, you can be conscious of that without putting yourself down. By apologising, it’s like saying you are inferior to them in some way. It only serves to make you feel bad or worse about your French.
It also increases the chances of you getting an English reply
I’ve already written an article and done a video about how to keep conversations in French and why French speakers might speak English to you.
It takes guts and perseverance to get a conversation into French or to keep one in French, especially if you’re a new speaker. One thing that makes that task easier, is if the other person never switches to English in the first place.
Apologising to someone will likely make them feeling sorry for you which increases the chances that they will want to make things easier and the main way is to speak your language. If, of course, they speak it.
So what should you do instead?
So now you understand why it’s so important not to apologise for your French, what are the solutions to stop?
Alors, as far as I see it, there are basically two:
1. Say nothing
It’s obvious when you start speaking or soon after that you’re a foreigner and you’re learning. It’s up to the other person how they react. So, when that thought comes up time and again, train yourself to recognise it and to just say nothing.
2. Replace the apology with something neutral
Although simply having the interaction, as uncomfortable as it might be for you, and ending it without saying sorry for your French (like you wouldn’t say sorry for your English), wouldn’t shock the other person in the slightest, it’s likely that if you are in the habit of automatically apologising, you’ll still feel the need to say something. So say one of the following things.
I prefer to thank the other person for their patience or their understanding in some way, depending on when in the interaction it occurs.
- At the start of an interaction:
- “Bonjour. J’aimerais vous/te dire que j’apprends encore le français donc merci d’avance de votre/ta patience.”
- “Bonjour. J’aimerais vous/te dire que le français n’est pas ma langue maternelle donc merci d’avance de votre/ta patience.”
- At the end:
- “Merci de ta/votre patience (avec mon français).”
Obviously, adapt the sentence you like to make it your own for the situations you’re likely to be in. Use translators like Deepl to be confident in the accuracy sentence. And then just start saying it. To yourself. Over and over and then to real people. Don’t change it until you’ve said it to the same person 5 times and you feel like a broken record.
What this does is it acknowledges that you are aware of your less-than-perfect-and-maybe-slow-French which is what our unconfident/insecure self is doing when apologising. Except that now you’re acknowledging it without criticising yourself.
The other thing it does is it makes them feel good about themselves. Patience is a vertue after all and when someone points out that I’m patient, I may reply with “Don’t mention it” or “C’est normal” but inside I appreciate hearing it.
So, you should prepare 1 sentence, just 1, that you will use instead of apologising for your French.
Oh and never ever apologise for your French in a lesson or in an exchange with a language exchange partner. These environments are there for the sole reason to provide you with a space to practise. You’re basically SUPPOSED to show up and speak dodgy French.
If you must apologise, apologise for the consequences
On the rare occasion that your French has caused a misunderstanding which has led to negative consequences, such as a supermarket member of staff taking you to the savon instead of the liquide vaisselle or telling the person at the Préfecture (French administration centre) accidentally that your country of birth is La France rather than Le Royaume-Uni because you heard “votre pays” but not “de naissance” after it, then apologise.
However, an important distinction to make is that you’re apologising not for your French but the mix up that you’ve caused. It’s unfortunate and it was your mistake. But it shouldn’t stop you trying again and again and again in future conversations.
You can’t please everyone, so just please yourself
Sometimes, especially in situations with French administration, you’ll get people who sound frustrated or tired or moody from the interaction but you can’t put that all on yourself. You were polite and did your best. That 30 seconds or 5 minutes or 1 hour has done a lot for your French experience that you’re racking up.
The less you apologise for your French, the more self-assurance you’ll emit in your voice, and in your body language, and this will turn into confidence.
Get my free bonus guide to French confidence
C’est tout pour cet article. You can download my free guide on how to become a more confident French speaker that contains the 6 key skills I had to learn to be confident enough to speak French in France.
If you like this type of article please leave a like and let me know down in the comments.
Merci beaucoup de m’avoir rejoint aujourd’hui. Continue à parler français. Tu t’améliores avec chaque phrase que tu dis. #progrespasperfection
Au prochain article sur le blog. Ciao !