Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Non-Native Thought for the Day #3

According to Wikipedia .... a homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another, but differs in meaning. Such words may be spelled the same such as un tour [a tour] and une tour [a tower] or differently, such as vert [green], verre [glass] and ver [earthworm].

Needless to say, these sets of words have been exercising my brain!

The fact that the French use the same word to  refer to a plant pot and a potty left Poppette scratching her head when I asked her if she wanted to sit on le pot. I have since made a point of differentiating the plant pot by calling it a pot de fleurs!

Likewise, I find it a little hard to get my head around the fact that, in French, the word balançoire means both swing and seesaw...oh yeah! When I asked a French friend if she didn't find this a little confusing, she simply said, why should she. She said it was totally normal and actually she thought it a little odd that we have separate words. Right...well, I do see her point. I pushed on....asking her how on earth she would know what her son wanted to do if he said he wanted to play on the balançoire. How could she be certain not to disappoint him by taking him on the wrong ride? Simple, she said, I would just ask him whether he wanted to go on the balançoire that goes up and down or the one that goes forwards and backwards!

Belgian Maman has been having similar issues with English homophones whilst speaking non-native English with her son. "Don't touch the glasses", she said to him. He looked at her rather puzzled wondering why he would be committing an act of naughtiness by touching his lunettes [reading glasses] when his Maman was, in fact, referring to les verres [drinking glasses].

The conclusion I have come to, however, is that homophones are of no consequence to a native language speaker. You just don't think about them because you know them and have always known them and just absorb them throughout your language learning years through context and repetition and you instinctively know that your children will do the same. The issue when speaking a non-native language is that you question yourself more....if two (or more) words sound the same, you assume that your child will be confused because these words aren't second nature to you.

So...I am just getting on with it. Just because the word for sea [la mer] and mother [la mère] sound the same, doesn't mean that Poppette will be confused....at her tender age it's a question of context and, at a later stage, once she is able to read, all will become even clearer.

Click here to see a useful list of French homophones.

Have you any examples of how homophones have affected you in either a native or non-native context?


  1. Our funniest one at the moment is the cross-langauge homphone "say" and "c'est". Although Little Imp seems to understand immediately which one I mean, her older siblings tend to just repeat the French word that follows "c'est" as if I am requesting them to say it!! Always a problem in the classroom this one too...

    1. Oh goodness, the cross language ones definitley complicate things don't they! I have to say though, I do wonder whether they just worry me and not Poppette...because i think its odd they sound the same.. Poppette probably doesnt...a great example is that Poppette loves to eat 'pie' so when the French word for hay (la paille first started to make an appearance in her story books I was really conscious that she would get confused... she didn't :D

  2. Belgian maman :)01 December, 2012

    Hiii :)
    You made me think about last time we went to Bruges....
    I said to Leo "today you're going to see the sea"
    And he made this puzzled look, the same he had when I told him not to touch the glasses!! :D


    1. Hmmm this has made me think about the time you told me that as non-native speakers we get caught up with things that native speakers don't worry about.... If you had been speaking to Leo in French and used two French homophones, it wouldn't have even crossed your mind that you would be confusing him... and even if he was confused you'd just shrug because you'd know that that stuff just works itself out... there'd be no ''non-native paranoia'' amplifying everything :D