French and English have a lot of cognates, or words that look the same and have the same meaning in both languages. That’s largely because many French words were assimilated into the English language after the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century.
However, there also a lot of false cognates—words that look the same but have different meanings. The French sometimes refer to them as faux amis, or false friends. Faux amis make things difficult for language learners, but occasionally lead to some funny stories.
There’s one faux ami that is particularly persistent, however.: attendre does not mean “to attend.”
Attendre actually means “to wait for.” The word for “to attend” is assister, which also means “to assist.” I hear people use attendre*—or worse, attender, which doesn’t exist in French—to mean “to attend” all the time, and I have to confess, it drives me nuts.
I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, since everyone makes mistakes. I suspect this one bugs me, though, because it seems like almost everyone makes this particular mistake.
It seems confusing, but the two concepts are also related—perhaps even more confusingly—in English. A lady-in-waiting is a noblewoman’s attendant, and an attendant is someone who assists you.
*Note, as well, that attendree is an -re verb, so the past participle is attendu and not attendé (which also doesn’t exist in French).
I’ve found that the best way to learn a language is to seek ways to practice that also involve something you intrinsically like or are interested in. If you like cycling, see if you can find French coverage of the Tour de France. If you like cooking—well, there’s no shortage of French resources about cooking. And if you like cat videos… well, there’s a fair number of them in French, too.
To get started, try checking out Parole des Chat, where the cats are given French voiceovers. A word of warning though, these cats do know a fair number of gros mots (curses).
If you are into cute kitten videos, you have probably seen this French TV commercial featuring… well, cute kittens.
A non-francophone friend asked me what it says. I wound up transcribing most of it for her. I figured, since I’d already done, why not post my transcription here? I didn’t quite catch everything, so if I missed anything or made a mistake, please do let me know.
Hey my cat (sort of like hey man, except they are cats)
… the first catstronaut…
At Bouygues Telecom…
We know that you like when we respond quickly by to telephone calls and fix your problem in the wink of an eye.
We know that you like getting an advice about your choice of boxes [i think this is broadband modems] and your smartphone.
At your service
We know that you like watching TV in HD.
Catchete (like machete, i guess)
We know that you like like being able to make calls from everywhere in France… and on the other side of the world.
Follow that cab
[couldn’t catch this]
It’s because we know all this that we have nearly 9200 [couldn’t catch this].
And because we at Bouque Telecom know that you like short internet videos with little kittens, that we decided to make this short internet videos with little kittens.
And it’s because we know what you like that Bouygues Telecom is now the #1 in customer service for mobile telephones and now home (non-mobile) internet.