Avoiding awkward misunderstandings

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 False Friends: Faux Amis, Book Two Matador 2011

Avoid faux pas! Don’t | be le roi des imbéciles: | la libraire sells this!

If you haven’t already heard of faux amis (‘foe zammy’) then the chances are that you’ve not studied French at school, where the phrase and the concept would have been made very clear to the beginner. As it is, False Friends is really only aimed at those already in command of a reasonable understanding and vocabulary since beginners are given no concessions in terms of supportive pronunciation or grammar.

So, assuming you’ve gone as far as picking up the book knowing what to expect, what are you likely to find in this, the second of a series of books designed to help you “avoid those awkward misunderstandings”? First, it’s primarily aimed at those to the north of la Manche rather than across the Atlantic, though North Americans and other native speakers of English may still find plenty to enlighten them and maybe amuse them (lots of subtle humour is included in these pages). Second, the phrase banks (because that’s what they essentially are: lists of French key words in alphabetical order) are broken up into five somewhat arbitrary sections entitled “False Friends” (old favourites such as journée and magasin), “French expressions” (includes the amusing boîtes pour piles), “Twins, Triplets” (typically, la glace can mean ‘ice’ or ‘mirror’), “Lists” (groups of nouns clumped together under subheadings such as Insects or Football), “Miscellaneous” (unlike Hôtel de Ville these strictly are not all false friends) and “English expressions” (the only section not determined by the French alphabetical order).

handshakeI enjoyed rummaging through these pages to encounter friends both old and new, and to savour the unexpected good humour that leapt to meet the eye. But I was confused by wondering who the imagined target audience were and how they were to use this. It’s not a primer (not very basic) nor, despite protestations to the contrary, is it a phrasebook (the entries are far too random and the choice of sections much too idiosyncratic). Perhaps it’s designed as a treasury to dip into, though to do so in a determined way is rather exhausting.

I suspect this is the kind of publication the author would herself have liked to have encountered at an earlier stage in her language acquisition, and that this is the kind of reader she is hoping to please. I wonder if she would do well to consider improving its visual presentation (imaginative layout, varied typeface and the inclusion of appropriate illustrations), as this might help to broaden its appeal to a wider readership and start to repay the loving attention she has given to compiling these two companion volumes. As Matador is a self-publishing service provided by the independent UK publisher Troubador one hopes that Book Three, if and when it appears, will incorporate these or similar improvements.

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