So I had my first few French conversations without the aid and supervision of a Francophone, or, at the very least, a bilingual Anglophone. I had an online French-English dictionary, though – that’s practically the same thing right?

I thought I had a screenshot of my very first French conversation ever, but I don’t, so here’s a transcription:

Guy whose ass I totally saved by killing a mob before it could kill him: merci!
Me: :)

Oh yeah! Check me out! I’m practically bilingual!

I upped the ante on the next one, though. I used an actual word It went like this:

Me to the guy who randomly buffed me: Merci!
Guy: de rien :)

Oooooo! says I. De rien. The French equivalent of no problem. I like that. So, naturally, I upped the ante yet again and used two words:

Guy whose ass I saved originally, upon being saved again: merci!
Me: De rien! :)

See? I’m learning!

After that, though, I got a bit ambitious. I was wandering around Redridge (“Les Carmines” in French) trying to figure out which piece of a gnoll a “patte” was so I didn’t get myself into an embarrassing situation in which I cut off and returned the totally wrong part (they wanted the paw, for the record) – especially given that I’d been looting [Groin de tripe-broches] for the last thirty minutes.

La belle langue continues to make me squirm uncomfortably in unexpected ways.

Anyway, in the end I determined I wasn’t high enough level to be cutting anything off the gnolls, so I went scuba-diving for Oslow’s toolbox instead. Because that one’s easy if you pretend there are no murlocs. Took me so long to try to swim around the fucking murlocs that I probably would have drowned, were it not for a random level 46 shaman fishing off the dock nearby who put underwater breathing on me.

I didn’t realize I had it, either, ‘till I was dragging my soggy ass back to town, toolbox in tow, when something in my brain went, hey! Why didn’t I drown? So I scroll back through my combat log to confirm it was the shaman I’d seen and then paused to consider my options.

On an English server, I would have whispered the guy and had the following conversation:

Me: Were you the one who gave me the Underwater Breathing buff?
Shaman: Yep.
Me: Thanks!
Shaman: Np!

It’s a very simple conversation, played out a million times a day on every server known to Blizzard. Looking at it on the surface, it looks relatively simple to translate.

All right, says I, let’s do this:

So, a breakdown, shall we?

Me: Est-ce que vous me donnez Respiration aquatique? :)

What I was trying to say: “Did you give me underwater breathing? :)”

I couldn’t figure out how to say “were you the one who”, and “did you give me” seemed easier. So I looked up “did” in my onlying (see what I did there?) dictionary and it returned “est-ce que”. My Bescherelle was sitting RIGHT THERE but I was too lazy to reach for it and try to figure it out. This was foolish of me.

What I apparently actually said: “Are you giving me Underwater Breathing?”

Note the fucked up tense here. My intended sentence was in the past tense. Had I realized this earlier, I probably would have translated it better, but tense is something that is second-nature for me in English, and I often don’t fully appreciate the tense I’m using. So instead of confirming whether the gentleman was the one who had given me the buff, I was demanding whether he was giving it to me or not, as though he was expected to.

Note that this doesn’t even translate into “Can you give me”. It’s “are you giving me”. Awkward phrasing, that.

What I should have said: “M’avez vous donner Respiration aquatique?”

Oh, says I when this is explained to me, far, far after the fact. It’s passé composé. Oh. Fuck.

I actually should have known that.

Shaman: oui^^ ou es tu?
Me: Non, non! J’ai le buff. ^^ Merci pour me donner ca! (Pardon ma Francais! J’essay apprendre!)

The shaman, being a very nice fellow, appears unfazed by my rude demands for a buff I totally don’t need and he already gave me all of three minutes ago anyway. He simply says sure, and asks me where I’m at – he’s even willing to come to me to give it to me!

What I meant to say: “No, no! I have the buff! ^^ Thank you for giving it to me! (Pardon my French! I’m learning!)”

I panicked at the word “buff”. I have no idea what that is in French, and there’s no dictionary in the world going to give it to me. Like most of the warcraft words, though, I figured I was probably safe to use the English one in this case (prayed is probably a better word than “figured”). If tanks are tanks and heals are heals, buff could be buff, right?

What I apparently actually said: “No, no! I have the buff! ^^ Thank you for to give me it! Pardon my French! I’m trying learn!”

And that mangling doesn’t even take into account spelling mistakes, or gender fuck ups. To the poor shaman it probably looked more like this: “thx 4 giv me bfuf sry 4 my frnch i lrn”.

Seriously.

Français is a masculine noun, not a feminine one. So it should have been “MON Français”, not “MA Français”. I spelled “essaie” incredibly wrong. Also, apparently “apprendre” (the verb “to learn”) is actually part of a phrase in this case. It should have been: “J’essaie d’apprendre.” I stand corrected. Very corrected.

To quote what I was told when I proudly showed my French conversation to a native speaker: “It’s clear what you’re trying to say, you just sound like an idiot.”

That, at least, I knew.

More things I’ve learned by playing WoW in French:


  • Gender-based words are Hell. I’m so fucking glad English ditched this shit eras ago, you have no idea. Language is complicated enough. I’m terrified I’m going to add an “e” somewhere it doesn’t belong and imply that perhaps the gentleman to whom I’m speaking is perhaps more feminine than he may be claiming, and he’s going to flag himself and kill me and corpse camp me for the next few hours.
    • I take some comfort in the fact that apparently most French people barely understand the gender in their own language, so it’s unlikely to be too noticeable, but still. Accuracy is better than being lazy about it, and I should try to be correct.

  • You can totally cheat and use English words if they’re game based. Buff totally worked! He didn’t even notice!
  • Comté does not mean count. When the dude in Lakeshire tells me he needs some goods for the “comté-d’or” he does not mean for the gold count, which I personally think was a pretty good guess, supported by my onlying dictionary. It means “Shire”. Comté-d’or is Goldshire. Which I should have known, because I was standing in Comté-du-lac (Lakeshire), doing a quest I’ve done a million times that sends me to a smith in Goldshire. Sometimes I try too hard.
  • People who fuck up my questing groove still piss me off and I don’t care what language they’re speaking. Only now I don’t know how to tell them to stop being fucktards and that if they aggro the god damned pillager behind the cart ONE MORE FUCKING TIME I’m going to freak.
  • Sometimes you can just spell an English word with a French ending (reverse “er”, and an “aire”, etc.) – the written equivalent of saying it out loud with a French accent. This works a lot. It also doesn’t work a lot. And when it doesn’t work you have essentially just spouted a bunch of gibberish at someone and they stare at you like you’re crazy or stupid and you’re forced to admit that they are probably right on both counts.
  • People who use the bastardized, shortened internet version of French enrage me a bajillion times more than people who do it in English. Just because I’m trying to learn French and it’s honest to God a bigger challenge than I expected. In English I can pronounce it phonetically, and I’ve been exposed to it for so long it’s second nature to translate it. I speak typo. But in French…Jesus. All I can do is stare at the screen and mourn the death of a beautiful language before I’ve even had the chance to learn to speak it.

The biggest thing I learned – specifically from the conversations mentioned above – is that I sound like an idiot in French. I suddenly have a renewed respect and appreciation for the frustrations inherent in trying to communicate in a language that isn’t mine.

It’s very easy to write off somebody with a really thick accent or poor grasp of the language. You assume they’re an idiot or disregard them entirely, but this isn’t necessarily the case. I’ve always known this, but didn’t necessarily know it, you know what I mean?

Communication is so incredibly important in human interaction…and I can now confirm that it is ten times more frustrating to not be understood, than it is to not understand. My ability to relay information through words is something I have long prided myself on (rightly or wrongly) and it is physically painful to be limited in this regard, and to know that I sound like a child or worse. Some of those kids are pretty damn good at their language. This is an extreme blow to my pride and I am humbled beyond belief by it.

It’s fucking embarrassing is what it is.

But, honestly, some of the most fun I’ve had so far have been these painful, halting conversations. It’s like a logic puzzle – I’m just not very good at it yet. Every interaction is a list of questions – how can I mangle what I want to say into some version of the same message that uses words I can actually translate? Was that supposed to be future simple? Or passé compose? Was it subjonctif? How do I do the subjonctif again? When do I use été and when do I use some conjugation of avoir? How the fuck do I say “look out it’s a bear” in French?

For all it hurts my pride, though, I remain surprisingly undaunted. My pride makes it unacceptable that I continue to suck. I can’t stand the thought that I am unable to communicate effectively in this medium. It’s not okay. I have to, and will fix it. Giving up would be a big fucking stain on my Communication Record. Not gonna happen.

But in the meantime, sry 4 my frnch, i stll lrn k thx by.

With apologies for any further fucked up French in the post. I’m correcting myself from memory!