Spearheaded by the French Academy, the people in France take their language very seriously. While Spanish radio announcers laugh at their language mistakes, their northern neighbors are terrified of getting something wrong. So even though you know you may be judged critically by a French audience, you can prepare a good presentation by following the rules of good speech writing. Once you break the process down into small steps, it isn't as frightening as it appears. Writing a speech in French follows the same basic rules as writing one in English: introduction, body of the speech and conclusion.
How to Start
Begin by welcoming your audience. "Bonjour (or bonsoir) mesdames et messieurs" will do nicely, as it is the expected French greeting.
Apologize for not speaking French perfectly. Unless you are a bilingual Parisian who refers to french as français, it is a good idea to admit up-front that your language skills are not perfect. Your audience will sympathize more with you if you are honest.
Start your speech in French with a topic sentence that indicates you are witty and well-versed in French literature. If you can't think of anything, use a quote from a known French writer bordered by quotation marks, such as Sarte, Renard or Voltaire.
What to Include
Outline what your speech is going to be about in your opening. Open with j’ai and let your French audience know where you are going with your speech. It is important to stick to your topic, as the French will expect you to deliver what you promise. This could be an example of indirect speech.
Shy away from humor unless you are practically a native speaker and understand the subtle way the French use double innuendos. Slap-stick American jokes will alienate your audience and leave you looking like a bumpkin.
How to End
Pull your speech together in your concluding paragraph. Politely thank your audience for attending, and giving you the courtesy of listening to your speech. Remember that the French stress manners. This could be an example of direct speech.
End your speech in French with a memorable line that links back to your topic sentence. If you can't think of anything, resort to repeating the quotation you started with, or using another equally as memorable phrase. Pay attention to verb tenses and french grammar.
Edit your speech in French for common grammatical mistakes. Remember that the French language has masculine and feminine pronouns, so check to make sure you use "le" and "la" are correct. Try to alternate seamlessly between past tense, present tense, subjunctive, and infinitive. Double check conjugation.
Pronunciation takes practice, especially with french words. Practice your reported speech out loud and sound out your french vocabulary in order to avoid stumbling. Beginning learners should spend extra time on this.
Ask a native French speaker to check your speech to be sure you got everything right.
It takes time to learn French, so go easy on yourself but you still must sound professional.
- Ask a native French speaker to check your speech to be sure you got everything right.
Jody Hanson began writing professionally in 1992 to help finance her second around-the-world trip. In addition to her academic books, she has written for "International Living," the "Sydney Courier" and the "Australian Woman's Forum." Hanson holds a Ph.D. in adult education from Greenwich University.