Flight Attendant FAQs
Airline French Is Easier Than You Think!
Article and photo by Paula Erskine
I will preface this series by saying, if you want to be a flight attendant in Canada, you have to have at least a conversational level of French language skills. Making an effort to speak someone’s native tongue is like saying you care. On the other hand, if your struggling, engage a nearby passenger who is bilingual or another flight attendant who is fluent. The good news is, you know more than you think! If you grew up in Canada, you likely have been to a store which, by law, labels everything in French and English. So refresh your memory with a few items around the house, and check off French-qualified in household goods. Of course, other languages are also excellent assets to your repertoire (hey, you knew this french word), but French and English are the official languages of Canada, so there is no way around it. Obviously I speak from the perspective of one that could not surpass the French hurdle until later in life. In my twenties I was plus size modelling and managing various part-time jobs that were flexible. At 29, I had the opportunity to be stationed in Cameroon and finally acquired a base of french language skills to build on. If it wasn’t for that opportunity out of the blue, I wouldn’t be flying the friendly skies today!
If you like communicating with others, you’ll get the chance to expand your language skills. If you already talk with your hands, you’ll find yourself supplementing words for hand gestures. Keep trying to improvise until you see that sense of recognition on the passenger’s face. You can always repeat back just the noun from the question they just asked you. For example: what may seem like a very complicated request, can be dissected by spotting the nouns and verbs. Then, simply repeat the noun with a question mark on your face and tilt the head sideways. “l’eau?” (water?) The passenger, (this applies across the board, every language), will indirectly confirm by NOT saying non (no). Although, when the Quebecois say “merci,” it can mean “thank you I’ll have more coffee,” or if they aren’t handing you a cup to fill, it confusingly means thank you, but they DON’T want any more coffee. This may or may not be accompanied by the faintest whisper that sounds like the letters “m” and “c,” a pleasant expression and neither a nod nor a head shake.
Failing this, it may surprise you that speaking English words with a feigned French accent can back you up when you’re stumped. This works well for the following words you may encounter referring to Airplane terminology or serving food/drink/amenity items to passengers:
coffee/cafe (kaffayh, but you knew that already)
button/bouton (bootohn, french don’t like to pronounce the last letter, but know that the “n” is there).
airport/aeroport (again, trail off the “t”, airohpporrhh)
brochure and boutique, surprise, you already knew these words!
Chanel No. 5-So chic! Find it in the on board boutique!
Niche-everyone has one, what’s yours?
dinner/diner (pronounced dineh, and used in France)
diabetic/diabetique (same ending like boutique, your on your way!)
departure/depart (depawhrrr) trail off as you skip the last letter, which is often the case.
descent/descente (daysahnt, emPHAsis on sahnt, a bit nasal, slight “t” sound)
baggage/bagage (just say it with a French accent, so easy).
music/musique (rhymes with boutique!)
perfume/parfum (parfeh, trail off the “m” as far as I know)
tea/the (tayh) (apoligize for no accents used, haven’t discovered this feature on the blog as yet)
champagne-why, that’s international!
voucher/coupon (same! kuupohn! trail the letter “n” off)
lavatory or washroom/toilettes (but you already knew this one, twah-let)
Do you comprehend, comprendre (komprahndr) so far?
More to come! In the mean time, just found a very cute you tube channel called French: Listen and Repeat! So you can practice the french accent you’ve been faking until now. You can watch this cute cartoon frog pronounce the words you are unsure of.