I'm a Hong Konger. I grew up in Montréal, Canada so I speak French, albeit with a perfect Québécois accent (which I'm proud of). I now live in Hong Kong. My daughter was born in Hong Kong and mostly speaks Cantonese. I haven't started teaching French to her yet. She takes ballet lessons here in HK and of course she is picking up ballet terms from her instructors.

But it really irks me that her instructors get all the pronunciations wrong. As many of you probably know, ballet terms are mostly French and Italian. My daughter's instructors are all Hong Kongers who probably know English, but definitely not French (not beyond the ballet terms that they had to learn).

I could teach my daughter the proper pronunciations - with a Québécois accent, which is not "genuine" or "orthodox" according to some people, but still arguably much better than whatever my daughter's instructors produce.

But should I?

There are two points of consideration:

  • I'm a bit worried that it may interfere with my daughter's learning of ballet at this stage - as in, being distracted, during her ballet lessons, by the knowledge that her instructors' pronunciations are wrong;
  • Do I want her to be the one in the class who talks differently from all the other kids, and the instructors? The pronunciations while wrong to my ears may be the norm in "Hong Kong English" [1]. This is essentially the point raised by @alephzero and @PeterGreen: being correct and maybe standing out like a sore thumb versus conforming and remaining wrong.

[1]: I don't think the pronunciations are entirely consistent among my daughter's instructors anyway, actually. They seem to butcher the pronunciations in different ways.

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    How old is your daughter? How serious of a ballerina is she?
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 15:58
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    If you do correct her pronunciation, do you want her to be the one in the class who talks differently from all the other kids, and the instructors? Probably not.
    – alephzero
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 0:45
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    Another point worth considering is what are your long term plans? and what does "wrong" mean anyway? Have you considered the possibility that the pronounciations while wrong to your ear may be the norm in "Hong Kong English"? Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 0:50
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    @PeterGreen "what does "wrong" mean anyway" French is a language with a body that formally defines the proper use of the language (the Academie Francaise), so "wrong" is whatever disagrees with their use of the language.
    – nick012000
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 5:26
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    @PeterGreen Except that stuff like 'grand jeté', 'relevé', and 'pas de deux' aren't 'Hong Kong English', they're ballet jargon, so 'correct pronunciation' is what will ensure you are properly understood by ballet professionals and balletomanes. Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 12:57

9 Answers 9


My approach to pronunciation issues is simple: pronounce them correctly myself, but only correct my children when it's relevant (meaning, if they're saying something that's actually a different word, or otherwise confusing). She'll eventually pick up the proper pronunciation from you.

The only reason I'd do otherwise was if she were a little bit older and she were planning to go into ballet as a career (or at least, to attend a ballet school). In that case it would be very important for her to know the correct pronunciation, as it could lead to social consequences if she didn't.

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    How do you know your pronunciations are correct? (j/k) My only point here is that the definition of correct isn't inconsequential. As a French speaker from (?) 1 year on, most English speakers can't pronounce the words "tu" (familiar form of you) or "eux" (them) to save their lives. That means battu, dessus, fondu, deux, etc. will sound anglicized to my ear. (+1 for this excellent answer, btw,) Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 15:15
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    Oh, for sure. And I'm sure Stephie could give us similar stories about non-Germans saying ich - I was quite fluent at one point, but never did get that sound correct!
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 15:41
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    This. Growing up as a bilingual in Italy, I learned to speak with an Italian accent to meld with my Italian mates and not be the “weird” one when mentioning English terms to them. This didn’t prevent me from learning correct english at home with my parents. And this is how my parents achieved it.
    – Lonidard
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 21:11
  • Could you clarify "planning...to attend a ballet school"? OP's daughter "takes ballet lessons" which sounds like she already is attending one. Do you mean full time?
    – nanoman
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 0:28
  • @nanoman Yes, full time.
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 3:27

I think you might be overreacting. As an French-speaking American, I can guarantee most non-French speaking Americans can't pronounce battu (and many other words) correctly, either. It's performing the step correctly that counts in the dance, not the way it's pronounced.

As someone who only spoke Québécois until entering kindergarten, please allow her to pronounce it as her teachers and the other children do. Some of my earliest memories of school involve being laughed at for mispronouncing things.

At this age, it's important to fit in most of the time. If she pronounces it correctly and is challenged, she might feel the need to defend her choice of pronunciations ("My father speaks French, and he says..."). It may be correct, but it doesn't fly as a good reason to other kids her age. It might sound to them that she thinks her father is 'better' than theirs, etc.

As @Joe says, you can use the correct pronunciation, and even tell her that in French it's pronounced "X", and that that pronunciation goes back hundreds of years. But please don't encourage her to pronounce it differently than her teachers and her peers do.


I would consider telling her the way you believe to be correct (I assume Joual isn't that different from Parisian French in such matters), but specifically ask her not to raise the matter in class.

It doesn't hurt to have her know that adults, even teachers, are not infallible and to learn when she should keep her (superior, in this case) knowledge to herself. If she does bring it up, the consequences will also be educational.

  • +1 "...the consequences will also be educational." Haha! Indeed. My parents and siblings are Québécois; I'm not sure "Joual" isn't derogatory. It certainly was very derogatory when it was coined. Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 15:18
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    @anongoodnurse Wikipedia says that joual is stigmatised by some and celebrated by others. Personally, I have a standard Montréalais accent, and I wish I could do the full joual, even though I'm Chinese.
    – Kal
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 2:27
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    @Kal - I saw what Wiki says. I like Wiki enough to use it, but I don't give it my full trust, as I have found many, many untrue statements in my field (medicine), and some outside of my field but in areas of interest. My parents' families grew up in a truly-terrible-dialect part of the province, and even we said "cheval". It's like being proud of speaking pidgin English. While using Louisiana Creole in a novel might give it a ring of authenticity and produce nostalgic feelings, it's awful to try to understand in person if you don't know French, and specifically Canadian French. Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 15:06

I am French and have two children. They were born and raised abroad until mid-kindergarten.

I started to speak French to them since they were born and they had the same issue, though with cars. Specifically with the brand Renault, where as you know the ault part is pronounced more or less o. In the countries we lived in, the differences in pronunciation were massive.

I did not correct them because I did not want them to be different from the other kids. On the other hand, I was pronouncing all the French words the French way, well because I was speaking French.

Fast forward 10 years, we are back in France (for 10 years) and they do not have any problems with the pronunciation. When they meet friends or family abroad and speak a language other than French, they would usually pronounce it the French way, but not always (they realize that it may be easier for everybody if they mispronounce it the "language they speak at that moment" way)


If she is taking exams then she needs to understand what the examiners are saying. Presumably they will either use (or be used to) the local pronunciation.

You could show her videos of ballet movements that have an authentic accent and just ask her if she can "translate" between the two versions - or at least understand. If you show them without comment, your daughter will probably ask you why they are said differently.


  1. With an American accent! Learn Basic Ballet Vocab with Demonstration for Beginners I (video)

  2. With a Belgian accent (I believe) BALLET BASIC MOVEMENTS plié | Ballet Workout

As long as she understands both, if she ever applied to ballet school and was asked to perform an arabesque, she would know what the panel were saying. She would soon learn to modify her speech accordingly.

Personal experience

When I was a child, my family were middle class amongst working-class people with a very strong local accent. I soon learned to speak with two very different accents when at home versus at school and playing with friends.

I was even scolded by a schoolteacher for using my parents' accent in class when reading.

I read the word "bath" with a long "a" as in Southern British English. She told me "There is no "r" in the word, It is not "barth". You should say "bath" (She rhymed it with "math" as in mathematics). Actually she was not as polite as this!

I had no trouble maintaining these two "languages" in parallel.


It seems to me that the answer to this question is largely going to be speculation, but I can provide some advice.

You say that your 9yo is not particularly enthusiastic about the activity in the first place. Correcting behaviour (even a tangential behaviour like pronunciation of terms) is likely to be a negative experience, which you could imagine does little to increase enthusiasm. The same as with any speech correction, though, the easiest place to start is to just use the words correctly yourself whenever they come up. If your daughter picks up on this, you win without having a big todo over it. If not, she's still going to fit with her peers that will understand the terms as pronounced by their instructors.

Speaking of instructors, it might be interesting to approach them and casually work the terms into a conversation to see their reactions. After class, maybe ask a benign question like "Do you have any tips on my daughter's pliés?" (or however that term would work into the sentence structure; sorry, I'm not at all versed in Cantonese). Their reaction to your pronunciation may give an indication of how they might react to your daughter beginning to use your pronunciation, as well. It's important that your daughter not be recorrected by her instructors if she were to come to class with the Québécois pronunciation, after all.

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    I wouldn't approach the instructors, at least not in the case above, unless I had a personal relationship with them. You'll just come off as condescending and rude.
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 18:12
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    Oh, I'm sure there are many cultural differences that would appear rude. I do not know any of them. Please only use my advice at your discretion. Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 23:38
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    I don't mean due to cultural differences. Any time you correct an instructor (or, really, an adult), it tends to come off as rude, unless you are the instructor - or have a personal relationship with someone. (Except on the internet, I guess, where everybody does it... ;)
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 4:42
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    @Joe I don't see a suggestion to correct the teachers anywhere in this answer. To me it seems like a very good idea to find out the reaction of the teachers to a different pronunciation this way. If they ask why you pronounce it like that you can just say it's because you speak French without accusing them of doing it wrong. There are many loanwords where it's perfectly acceptable to pronounce them wrongly - for example entrepreneur in English, or in Switzerland many people pronounce English "u" in loanwords as a sound that doesn't even exist in English even if they speak decent English.
    – Nobody
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 9:54
  • firstv two paras great. Last para, definitely not so. It undermines the first two! Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 19:33

My approach is that you don't mention 'right' or 'wrong' to your daughter, just tell her that if she communicates with anyone outside her class, she should know that other people usually say it differently and she should be well aware of that.

My family has a special term for maternal grandmother. No matter how strange it is -- that's the 'right' term to be used in my family. My daughter has no problem switching it to the standard 'grandma' when talking to her friends and teachers.


This is more linguistics than parenting but if the ballet lessons are held in English, the ballet terms might count as English words (that where originally French/ Italien) and have a proper English pronounciation. This pronounciation can sound very butchered to someone who know the French/Italian orginals.

This happens all the time with loan words between languages. One example in English would be the word 'yacht' which is originally Dutch. The correct English pronounciation is wrong in Dutch. Similar the French word 'petit' is used in (American) English. The final 't' is silent, which is correct French but it is usually applied to females, which would be 'petite' in French, so the second 't' would not be silent.

In summary, the pronounciation of the ballet terms might sound wrong to you, but it might be correct in the context where it is used.

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    The lessons are held in Cantonese, so it is arguable whether the “naturalized” English pronunciation should be factored in.
    – Kal
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 9:44

I'm in IT and from Germany. I learned the simple word router pronounced like the french origin. (The 'ou' sounding like the u in blue). The standard way in IT is the american pronounciation. (ou like how). Now I simply adapt to the pronounciation of the group I'm in.

Your daughter will do the same. Use the word in the french pronounciation and your daughter will adopt it. However she will use the 'technical slang' in her school.

Enjoy the direct experience, taking part of language development.

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