Sunday, 13 December 2009

La Mer

I have just heard a few words of the English version of 'La Mer' by Charles Trenet. It was in the background for an article on sea farming on the programme Country Tracks. I know the song because it is sung a lot in English. Occasionally you hear it in French and in French it reminds me of when I was on an Open University summer school. On Wednesday afternoon we were free to do what we wished and many of us went to Arromanches. When we saw the sea a fellow student broke into song and I was able to join him.

There is no chorus so if you wanted to take some part in the karaoke version then it is probably a good idea to try to learn the first verse.

La mer qu'on voit danser
Le long des golfes clairs
A des reflets d'argent
La mer
Des reflets changeants
Sous la pluie

Take a look at YouTube et chantez tous ensemble.

A bientôt

Monday, 12 October 2009

Un lèche-bottes

You may know that une botte is a boot but did you know a lèche-bottes is a servile flatterer? Well these are not words that I commonly hear in English but I have heard of sycophants and crawlers and even boot lickers but servile flattery is quite rare in my experience. So lèche-bottes is fairly easy to translate.

If you know that a PDG is the president directeur general which means you are talking about le patron, then you are in a position to understand “c’est un lèche-bottes du PDG”.

A bientôt

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Thanks to Sky

I have good news for my own motivation to learn French. I am now listening to Sky TV which was installed today. We have the sports channel and I can now watch TV5. I phoned someone in Glasgow who couldn't tell me which channels were French, for that matter neither could the person who sold Sky to us, but I know I have TV5 at least.

I do have other things to do like work and walking the dog and watching The Ashes but I can now listen to some French. I have just heard the words "merci à tous" so merci à tous at Sky.

A bientôt

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Théâtre Sans Frontières

A couple of weeks ago I received an advert of Théâtre Sans Frontières. This is a theatre company that tours the country. I have seen them a couple of times and they are merveilleux. So I had no hesitation in getting tickets for their show “Les Trois Mousquetaires”. If you hear the words “tous pour un et un pour tous” then you don’t need much of a memory of French to know what this means. Not only do you get great entertainment but you also get some French revision.

If you get the chance then do go and see them. Take a look at their website at

A bientôt

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Your favourite French song

There is an advert on TV at the moment for the Halifax and the background music sounds like a steel string acoustic guitar. The reason why I am mentioning it on a French blog is because the chord sequence is exactly the same as Francis Cabrel's song 'elle écoute pousser les fleurs'. If you go on YouTube and search the title of this song then you can link the Halifax with Francis Cabrel yourself. I can't help singing the chorus when the advert comes on.

The reason why I know about Cabrel and in particular this song, is that I went to a French Circle and there was a 'Desert Island Discs' evening. Members of the circle brought in their favourite piece of French music and this was played.

When you get the opportunity ask people about their favourite French singers or their favourite French song. It may become your favourite.

A bientôt

Friday, 26 June 2009

High Society 2

No it's not a sequel but I went for a second time to a performance of High Society because I was a volunteer. I sold raffle tickets and when everyone sat down I could sit down too and enjoy the performance. So I can now tell you more about the French connections. The first and main connection is that in America of the 1950s French is seen as the language to speak if you want to be part of high society. There are lines in the musical like tu veux jouer avec moi and c'est vrai absolument. There is a question quelle chanson? The answer is tu sais bien. In the song 'I love Paris' there is some French. I couldn't find it on the internet yesterday but I heard a last line something like parce que mon âme est là.

There were two other French references that I noticed. One character had been thinking and there was a comment about Rodin's thinker Le Penseur along with a Bruce forsyth type gesture. Finally one character is surprised and says 'my...' the next word starts as a rhyme with class but changes to eye. I cannot remember ever hearing the expression 'my eye' used in context as an expression of surprise and disbelief. The French use this expression in exactly the same way. They say mon oeil but they also pull the skin down below one of their eyes with their index finger. In fact they don't need to say anything as the gesture is enough.

A bientôt

Thursday, 25 June 2009

High Society

I saw High Society this evening (24th June) so I shall now write about the French connections. The person who played the journalist is called Mike and in the film the actor was Frank Sinatra. The character of Mike came from South Bend and in South Bend is Notre Dame University. OK this is a pretty tenuous link to a French blog and if you heard an American say Notre Dame then I don't think any French person would understand what they were saying. They pronounce it Dame as in Daimler as opposed to the French version Dame as in dam - rhymes with jam and m'am.

Perhaps the link you were thinking of is the song 'I love Paris'. When I was on a boat trip on the Seine I heard this music in the background. So the French know the music at least. I heard some French lyrics and I would love to write them down for you but I can't find them anywhere on the internet. If anyone knows these lines, there are only two or three, then please let me know. In the meantime I am going again tonight as a volunteer 'fire officer' (I think that is the correct title for someone who stands around in a shirt and tie) so I will try to jot down the lyrics.

A bientôt

Monday, 22 June 2009

C’est Combien?

How do you ask the price of something in French? C’est combien? is the usual way but as in English there are many ways of getting the same information. Let’s stick with c'est combien. What if you were asking for the price of one individual item? You would say c’est combien la pièce? If you ask the question then you should be aware of possible answers. You will need to know your numbers and if you have a rough idea of the cost then you will be more aware of the answer. Is it quatorze or quarante euros? If you have asked about individual items then expect an answer about individual items. Cinq euros la pièce may be your reply.

You can get answers like dix euros le kilo if you buy things by the kilo. Even in the 60s I was taught about kilos and kilometres but in England we can still be confused and want to buy things by the pound. Don’t let this put you off. You can always ask for cinq pommes or une douzaine d’oeufs.

If the shopkeeper has given you as much as you need then you can always say (c’est) assez merci. For this blog j’en ai assez.

A bientôt

Friday, 19 June 2009

Keep reading en français

I don't know if you watch House with Hugh Laurie. It is a medical series that has found it's way to France and changed its name to Dr House. It seems Hugh is advertising in French and this is one of his lines:

Hello! Mais que fait Hugh Laurie pendant que nous attendons impatiemment la suite de dr House?

This tells you a lot. It tells you that you can say Hello and you may be understood in France even though you won't find it in a dictionary. The French do say allo but that is on the phone. I like the word suite. It often translates as a sequel. We wouldn't say sequel here because it is a new series. We wouldn't say 'continuation' even though the next series will continue showing the programme. In this case la suite would translate as the next series, even though that's not how it literally translates. Also notice that there is no capital letter for Dr and that the French felt the need to add the title of doctor.

You can get a lot out of one sentence so keep reading en français.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Quelle coïncidence!

I am going to a school today to do some voluntary work. It may just be observations on this first day but it means that I will find the motivation to write French and German blogs. Most of these blogs are about motivation because if you do the work for any subject then you will do well in it.

As a trainee teacheer you are given advice as to how to dress and I will be following that advice again today. On my desk calendar are the words

Il faut bien s’habiller pour les réunions officielles.

Quelle coïncidence

A bientôt

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Do you say 'to whom'?

I was looking for my own inspiration to write a French blog so I put on a CD by Edith Piaf and I was listening to La Vie en Rose. It didn't take long. Here is the introduction.

Des yeux qui font baiser les miens,
Un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche,
Voila le portrait sans retouche
De l'homme auquel j'appartiens

Then I thought, how do teachers go about translating 'to whom'. We don't even say this in English and for translations to have any meaning we have to start with a knowledge of English. The last of these lines translates as 'of the man to whom I belong'. It is unlikely that you will ever want to say this line in conversation, but you may want to fill in your own words for something similar. The football of the team to which I belong is a better translation than my team's football. How do I know? Because Edith Piaf tells me. Even if you don't believe me and you can't see yourself wanting this translation then at least learn 'de l'homme auquel j'appartiens' so that you can join in the singing.

A bientôt

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Pronunciation difficulties

If you want to be understood then you have to work on pronunciation. Nothing is difficult if you work at it. Now I am nowhere near perfect but I prefer my accent in French than I do my Manchester accent in English.

You may remember adverts from the seventies for Cointreau. It is made from oranges ripened in the sun, but if you remember the advert then you know that you hear a strong French accent. Another advert went like this: "Thees Cointreau and ice is like zee warmth of we French and zee cool of you Engleesh….. Voilà! zee ice she melts!"

The French can't pronounce "th". If you can see the difficulties that the French have when they speak English then you can start to understand why you have to do your best with French pronunciation. I was heading for the South West of France from Paris. We had travelled to Versailles and I was looking for directions to the next major city Chartres. It seems that this is one of the hardest words for me to pronounce but at least I know that I have to work on it.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


My desk calendar (mardi le 19 mai) says ‘prépare-toi pour une journée incroyable'. There are lots of words that you can guess in French. Prépare is prepare. You should know toi as a command, and if you want to be more formal you would say préparez-vous. It's the same reflexive command as dépêchez-vous, and prépare-toi is the same form of command as dépêche-toi which is sung by the pop group Blondie their song Sunday Girl.

is usually translated as ‘for’ so this word is easy. Journée is one you have to watch. Le matin is morning and la matinée is also morning but in the sense of talking about what has happened in that morning. Think of a soirée, a word we sometimes use in English to describe a social evening. It is the same with la journée and le jour. They both mean day but la journée is describing a passage of time throughout that day. Incroyable is close to incredible.

It has taken some time but now you know that you should prepare yourself for an incredible day – nothing to do with journeys.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Pierre et le Loup

When I was a teenager I went to Paris with school. I remember looking in a music shop and seeing a classical record by Prokofiev called Pierre et le loup. I didn't know the word for wolf at the time and I was too young to appreciate the connection with the music even though Pierre et le loup est un conte musical pour enfants. The point is that sometimes you don't need a dictionary or anyone telling you anything to learn French. You just need to experience it.

I am watching the apprentice while I am writing the blog and I am listening to some French music by Camille Saint-Saens called Carnival des Animaux. Again, if you know the music you don't need the translation. A record cover or just reading a French blog will tell you the words for carnival and animals. It is much better to learn words in context as it is much easier to remember them. Since I looked at that record cover I have never forgotten le loup.

A bientôt

Friday, 8 May 2009

La Ville de Lumière

Paris is known by many names one of which is the city of light or en français la ville de lumière. You may also hear that Paris is the city of love and Gay Paree.

I have a theory that whatever you want to learn, it takes three goes to learn it. This could be a new skill like decorating or learning an instrument or learning a language. Life is a little more complicated that this but if I write la ville de lumière encore une fois (one more time) then you will know that Paris is the city of light.

This is why you should read this blog if you want to learn French. It may also be useful if you go to a pub quiz. Who knows? You may get a question on the city of light.

A bientôt

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Singular or plural?

Pronunciation can make all the difference as to whether you are understood. It doesn’t matter which language you are speaking. Think of all the different accents in English. If the accent is strong it may not matter that you are fluent in that language.

If you want to pronounce words in the plural then in French this is slightly confusing because there is often no difference at all. Adding an s is common but la rue and les rues makes no difference to the pronunciation of rues. There are many examples like this, just look in a dictionary. La gare, les gares, la fille, les filles.

You can see the answer. You say le or la if it singular and les if it is plural, so you have to make the word for 'the' very clear . The basics are important.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Adjectival Endings 2

Grammar is traditionally boring except for people like me. I enjoy conjugating verbs. I prefer to order a beer in a bar but conjugating verbs is fine. Adjectival endings may well come into the boring category so take it peu à peu, and use these blogs as if a friend were talking to you about speaking and writing in French. There is the latest technology in every school but children are still finding it difficult to come to terms with grammar. Learn to enjoy it is the best advice that I can give you.

The commonest rule in French is that feminine adjectives add an e. If the adjective already ends in an e then add nothing. One example is un tapis bleu. Notice how the adjectives of colour come after the noun. A lot of French adjectives come after the noun, so do be careful with word order. You add the e for a feminine word so it is une robe bleue.
Adjectives ending in x in the masculine form change to end in se in the feminine. It may be un home heureux but it is une femme heureuse. Une réponse is not faux, it is fausse.

The best way to learn adjectival endings is to make them up yourself. La pelouse est très verte. La maision est blanche. Le cinéma est beau. If you are saying something in English then think about the translation into French.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Adjectival endings.

That’s a posh heading for this blog. If you know what an adjective is, then I have just changed the noun ‘adjective’ into an adjective. In English we just right down the adjective like good, red, soft or small. In French you change the ending depending on the gender of the word that you are describing.

Do you know the difference in pronunciation between un and une. If you don’t then get used to it because the word for one or a comes up very often. Un is pronounced like a nasal ‘an’ whereas une is pronounced like an English moon without the m. Now you have the hang of that try the French for brown. The masculine version is brun which rhymes with un, and the feminine is brune which rhymes with une. Une bière brune is a dark beer so make sure that you say it correctly.

A bientôt

Monday, 4 May 2009

You have to look for French singers.

Most of my French blogs have been looking at reasons to find the inspiration to learn French. Recently I have looked at joining in with the singing of children's songs. It is fun to sing but it is also a good learning experience. Where do you find French songs in England?

I remember watching a Marx Brothers film called Monkey Business in which Maurice Chevalier does some singing. He does sing in English but it is with a French accent and it was a link for me to his French songs. I have also heard songs by Charles Aznavour, Gilbert Bécaud and Sacha Distel but usually there were no French words just a French accent. A few years later I came across Plastic Bertrand whose hit song was called ça plane pour moi. Unfortunately these words were the only ones in the song but that's alright by me. There is a more recent disco song with the title encore une fois.

Occasionally English singers would sing in French. Donovan sings a verse in French in his song Jennifer Juniper. The Beatles sang in French about a girl called Michelle. Manhattan Transfer sang chanson d'amour. You may be able to add a lot of songs to this list and if I spent longer thinking about it I may even be able to double this list. The point is that if you want to learn by singing French then you have to find the French singers because they don't come to you. I have mentioned some singers in these blogs and I am sure that I will mention some more. You can always comment with some suggestions.

A bientôt

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Tête, épaules, genoux et pieds

Childrens' songs are not a bad way to learn French. I recently sang 'tête, épaules, genoux pieds' to a year 8 group. They joined in, they enjoyed singing, and they liked to point to the body parts at the same time. This eventually became almost a complete mime as we missed out one word on each repetition. The main point is that those children went away from that class and knew all the words in the song.

There are a few variations to the song. In English the last word is toes. The French for toes is doigts de pied. It doesn't fit. Another word is orteil. This does fit but the word for the foot is more important so I chose pied. For the second part of the song I just named and pointed, but in this version you get the bonus of 'j'ai un', and 'deux'. It is also awkward to fit in the et between genoux and pieds so I prefer to miss it out. This song is fun, so if you know a group of children then get them to sing it.

Tête, épaules, genoux et pieds
Tête, épaules, genoux et pieds
J’ai un nez, deux yeux
Deux oreilles et une bouche
Tête, épaules, genoux et pieds

A bientôt

Saturday, 2 May 2009


On the theme of children's songs in French I want to look at Alouette. The best way of learning any song is singing it, but you can also listen to the songs on the internet. If I have any comment on this song it is the brutality of the translation. As is the case with many sentences, this song sounds so much nicer in French. L'alouette was also the nom de plume (do you get it?) of Jeanne d'Arc or as we know her Joan of Arc and is the name of a play by Jean Anouilh. I have seen this play many years ago at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester but it was in English. Voici la chanson.

Alouette, gentille Alouette Skylark, nice skylark
Alouette, je te plumerai Skylark, I will pluck you
Je te plumerai la tête I will pluck your head
(Je te plumerai la tête) (I will pluck your head)
Et la tête And your head
(Et la tête) (And your head)
Alouette Skylark
(Alouette) (Skylark)
O o o oh
Alouette, gentille Alouette
Alouette, je te plumerai

A bientôt

Friday, 1 May 2009

Chevaliers de la table ronde

Recently I have been writing about French singers and songs. If you have heard of them and you already listen to their music then that's great. If you haven't heard of them I hope you have followed up the blogs by listening to the full tunes on your computer. Have one window playing the tune and in another window you can read les paroles. Very often you don't even need to know that the French for lyrics is paroles before you do a search, as long as you know the name of the French song that you want to listen to. Here is one that I learned when I was young. I could sing this when I was in primary school even if I didn't know the meaning of all the words. Try learning the song chevaliers de la table ronde. It is better to learn with a group who are singing in a bar and it sounds so much better after a few beers. Voici le premier couplet et le premier refrain.

Chevaliers de la table ronde,
Goûtons voir si le vin est bon.
Chevaliers de la table ronde,
Goûtons voir si le vin est bon.
Goûtons voir, oui oui oui,
Goûtons voir, non non non,
Goûtons voir si le vin est bon.

A bientôt

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Manhattan kaboul

I want to move on from a brief introduction about Renaud and one of his most famous songs, Manhattan kaboul, to talk in more detail about this song. It is a duet with a Belgian singer called Axelle Red. Here are the first two verses. The first is sung by Renaud and the second by Axelle Red.

Petit Portoricain
Bien intégré, quasiment New Yorkais,
Dans mon building tout de verre et d'acier,
Je prend mon job, un rail de coke, un café

Petite fille Afghane,
De l'autre côté de la Terre,
Jamais entendu parler de Manhattan,
mon quotidien c'est la misère et la guerre

There is no s on the end of je prend. Perhaps this indicates that it is sung a little quicker than normal speech. Otherwise I hope this song is not too difficult for you to translate as it has an important message or two. It is written post 9/11. It looks at the reasons behind 9/11 which is almost taboo in England. In the same verse we are challenged to think about our standards. It is worth listening to and translating the whole song.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 29 April 2009


It has been really hard to drag myself away from blogs about Les Choristes. I have recently watched the film and listened to the music again. Music can really motivate learning, so I won't venture too far and I'll write about a musician called Renaud.

I was in the middle of France in a bar and I was talking to a local. I wanted to talk about Renaud, a French singer. I had already spoken to one French woman who had told me that he was un peu impoli. I picked this conversation in the bar because I did not think that it would not be too important to this French man if he were impoli. Learning a language is not just about vocabulary and grammar. It is also about having something to say and if you can interact in French then it is so much easier to do so in English. There is another reason to learn French, which is to improve your English.

I went on to talk about Renaud's song 'Manhattan Kaboul' Even with just a title you have now learned how to say the capital of Afghanistan. With the first line you learn the vocabulary for someone from Puerto Rico. This is not your standard vocabulary but it easy to learn. Have you come across the English word 'quasi' as in quasi-semi'. It means having some reemblance or almost. You can now work out 'quasiment New-Yorkais' and so much of the French language is like this. You just have to practice.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Last Word on Les Choristes

If you read the last two blogs and followed the instructions to watch two clips from 'Les Choristes' then you could well be hooked on all the songs from the film. If you went one step further and watched the film then you also may have enjoyed an emotional story. So what else do I want to say about the film? Well there is one more thing that you can't get just by watching to the film or listening to the music. I want to tell you about Pierre Morhange.

More specifically I want to tell you about the young actor who played the part of Pierre. He is called Jean-Baptiste Maunier and this role was his breakthrough. He was chosen for his looks but he could act. Most importantly he could sing. Often in films the singing is dubbed. Not in this case. His voice is fantastic.

Apologies for no French in this blog, but if you have taken up the advice to listen to the songs and watch the film then your French has improved enough.

A bientôt

Monday, 27 April 2009

Caresse sur l'océan

If the last blog was the best advice that you have ever received then I don't need to introduce you to any of the other songs in the film 'Les Choristes'. If you have not seen the film and have not read the last blog then this one may be written with you in mind. Have a listen to Caresse sur l'océan Here is the first verse.

Caresse sur l'océan
Porte l'oiseau si léger
Revenant des terres enneigées
Air éphémère de l'hiver
Au loin ton écho s'éloigne
Châteaux en Espagne
Vire au vent tournoie déploie tes ailes
Dans l'aube grise du levant
Trouve un chemin vers l'arc-en-ciel
Se découvrira le printemps

I can't think of a better way to learn French. Just beware that spoken French is different in song. Caresse, porte and aube only have one syllable when spoken, but you have done really well if you learn to translate all the lyrics and who knows - you could be joining in with the song in the near future.

A bientôt

Sunday, 26 April 2009

The best advice to learn French

This may be the best advice that you ever receive about learning French. In 2004 a film was produced in France called 'Les Choristes'. The story was great and the music was fantastic. There are so many songs that you should listen to, and if this is the music for you then your vocabulary may increase dramatically, and this will be the best advice for you to learn French. Of course the amount that you learn will depend on how good your vocabulary is already but un peu de répétition n'est pas de problème. Vois sur ton chemin is my favourite so let's take a look at it.

The first verse is:

Vois sur ton chemin
Gamins oubliés égarés
Donne-leur la main
Pour les mener
Vers d'autres lendemains

If you don't have the CD or the DVD then listen to the music and watch the DVD that goes with it on the internet. Listen carefully and you will hear
oubliés 't égarés because there should be an 'et' there which is sung very quickly. I'm not going to translate this verse for you. Do it yourself and enjoy the song. Listen to it three times and your vocabulary has increased. Voilà

A bientôt

Saturday, 25 April 2009

C’est chouette

It’s useful to have a variety of adjectives to say things are good or bad. Chouette is super or smashing. I don’t hear smashing so much in English but chouette est une expression qui est à la mode en France. You can also say c’est formidable or sympa. Sympa is not sympathetic but means nice.

On the other hand if you are fed up you can say j’en ai ras le bol. Ça veut dire je suis fatigué(e) avec exasperation. If you were stuck with the ‘veut dire’ then think how the words literally translate. Vouloir dire is to wish to say. Think about it a little more and to wish to say means ‘to mean’. A final note for today. Je suis (vraiment) epuisé(e) veut dire je suis fatigué(e)

A bientôt

Friday, 24 April 2009

Allez Les Bleus

Why learn French? I have set out many reasons. The French are our near neighbours. French arts, cuture literature and music are all good reasons to learn French. Today I will mention two sports, rugby and football. The first thing to say is that sport football and rugby are all the same words in French. There are lots of other sports that just need to be said with a French accent to communicate in French, but I will stick with these two sports.

Football achieved its high point in 1998 when les bleus won la coupe du monde and it was played in France. I think that was when I learned the French for world cup, and it was certainly the first time I shouted but (sounds like boo in English) when a goal was scored.

Je préfère le rugby. It is a sport that I used to play and I actually understand most of the rules. In football the main rule seems to be do what can you get away with. Whether it is rugby or football les sports sont passionnants. Whether it is football or rugby, the French teams are called les bleus. You can say ‘allez la France’ or 'allez France'. You can also say ‘allez les bleus’.

A bientôt

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Sing French In The Car

I was wondering what to write in today's blog when I was driving and started to sing Maxime le Forestier's song 'Mon Frère’. We can learn French with a teacher. We can learn French by listening to native speakers and the best way to learn French is to live in France. However if you are in northern England it is not always easy to jump on a ferry. What we can do is listen to songs.

How do you say ‘whose fault is it?’ I admit this is not something that we would commonly say but that is the point. You can only learn to speak French if you are taught it or if you hear it, and even better if the person is French. In his song there is a lyric, ‘à qui la faute?’ His lyrics answer this question with ‘pas à mon père, pas à ma mère’. This links with yesterday’s blog in which the ‘ne’ part of the sentence is dropped in speech. In fact we lost the verb as well this time.

Have a listen to Maxime and you may start singing French in the car.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Il ne fallait pas

You may have come across il faut. They are two nice words to use because they are always followed by the infinitive. Il faut parler français. Il faut aller au marché. You can use these words in so many circumstances. Il faut comes from the verb falloir and means it is necessary. You can translate il faut parler français as it is necessary to speak French or you have to speak French. This is a verb that you only use in the il form so you don’t need to conjugate it and it is a really important verb.

Il faut is good enough on its own but here is another form of the verb il fallait, it was necessary. Il ne fallait pas means it wasn’t necessary. In normal speech the French often forget the ‘ne’ part of a sentence so if you say fallait pas you can translate this as you shouldn’t have.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

J’en ai assez

In the last blog I was looking at how to get into a conversation by agreeing or disagreeing with what has been said. You can add to this vocabulary with words like c'est scandaleux but you would have to know if you are talking about something masculine of something feminine (c'est scandaleuse). If this is a bit too much to think about then just learn c'est un scandale.

There is nothing wrong with saying you don't know something. If you say je ne sais pas then at least you have told them that you have understood what they have said, you have joined in the conversation, and they may be able to inform you, so you will need this phrase.

If you have had enough of the conversation you can say ça suffit or j’en ai assez. You may like to look at the blog for Friday 30th January entitled 'more gestures'. You can add the gesture to go along with the phrase.

A bientôt

Monday, 20 April 2009

Je ne suis pas d'accord

How do you join a French conversation? Well if someone says something that you agree with you can say je suis d'accord or je suis vraiment d'accord or je suis absolument d'accord. In the last case have a short gap between every syllable of absolument and then your case is so much more convincing. Put in a few gestures of the hand and you could be French.

If you don't agree with what is being said you could easily change the sentences to je ne suis pas d'accord. If you feel strongly try the je ne suis ab-sol-u-ment pas d'accord and don't forget the gestures. If you are not sure what to do with your hands then think what you might do in English if you were particularly animated and then triple the movement. In a heated discussion you would drop the ne. Ça va pas or je suis pas d’accord.

If you believe something then you simply say je crois que c’est le cas. I particularly like saying I don’t believe that it is the case because the French use the subjunctive. If you don’t know what the subjunctive is then I will write blogs about it in the future. The point today is that it shows a deeper level of French and you have used it correctly if you say je ne crois pas que ce soit le cas.

A bientôt

Sunday, 19 April 2009


The last couple of blogs have been on French words that we use in English. It is not about the words that are used in French and in English that have the same source, the perfect cognates or vrais amis, which are words that have the same spelling but not the same pronunciation in both languages. I have written blogs on the words ending in ion because the vast majority of these English words are also French, but this blog continues the theme of French words that we have recently started to use.

I don’t want you to be blasé about these words because you do have to learn them. Even if they sound French that doesn’t mean that they are French (but blasé is French). We don’t particularly say ‘have a good meal’ but bon appétit is very common in French and we can use it in English. K D Lang has an album called 'Ingénue'. It is not a word I often use in English to describe an innocent young woman (or ingénu for a man) but it is definitely French.

I will say toodle-oo to this subject but not before saying that à tout à l'heure, ‘I'll see you soon’ sounds like it has been corrupted to form this English word.

A bientôt

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Au restaurant

I will continue with the theme of French words used in English because it is such an easy way to increase your French vocabulary. If you are au fait (conversant) with dining in restaurants then you will understand the phrase à la carte. It means that you see what is on the menu and you choose separate items rather than a fixed-price meal. You could order un café which is a shop where you buy light meals but this time it will not be confused with coffee, and you could eat some brioche. I like sweets, particularly une crème brulée. You may also be able to buy crêpes in England but I usually call them pancakes.

I remember an advertising campaign (so it must have been good) that said j’adore le Piat d’Or. If you are old enough to remember this advert then you also managed to learn j’adore. You may even have tasted it if to go with your haute cuisine.

A bientôt

Friday, 17 April 2009

French words used in English

I have been writing some blogs in germanfornovices which are about German words that we use in English. It is not a bad idea to recognise words that we use in English because once you have recognised them then you know that you can use them in the target language. I started the German blog by asking for the German word for a coup. Of course a coup d’état is a French phrase, and I don’t think that we have a better word for coup (the German answer was Putsch).

A propos of nothing, you can say c’est la vie instead of that’s life. The French do say it as well. There are many words and phrases that we use in English but I’ll just mention one more, faux pas because I don’t want you to make any foolish mistakes.


A bientôt

Thursday, 16 April 2009

il existe des différences

Now you know the meaning of est-ce qu'il y a you can easily ask a question on any subject. All you have to say is est-ce qu’il y a des différences entre, then give your two words with an ’et’ between them. All you have to do is know two words that you want to compare. It can be any subject. It can even be two names that you don't translate like Marseille and Manchester United.

You don’t have to just use single words. You can ask est-ce qu’il y a des différences entre la circulation en France et la circulation en Angleterre. you have to choose two subjects that are similar so that you can talk about the differences.

The reply is il y a des différence or il existe des différences. If you just have a few words in French then you can have a good conversation. Even if you have no vocabulary it is still worth asking the question, because the answers that you get will not be forgotten.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Est-ce qu'il y a?

How do you ask a question? Take a simple sentence like 'you are reading a book'. You can repeat the sentence but from the way you say it you can make it sound like a question. You can reverse the first two words and say 'are you reading a book? You can use interrogatives like who where when etc. In French you can ask questions in any of these ways but commonly they will also say 'is it that' and then say a simple question. Is it that you are reading a book? We would not say this in English but it is common in French so you have to learn est-ce que...

Il y a is another common expression in French that means there is or there are. Add il y a to est-ce que and you get est-ce qu'il y a. Learn this because you can use it a lot. Est-ce qu'il y a un hôtel près d'ici? Put any words in you like but if you start with is it that there is, then you have your question.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Le Tréma

Have you ever wondered what you call two dots above a letter? In German you probably know that we are talking about an umlaut, but in French it is called le tréma. In German the umlaut changes pronunciation. In French le tréma also changes pronunciation but in a very distinct way. It means that the vowel with le tréma is pronounced distinctly from the letter that precedes it.

What better explanation can there be than this one? Le tréma est un signe que l'on place au-dessus des voyelles e, i, u, pour indiquer que la voyelle qui les précède immédiatement doit être prononcée séparément. If you are not sure of the full translation then look back at the first paragraph.

Examples will make this easier to understand. Do you drive a Citroën? If you have just pronounced it in the English way with two syllables then in French you have just said citron which means lemon. We do use le tréma occasionally in English, usually with words borrowed from another language. One such word is Noël. Now you know that le tréma goes on the second vowel because it separates it from the first vowel, and you can also relate the correct pronunciation with the way we say the word Noël in English. Noël Noël Noël Noël born is the King of Israel. You now know how to pronounce words contaning un tréma.

A bientôt

Monday, 13 April 2009

Les Enfants du Marais

Le Marais is an area of Paris le marais is a marsh and the region called Le Marais Poitevin is situated near La Rochelle. There is a film called Les Enfants du Marais and it certainly is not Paris and it looks to me like it is the region near La Rochelle. The film was fairly successful but if you have heard of it in England it is probably because one of the stars is Eric Cantona. Another of the female stars joined the Théâtre Sans Frontières, a touring company to play a part in Manon Lescaut. I saw this production in Kendal. It was completely in French but they made you feel that you were fluent.

After the performance there was a talk with those members of the audience who wished to stay and two of the cast members. Unfortunately it was in English but we were given the choice. I have mentioned this company in an earlier blog and you may not get chance to watch them in the theatre but you may have the possibility of seeing Eric Cantona in a DVD.

A bientôt

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Le Musée National Picasso

In my blog on Robert Doisneau I told you to look for the café where he took his photo called ‘le baiser de l’hôtel de ville’. Walk for ten minutes in a north-easterly direction and you will get to le Musée National Picasso. In fact that is the walk that I did last time I was in Paris. I am sure that there is a lot of meaning to Picasso's paintings and I quite like some of his work, but I feel his work is so much more poignant because of his association with Paris. I have also walked around Montmartre and seen his studios. Regardless of whether you like his work or not, you cannot deny that he his work is remarkable.

Le musée est un ancien hôtel particulier. Note that hôtel does not always translate as hotel but can be a mansion, and particulier does not mean particular but private. Just for good measure I will mention ancient because before the noun it means former and after the noun it means ancient or old. Une fabrique ancienne is an old factory but une ancienne fabrique is a former factory so you do need to know the difference caused by the word order.

Once you have been to le musée you can say J'adore ce musée. Si vous aimez Picasso, il faut absolument y aller ! If you don’t know the meanings of these two sentences then look them up and learn them as they are easy to adapt to any of your other interests. Here is one more phrase on le musée: ce bâtiment bien caché dans le Marais est simplement magnifique. Le Marais is a marsh.

So there is another excuse to go to Paris. See for yourself what Le Marais looks like (it isn’t a marsh). Make your own opinion on the museum and see what you think of Picasso’s work.

A bientôt

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Mes actualités par courriel

I know that this blog is called French for novices but if you take a look at French websites then you may be able to understand by context and thus learn more French. You could always use a dictionary but this may be too slow if there are many words that you don't understand. How about ‘Mes actualités par courriel’. This is an e-mail that I receive daily so you may be able to guess that courriel is e-mail. Les actualités are the news. From this I am sure that you can guess les actualités télévisées and you also learn from this that we are talking about a feminine word because of the adjectival agreement. It is so much better to learn by reading or listening that it is by getting out the grammar books, although they do have a place. Les actualités régionales also tells you that news is feminine plural and it tells you how to say regional news.

I haven’t said anything about les actualités but it may be that you only need a title to learn more French.

A bientôt

Friday, 10 April 2009

Michelangelo and photographs

It is a wonderful experience to look around le musée du Louvre. You will know about the Mona Lisa, and you may have heard of Géricault’s le Radeau de la Méduse. This painting is fairly famous but it was also used as a cover for one of the albums by the Pogues. The original heads were changed to those of the musicians. What you don’t know by looking at the album cover is how big the canvas is. It is huge. Visit the Louvre, stand well back and have a look at the work that has gone into this painting.

My memories of the Louvre include the famous sights. Some of the not so famous sights have not been forgotten, but an abiding memory is how often photographs were taken. Do you have any furniture that has been left in sunlight? It may be a coffee table or an armchair but you may know that light bleaches the colour out of many objects. The same is true of oil paints on canvas, so there are areas in the museum where photographs are not allowed. If you have canvases then you have signs that say no flash photography. The Louvre also employs staff to say the same thing. Fair enough.

So this photograph of Michelangelo's dying slave is fine. but so many people were taking photos near oil paint. I would not be surprised if the originals were in a vault and we were looking at copies. We don't deserve the originals.

Happy snapping

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Bande à Part and the Louvre

Today I will talk about a film from 1964 called ‘Bande à Part’ which was directed by Jean-Luc Godard. I write a photography blog and I have mentioned the link between photographers and historians and in Bande à Part there are also many historical links. You see Paris as it was. There are so few cars on the road and no cars parked on the side of the road. It is a different world, but there is a link with our world as we see an advert above the entrance of a theatre for Johnny Hallyday . I mentioned him in the Piaf 3 blog and it shows just how long he has been at the top of his profession.

There is also a famous scene in which the three stars run through the Louvre. They are running against the clock and there must have been hundreds of people who have tried to beat their record. This must have been so annoying for the museum staff and so frustrating for the runners because I am not sure where the race would start and finish. The Louvre is also a lot busier than it was so maybe races against the clock are just not possible.

It is also interesting to note that in the Louvre you see the same works of art that are still there today. For example, they run past David’s The Oath of the Horatii, which is also seen in the 2006 film the Da Vinci Code. There is no Louvre Pyramid but the statue, the Winged Victory of Samothrace was seen at the top of the stairs. This is a really famous statue in France, otherwise known as the Nike of Samothrace, but there is no sign of a tick logo.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Piaf 3

Piaf moved a lot of people. You can tell this because her songs are still sung. They are the songs to learn if you want to join in with French community singing. She also inspired a lot of other French singers. One singer in particular was very moved by her songs. Johnny Hallyday. He is a great singer in his own right. Although he is not well known in this country, he has been compared to Elvis and is hugely popular in France. I understand that he finishes every concert with his own tribute to Piaf by singing non, je ne regrette rien. This is a song that you will have to study if you want to join in that singing.

I am not going to translate the title but even with a basic knowledge of French you can work it out. I will pick on the line ‘c'est payé, balayé, oublié’. It means that it is paid for, swept up and forgotten. Even with poetic licence this is not the sort of thing that we would say, but the French say it, and they say it with beaucoup d’émotion. Learn it, sing it and a little bit of that emotion might rub off on you.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Piaf 2

In 2007 I went to the cinema to watch La Vie en Rose, the story of Edith Piaf's life. I enjoy her music and she led a very interesting life. I was particularly interested in where she was born and where she died. There is a plaque on a wall in Belleville that says she was born on the street. The film didn't mention it. I have read that news of her death was only announced when her body had been driven for hours back to Paris, as les vedettes only died in Paris. Where did she die? The film didn't mention it.

I didn't get the life and death questions answered in the film. It may be a biography but there is also artistic licence so even if these events had featured they would still not have been made clear. What is clear is that there were many moments in her life which were cause for regret - her very public affair, his death in a plane crash, her car crash and addiction to morphine. The full list is a lot longer but she managed to have a hit with a song called 'non je ne regrette rien'. It is an ambitious title but the song was a great success.

A bientôt

Monday, 6 April 2009


I think that every evening at the Open University summer school ended in singing. It sounds like a holiday but if you take the view that work is pleasure then every day is a holiday. I have written about French singers that you may or may not have heard of. However a good starting point for anyone who wants to join in the singing is to learn songs from singers that you have heard of.

Edith Piaf is a good place to start and this blog is about the song with the name of a recent film, 'La Vie en Rose'. We have an expression in English about looking at life through rose-tinted glasses and this is what the song is about. It may even lead to another song about regretting nothing. The first line is 'des yeux qui font baiser les miens' and it immediately takes you to the heart of this love song. If you don't have much time then go straight to the chorus, le refrain. In this blog I will just look at the first part as it tells you so much.

Quand il me prend dans ses bras, il me parle tout bas, je vois la vie en rose.

Take the first word, quand. You learn that the d is pronounced like a t when a vowel follows it. You don’t need to learn grammatical rules, learn songs! In this way you get to hear native speakers pronounce the words. Be careful with pronunciation in songs because the French sing final vowels when they don’t say them. Sing ‘rose’ and it is two syllables, say ‘rose’ and it is one. You learn forever how to say ‘he takes’ and that must be better than conjugating verbs. You learn the words for in a low voice or a whisper. Finally you learn the context for the name of the film.

A bientôt

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Le Forestier et Trenet

I am following the last blog by writing about the soirées musicales that took place on my Open University summer school. There are so many memories because different people would come to me and ask me to play different songs. One person sang a song by Maxime le Forestier called San Francisco. He must have sung this particular song at least three times in the week. Another student who knew quite a lot about French music, had not heard about le Forestier. We sang two or three of his songs during the week and he enjoyed them so much that he went to the local Fnac to buy one of his CDs.

We were free from tutorials on the Wednesday afternoon and a group of us went to Arromanches to see the artificial harbour, but on seeing the sea, one of my fellow students burst into song, la mer by Charles Trenet. You may not know the name but you know the song because it has been sung in English so many times. It is worth learning the French lyrics so you too can join in.

A bientôt

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Joe Dassin

In my last blog, Brassens 2, I mentioned that I was motivated by singing the songs of Brassens with French people. My brother has a house in France and I was thinking of evenings that I had spent with him and his neighbours. I was also thinking of evenings that I have spent as a member of French Circles in Lancashire which includes a number of soirées musicales.

Speak to French people or any Francophile will do. Ask them their favourite singers or actors or authors, but for this blog let’s stick to singers. I have been introduced to many great French singers by personal recommendation. Look out for Joe Dassin. One of my favourite songs is Les Champs Elysées. It is such a catchy tune and is well-loved by the French. I was in Paris and I took a trip on a bateau-mouche. When we were nearest to Les Champs Elysées this was the music in the background.

I spent a week in Caen on an Open University summer school. We had to speak French throughout the week. In the evenings I took my guitar to the bar and many students and teachers would join the singing, but I would think that Joe Dassin’s song was the most popular song of the week.

A bientôt

Friday, 3 April 2009

Un poisson d'avril

I have been looking at my French desk diary, well it has a French word and a French phrase for each day. Sometimes the phrase is relevant to the date and today, the first of April, the phrase is ‘tu m’as cru, mais ce n’était qu’une blague!’ There is so much to say about this sentence. Do you know how to say I believe? It is je crois from the verb croire. It is unusual to say the past participle of croire, believed, but here is an example, tu m’as cru.

Ne..que is a negative which is a little bit more difficult than the usual negatives because we say ‘only’. So we have to go through two stages to translate it. We read the word ‘ne’ and we think ‘not’. Say the sentence again slowly and you translate it as ‘it was not..’ but get used to waiting for the second part of the negative ‘que’. Then you have to change your translation to ‘it was only’ or ‘it was just’. Use ne...que as often as you can and it will become second nature to know this translation.

It is le premier avril, and if you are an April fool then you are une victim d’un poisson d’avril. Do remember that fish is poisson and double s is pronounced s. One s as in poison is pronounced z. Make sure that you get that right when you are in a restaurant.

A bientôt

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Georges Brassens 2

I came across Brassens when I was doing an Open University course. Part of the course was to listen to his song Chanson Pour L'Auvergnat. It gave the lyrics and it certainly opened my eyes to translation. I was starting to learn French at a deeper level. There are many idioms and phrases, some of which were no longer in current use, except when the French listen to (or sing) this song.

I remember that the next Brassens song that I came across, I think it was in the same course, was Les Copains D'Abord. As I mentioned last time, the style of guitar playing was very similar to the way I play and both songs are easy to perform. If you look at a Brassens video on YouTube you may not get the same sense of enthusiasm that I found by playing his songs but my main motivator was the expression on the faces of some French people when they joined in with me and sang the songs of Brassens and others. They were very animated, almost like une bd (bande dessinée). This ambience really is a motivator to learn French.

One last point before I leave Brassens. He wrote a song, Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète. This may sound like a strange title because your body should get washed away if you are buried in a beach, but I understand that this is the name of the cemetery in Sète.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Georges Brassens

My favourite French singer is Georges Brassens. In the 1970s I learned to play classical guitar and when I got fed up with learning the classical style I would take a rest by learning some folk music. I don't sing except in the style of one English singer called Jake Thackray whom I remember because of his musical interludes in the TV programme 'That's Life'.

Many years later I discovered Georges Brassens and I found that these two singers had a similar style. So I Can sing like Brassens as well. Jake was a great admirer of Brassens and described him as 'the best of the very best of the poet singers'. Listen to Jake say these words at the start of the song Brother Gorilla on YouTube. The song is almost a direct translation of the Brassens song Le Gorille. It is a song that can be viewed at a number of levels. It cetainly condemns the French judicial system but it is also a comical song. I particulary like the guitar style of Brassens (and Thackray) as I can have a go at reproducing the sound of the guitar and the sound of them singing.

I must mention the pronunciation of this singers name. If you have the French word en it is pronounced like the English word 'on' said with a nasal intonation. However Brassens rhymes with the Enlish word once without the 'w' sound. It is hard to talk about my favourite French singer if his name does not follow the usual rules of pronunciation but I hope you have it now.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Comment ça s’écrit 2

It is really important to know the alphabet so I hope you know it already. If you don’t then these notes might help.

There are some difficult letters to remember in French. Think of E as your last breath after you have been stabbed. Do the action of being stabbed and it will help you to remember. It is really important to get to grips with the vowels as they are so common.

There are some easy letters. You always have to try to sound a little French but the letters that are very close to English are F L M N O S Z. You might think that seven letters that sound like the English equivalents must make life very easy, or at least 7/26 easy. However you still have to learn every letter otherwise you might forget which are the English sounding letters.

A bientôt

Monday, 30 March 2009

Comment ça s’écrit

You never know when you may need to spell something. Even in English there are times when you need to spell your name. So here is l’alphabet and I will give you la pronunciation with English words unless I tell you they are French.

A (ah rhymes with car) B (bay) C (say) D (day) E (eu rhymes with the French word peu) F (eff) G (sounds like the French words j’ai) H (ash) I (ee rhymes with me) J (jee think of gigi then halve it) K (car) L (ell) M (em) N (en) O (oh) P (pay) Q (coo) R (air) S (ess) T (tay) U (oo as in typhoo) V (vay) W (dooble vay) X (eexs) Y (eegrec) Z (zed).

You might think that is difficult but there are a lot of languages with alphabets that you would not recognise. If you think like that then the French alphabet is really easy.

A bientôt

Sunday, 29 March 2009

At the restaurant 2

So the waiter knows how many there are of you. There is a table free and you are nearly eating. One of the main differences between French and English food is how steak is prepared. You can ask for steak that is saignant, this means the steak has hardly seen the kitchen. Literally it means bleeding. If you ask for your steak à point this may translate as just right for eating, or just at the right moment, but in terms of steak it is medium. However if your tastes are at all English then ask for bien cuit, and the steak may be partly cooked. Don’t get me wrong I love steak in France, it is just a case of getting the translation correct.

After the meal you can say le repas était bon (or mauvais) or it may even have been délicieux. And finally after the meal you ask for l’addition s’il vous plait.

A bientôt.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

At the restaurant

The French are well known for their gastronomy, the art or science of good eating. We even use the French word gastronomy (OK the French word is actually gastronomie but you get my point.

If you go to a restaurant (there’s that French influence again) you can start with the usual bonjour but you may then have to ask est-ce que vous avez une table libre? I always encourage guess work and in this sentence let’s say that you don’t know the word libre. It’s not from the star sign libra meaning the balance or the scales but is associated with words like liberation or freedom. So now no translation is needed for this sentence and you have your table.

I like the expression, nous sommes quatre or any other number, because it is so simple. The waiter may be able to see that there are four of you but you have to learn this simple sentence because we don’t say we are four. In English it would be there are four of us.

A bientôt

Friday, 27 March 2009

The irregular passé composé

Just when you thought you had the hang of the perfect tense along come quite a few exceptions. If you want to say that you drunk something you would have to say j’ai bu quelque chose, even though the verb is boire and ends with –re. If it were regular it would be j’ai boiru but once you have heard j’ai bu or nous avons bu or ils ont bu a few times then you wouldn’t think about boiru. It would sound really strange to hear boiru but I suppose it is the sort of mistake that could be made by a ‘novice’. You soon get used to bu.

Two irregular verbs that you have to know are the very common verbs être et avoir. Ja’ai été means that I have been... J’ai eu means I had... Learn these participles because they open other French language doors.

I’ll mention two other irregular participles because they are useful and easily confused. Plaire means to please, and pleuvoir means to rain, so ça m’a plu means it pleased me (or more usually I enjoyed it) and il a plu means it rained.

A bientôt

Thursday, 26 March 2009

The passé composé 2

I have described the perfect tense in a previous blog but I want to go on today to give some examples. I’ll remind you that the perfect tense is composed of the auxiliary verb which can be être but is usually avoir. The past participles fall into three main groups. Those verbs ending in –er have particples ending –é, -ir verbs have participles ending –i, and the participles of –re verbs end in –u.

It is perhaps easier just to see examples of the perfect tense. The verb to hear is écouter. I heard is j’ai écouté. It can take some time to get used to French pronunciation but you know where you stand with é because it always sounds like the English letter A. Even though the pronunciation is constant and fairly easy for English speakers, do try to make it sound a little French.

To finish is finir. I have finished is j’ai fini. They have finished is ils ont fini. To sell is vendre. I sold is j’ai vendu, and we sold is nous avons vendu. As long as you know the conjugation of avoir then the perfect tense is fairly easy, apart from the exceptions, but I’ll save those for the next blog.

Maintenant j’ai fini.

A bientôt.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Mont Saint-Michel

I have been to France many times and I usually take the ferry from Portsmouth. Whether I go to Caen or Cherbourg, I tend to see Mont Saint-Michel in the distance. I have only been to the island twice. The first time was in January and it was worth visiting. It is such a distinctive landmass and it has a long history. If you want a quick summary of the island’s story then you could do worse than see the free film in the Mont Saint-Michel service station.

I have been twice, once in January and once in August. Don’t go in August. As soon as you enter through the main gate you will meet a crowd. The crowd, the heat and the narrow steep path with its kiss-me-quick type shops were enough to put me off. I might go again but it would have to be January.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Take your opportunities to learn French

I was staying in a small village in the south-west of France and I went to the local shop. It was, and still is the only shop in the village. As I was leaving I noticed a leaflet for a cinema. I asked 'il y a un cinéma près d’ici?’ The reply was ‘oui, un très beau cinéma’. Five miles is not far away when you are in the south-west of France, but the important point is to take all opportunities for speaking French. It is much better to learn adjectival agreements by chatting to a friendly shopkeeper than it is to look up words in dictionaries. If you know it is a beau cinéma then you know that cinéma is masculine, otherwise it would have been belle cinéma. You would be forgiven if you misheard un and une, but you can’t mishear beau and belle.

I went on one trip to France with a group of three friends. We were in the Mont Saint-Michel area of Normandy and one friend in particular took every opportunity of speaking French. If anyone wanted the toilet he would ask. Even if there was no reason to speak to anyone he would find a reason. He had been learning French for many years and this was his first visit. If we could keep this enthusiasm and take these opportunities then I am sure that we would learn a lot more.

A bientôt

Monday, 23 March 2009

Un Appareil Numerique.

I am interested in photography. I know that there are some photographers who still use film but digital is taking over. Just look at an advert and you will see that cameras are digital. So what is the French for a digital camera? I have a French desk diary and sometimes the French phrase is relevant to the date but usually it isn't. One day last week the word of the day was numérique which means digital. I am also interested in maths, and I have a maths blog. In it I have written about the origins of maths, and maths started when we used our digits to count. It is easy to see the link between numérique and digital, but it is one step further to get a translation for a digital camera.

Le numérique means digital technology, so don’t be caught out if you just hear one word when we would use two in English, but the phrase on desk calendar is ‘est-ce qu’un appareil numérique?’ This sentence is rapidly losing its meaning as tous les appareils sont numériques. The important message from the desk diary is to keep learning a little French each day. If you are like me then you need to be told things three times, so don’t forget un appareil numerique.

A bientôt

Sunday, 22 March 2009


I like to use correct grammatical terms. The pluperfect in English is plus-que-parfait in French. Some people prefer to say joining words rather than conjunctions. They prefer describing words to adjectives. I don’t know what they would say for the pluperfect tense, but I think it would take a couple of sentences.

The pluperfect tense is easy in French if you know the perfect tense. I should describe it just in case you have forgotten the meaning of pluperfect, so here are my two sentences (but I will stick to calling it the pluperfect tense). It means 'had' done something as opposed to 'have' done something. It is one step further back in time than the perfect tense. If you know the perfect tense which is formed with the present tense of the auxiliary and a past participle, je suis allé, then for the pluperfect all you do is use the imperfect tense of the auxiliary with the past participle, j’étais alleé.

This means that you do have to know how to conjugate the present and the imperfect tenses of être and avoir but all you need to know after that is the past participle. J’ai lu le livre, or if you are describing a book that you had read, j’avais lu le livre.

A bientôt

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Robert Doisneau

I write blogs on French because I find it interesting, I like to speak French and the way to improve is by using French.Even if most of the blog is in English, I hope that you get some ideas on how to improve your French because the theme of the blog motivates you to learn a little bit more. I also write a German blog as well as other interests of mine, maths and photography. Today I thought I would combine the first and the last blogs and write about French photographers.

I have already written about probably the most French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) in my photography blog. This time I will write about a contempory of his, Robert Doisneau (1912-1994). We know photographers by their photos and Doisneau photographed Parisian streets. In particular he photographed children in the street. He said 'the marvels of daily life are exciting'. Isn't it great to have an exciting job but even better than that to be able to convey some of that excitement to others?

Probably his most famous photograph is ‘le baiser de l’hôtel de ville’. This is the same hôtel de ville that I referred to in ‘enjoy a trip to Paris’. The photograph caused controversy in the 1990s when it was discovered that the main subjects had been posed. Do an internet search and have a look at it. It is probably the first thing that comes up if you search on Doisneau. There are many photographers who look to capture a ‘moment’ but a bit of direction can save a lot of time. Now that you recognise the background, you too can walk along that pavement and try to discover the exact café where it was taken. Now there is a good excuse to go to France.

A bientôt

Friday, 20 March 2009

Learning French from television

There is now so much on the internet that can help you get used to French. In the e-mail that I received yesterday from TF1 I am able to read about ‘Les frères Scott : du nouveau dans la série’ Even if you don’t know all the words you can guess the meaning. The e-mail goes on to say ‘la saison 5 vient de s'achever sur TF1’ You know that venir means to come and you may also know that venir de is translated as ‘just’. It is a fairly easy construction because you just use the infinitive after it. Je viens de me reveiller – I have just woken up. Je viens de manger – I have just eaten. You just need to know the infinitve.

There is another advert in the e-mail for ‘Qui veut gagner des millions?’ You don’t need to know much French to guess the rest, and you would be right. So if you don’t know all the words then vous venez de les apprendre!

One other title in the e-mail is ‘vous avez un secret ? Secret Story revient!’ This tells you that you know more French than you thought, you know that secret is a French word even if you have to pronounce it differently, and you know that the French can understand the franglais ‘story’.

A bientôt

Thursday, 19 March 2009


I have just received an e-mail from TF1 the French television channel. I have watched programmes on TF1 on my computer and I must have subscribed to their e-mails. Do a search and there may be something to interest you. There are many clips that you could watch on your computer. In my e-mail there are words like 'Secret Story - le casting!' and 'life' and 'les week-ends'. It is a French e-mail, honestly.

How much of the English language comes from French? Read different reports and you will get different answers. I have heard that 60% of English comes from French, but other references put it at 30%. That's quite a difference, so you can't go wrong if you realise that 'a lot' of words come from the French. You can quote me on that. Historically the English language developed its French connection because France is our neighbour, and William the Conqueror had something to do with it as well.

In recent times English has become the dominant world language. Go to France and it appears that everyone listens to English music, speaks English and writes e-mails with lots of English words. English has become commonplace in France, and le week-end is a popular example. There are many other examples like le parking. There is opposition to the dominance of English when new words arrive like e-mail, but in my experience words like this are accepted and used, even if the French talk about mail rather than e-mail. They may also use the French word le courriel.

The expression 'franglais' was coined by Miles Kington in the 1970s for words that have no French equivalent. Franglais does refer to words that have no French equivalent and it is also a term used for words that sound French but are English and used in comedy programmes like 'Allo Allo'. French people who do not speak English would not understand these words so be aware that there are two explanations for franglais and it can be perfectly acceptable to use an English word in a French conversation.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Théâtre sans Frontières

The musket was a gun that was replaced by the rifle. So now that you have been reminded of what a musket looks like you will be able to relate this to Alexandre Dumas story about three musketeers. How do you translate the title? You know musket is an English word. Is it a French word as well? The boring answer is to go to a dictionary and look up the word musket. The much more exciting answer is to go to a play performed by a company called Théâtre sans Frontières and watch their performance of Les Trois Mousquetaires. This may not be an easy option but if they are performing near you, then it is well worth doing.

I live in Morecambe and I have seen this company twice, in Kendal and in Lancaster, and by going it allows you to do what I asked you to do in my very first blog – learn peu à peu. Children learn by listening to simple phrases and having them repeated. How do you say in French ‘on the top, on the bottom, on the left, on the right? Well this is how you call the genie in ‘Aladin et sa lampe enchantée’. All the children in the audience were chanting ‘en haut, en bas, à gauche, à droite’, and I don’t think that any of them will forget these words.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Sur Mes Lèvres

You may wish to say ‘read my lips’ in French. It is the sort of thing that George Bush Snr would like to say if he had to speak French. He thought that these words meant that everyone would believe him when he said no new taxes. You can use the words sur mes lèvres for emphasis but you can use them for people with hearing impairments who need to watch lips.

Sur mes lèvres is also the title of a film from 2001 in which Emanuelle Devos plays the part of a partially deaf office worker. Her impairment has led to a skill in lip reading which is used as part of the plot in this film à suspense. If you have been following this blog then you will know that it is about finding the motivation to learn French. If you watch the film then I hope you enjoy it. You will hear l’accent français and if you don’t learn anything else then at least you know that read my lips is nothing to do with lire.

A bientôt

Monday, 16 March 2009

Les Ponts de Paris

You may well know the song 'Sur le pont d'Avignon' in which case you probably know that le pont is the bridge. Il y a beaucoup de ponts à Paris. Take a ride on a bateau mouche and you will see the famous bridges as well as many Parisien sites.

Perhaps the bridge to look out for in Paris is the Pont Alexandre III, the most ornate of all the bridges. When I was last in Paris I walked across this bridge and there was a television crew filming there. The bridge is a fine set and although it is not in my photo, you can easily have the Eiffel tower in the background.

Ironically le pont neuf is the oldest bridge in Paris, and if you really want to get to know this bridge then watch the film ‘les amants du pont neuf’. At the time that it was made this film was the most expensive French film to produce because of many factors including the fact that they had to construct a model bridge. I mentioned The Bourne Identity in my German blog because I was talking about the German actress Franka Potente. Well you also see the pont neuf in this film because Matt Damon has a meeting on the bridge.

Le pont de l’Alma is next to the underpasss where Diana died. There is a statue nearby called ‘The Liberty Flame’ which commemorates French resistance fighters but has become an unofficial memorial to Diana.

There is so much to write about, even with a title as simple as les ponts de Paris, but so much has gone on at each of those bridges. Walk across any bridges and you may be inspired in your French studies.

A bientôt

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Jacques Brel

In the last blog I mentioned Jacques Brel. Let me tell you a little more about him. He was a very well known singer in France who died in 1978, and although he is not very well known in this country, he has had a big influence in France and some English singers have sung his songs.

His songs are full of emotion and for a prime example take a look at him singing Amsterdam. You can find some videos that give you translations of his lyrics as well as allowing you to see him on stage, but the thing to notice is the passion in his singing. If a tiny fraction of his émotion is passed on to you then you are well on your way to finding the motivation to learn French. This song influenced David Bowie to sing an English version. Ne me quitte pas may be his most famous song which was translated into English, not as 'don't leave me' but as 'if you go away'.

Les bouquinistes are the stalls along the banks of the Seine where you can buy books or souvenirs. You will also find plenty of posters and many of them are Jacques Brel posters. Brel was a really influential French singer and it is well worth listening to his songs.

A bientôt

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Six degrees of separation

"Six degrees of separation" means that any person is connected to any other person in the world by five relationships with other people. You can see the way my mind works by following these connections.

I have just watched an advert for Honda and Andy Williams is singing 'the impossible dream' which comes from 'The Man of La Mancha' which was translated into French and starred Jacques Brel who sang ‘La Quête’. How many steps was that? La Quête is the translation of ‘the quest’ and if you listen to the advert you will hear the line 'this is my quest'.

The advert looks a bit continental, but it isn't. It was filmed in New Zealand and Japan but not France. However if you have heard Brel's version of the song then you would be forgiven for thinking that there could be a French influence.

A bientôt

Friday, 13 March 2009

Written French

After 51 blogs I have not yet mentioned written French. If you are a novice then you may not want to pick up a book in French, but you may understand some of the articles in the French newspapers or magazines. Don’t be confused by the word for a shop. Un magasin is a shop and un magazine is a magazine. Even if you don’t have access to French newspapers you can have a look at them online. So if you have found this blog you should be able to find French newspapers.

I have read quite a few books in French and if you find this daunting at the moment then you may want to look at simplified versions. You can search the internet or look in bookshops but where do you start? Which book should you choose? You could watch the film first and then read the book afterwards. This is often what people do in English and I think it is better to do it this way round. Sometimes I have read the book first and then watched the film and for me it makes the film less exciting.

A bientôt

Thursday, 12 March 2009

French art

I have been looking at the many ways that you could learn French. You could learn French by attending a class, by going on holiday, by living in France, by watching a French film, listening to French music, or by eating French food. I am sure that you could add many other methods of learning French but today I am going to consider French art.

I mentioned Manet’s déjeuner sur l’herbe when I was talking about le pique-nique. You will find the la toile in le Musée d’Orsay. This gallery alone is a good reason to visit Paris, but perhaps the first gallery on your list is le Musée du Louvre. The museum is famous enough but it has a central part in the Da Vinci Code. In fact you can go on the Da Vinci Code trail in the museum. You get a set of headphones (you can listen in English as well as French) and you can follow the footsteps of the murdered Jacques Saunière. I can recommend the book and the film with Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou (Amélie). You get to read or see a lot of the Louvre and it may inspire a visit.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Le pique-nique 2

So you have managed to say the French words for cheese and bread and you might have a drink, but how do you progress from this? Well the words passez-moi will come in handy. In France you will learn the words for food simply by going to the shops. Even in le supermarché you will see the words for what you have bought on the wrapping. If you eat ham you will know that it is jambon. If you eat an egg then you will know un oeuf is un oeuf.

The verb needed if you want to say that you have had a picnic is faire. J’ai fait un pique-nique is what you would say. You could say ‘voulez-vous faire un pique-nique?' Don’t forget your panier (nothing to do with a bike but it is a basket) and you will also need une nappe, and if you are posh then you may need un couteau, une fourchette and perhaps une cuillère. Don’t forget the most important phrase – bon apétit.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Le pique-nique

One English word that comes from the French is picnic. In French it is le pique-nique. La pique is a word for an old weapon, the pike (and it is also spades when you play cards), and if you want to piquer des petits pois avec une fourchette then you get the idea of picking some food. The ‘nique’ was probably added as a fun rhyme. A theme of these blogs is to get you to learn French by using the language, and what better way to practice by having your own pique-nique.

You could have a very basic vocabulary and you would still manage to eat. Le fromage s'il vous plait. You could also ask for le pain and you will soon learn that this is not a perfect cognate but is indeed bread. You may also know the words vin rouge or vin blanc, Orangina and you can also have un verre d’eau. Have you seen the picture by Manet le déjeuner sur l’herbe, well that is one way of describing un pique-nique. La pelouse is another word that you could use for l’herbe.

A bientôt

Monday, 9 March 2009

Expressions idiomatiques 3

My favourite expression idiomatique is 'ce n'est pas la mer à boire’, partly because you can work it out. If you were drinking the sea then that would be very difficult, so if you are not drinking it then it is not very difficult. To make it even easier miss out the ‘n’, ‘c’est pas la mer à boire’. Ce n’est pas très difficile.

At first glance appeler un chat un chat is obvious. The only difficulty is to remember the English expression . As long as you can think of a spade all you have to do is think of ways of dropping the cats into a conversation.

Finally for now, for this idiom you have to think of a pain in the neck. Why should it be the neck? In French it isn’t the neck it is the feet, and it isn’t a pain it is to break. So il me casse les pieds means il est ennuyeux.

A bientôt

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Expressions idiomatiques 2

I want to talk about French idioms but before I do I want to give them their full title, idiomatic expressions. We know that the words that end in ion are almost certainly French so we can translate expressions. In French the adjective generally comes after the noun and it does with idiomatiques. So I am going to talk about les expressions idiomatiques.

Jeter des fleurs à quelqu’un means that you are throwing flowers at someone, but as it is an idiom it must mean something else. No flowers are involved but it does involve a person and you are saying c’est une personne pleine de qualities. If you say il n’y a pas le feu you might be telling someone there is no fire but really you are saying to them calme toi.

A bientôt

Friday, 6 March 2009

Le fromage

What do you think of when you think of things that are typically French? Cheese must come high up on that list. How many cheeses are made in France? De Gaulle is famous for saying 'Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays où il existe 246 variétés de fromage?' So is it 246? Another quote from de Gaulle puts this at 258, but you get the idea about independent French thought.

Winston Churchill is also famous for saying 'un pays qui compte près de 360 fromages ne peut pas mourir'. So has the answer gone up to 360? Winston did say this in 1940. Today there are more than 1000 cheeses but you would probably guess that the numbers have gone up. Even in this country there are very many cheeses in our local supermarket including many from France. Perhaps this is simply a reflection of today's affluent society but it may be that French independent thought has also increased.

A bientôt

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Even more gestures

I like gestures because they tell you about character and they tell you about culture. I have already mentioned the most famous French gesture, the Gallic shrug, how to silently tell people you are fed up, and how to ask for silence. Have a look at the 29th and 30th January.

Today I want to describe the gesture if you want to suggest someone may be drunk. Make a loose fist and act as if you were trying to grab an imaginary extension to your nose and then twist it. There you have it. You can now describe drunkards in French without saying a word.

One more gesture is to tell someone that they are lying. Take your index finger and pull down the skin under your eye. You can say mon oeil to mean that the person is lying. I understand that 'my eye' is also an English expression that means the same thing, but the only time I have heard it was to explain the French gesture. Still I am sure that some people use it. Perhaps I have lived a very sheltered life and nobody has ever lied to me!

A bientôt

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Are you anglais or anglaise?

So you have said hello, and you have said your name. What do you say next? You could say that you are English. Je suis anglais, but if you are a woman you have to say je suis anglaise. It is only one extra letter 'e' but it changes the pronunciation. The general rule is don't pronounce the final consonant unless it is followed by a vowel.

The next sentence may be to describe exactly where you come from. The question may be d’où venez vous and the answer is je viens de... Notice that you can listen to questions in French and you get clues as to the answer. Where do you come from...I come from. It is the same verb in English and it is the same verb in French. The only thing you have to learn is the different forms of the verb venir and you have started your conversation. Je viens, tu viens, il vient, nous venons, vous venez, ils viennent. The pronunciation is the same for the je, tu and the il. Nous and vous are easy. The ils sounds like the French for Vienna.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

No apples in je m'appelle

After you have said hello, probably the next thing to say is your name. The way the French say this is with a reflexive verb. A reflexive verb is one in which the person or thing doing the action directs that action against themselves. I scratched myself, you washed yourself, and he shaved himself are all examples of reflexive verbs. In French they don't say I am called... but I call myself...

The verb to call oneself is s'appeler and you have to be careful with this because it is slightly different from the usual regular verbs. When you say I call myself you add an extra 'l', je m'appelle. It's the same with tu t'appelles and with il s'appelle. When you get to nous nous appelons you are back to one 'l' and it's the same with vous vous appelez, but you return to the extra 'l' for ils s'appellent.

It is a lot easier to say je m'appelle because nobody is checking your spelling. If you are writing it then it may help to remember that there is no apple in je m'appelle.

A bientôt