Saturday, 28 February 2009

A mon avis

I like the expression ‘à mon avis’ because a lot of the things we say are our opinions so we can use this phrase in many circumstances. In fact the French have many ways of introducing their opinion. You can say ‘selon moi’ ‘d’après moi’, ‘quant à moi’ or ‘pour moi’ and there are many other ways of telling someone that this is your opinion. You can even tell people why you have this opinion simply by using parce que. You could use another conjonction, mais if you want to give a réservation about your opinion. Why not look at more conjonctions and you can really extend your sentences.

The good news is that it is fairly easy to learn one or two of these expressions that give an opinion and it is easy to use them. The very good news is that you have developed your speaking en français. You have given an extended sentence with a conjonction and you are starting to talk in French.

A bientôt

Friday, 27 February 2009

Who or whom?

Earlier today I read something in English and the author had incorrectly use the word 'whom'. This is not a problem for the French as they automatically use qui for who and que for whom. The good news is that if you learn the difference between these two French words then you will learn the difference between the English words who and whom.

Who or whom are relative pronouns. This means that they introduce another part of the sentence that links to a previously mentioned noun from the first part. If this noun is a person we use 'who' or 'whom'. The first noun is called the antecedent because it comes before the relative pronoun, and the second part is called the subordinate clause. The pronouns link two related ideas and combine two sentences to make one. This is why they are called relative pronouns and it saves repeating the noun. This may sound complicated but is easy if you see an example.

First sentence: voici une photo de Nicolas Sarkozy. Second sentence: Nicolas Sarkozy est le président de la France. It sounds so much better if you write one sentence. Voici une photo de Nicolas Sarkozy qui est le président de la France. Qui is used because the pronoun acts as the subject of the second part of the sentence. If someone else is the subject of the subordinate clause then we use que. Voici une photo de Nicolas Sarkozy que j'ai achetée à Paris. In the second part of the sentence I am doing the buying, not Nicolas.

I know this is a long blog but just notice the e at the end of achetée. It is another way that you can have an example of a preceding direct object and so an agreement with avoir verbs (see Wednesday 25th Feb) is needed.

A bientôt

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Mercredi des Cendres

I am writing this blog on Wednesday even if it does say Thursday, as I try to stay at least one day ahead of myself. In fact it is Ash Wednesday. The French for ash is (le) cendre. Renounce or give up is renoncer. See if you can understand the next two sentences.

Mercredi est le troisième jour de la semaine. Mercredi des Cendres est le premier jour du carême et j’ai renoncé le travail pour le carême.

Pronounce the English word ash with a French accent and you have said the word for the French letter H. If you don’t know your alphabet already then you should learn it sooner rather than later and now you know H which is one of the more difficult letters to remember. I hope this helps.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

La source, vous l’avez bouchée

I know that I am in a minority because I like grammar. I think that grammar is really important. Take the apostrophe which tells us so much. In Accrington there is a pub called ‘The Bees Knees’. The old sign had one apostrophe after bees and another one after knees. It told me that the knees belonged to more than one bee but it didn’t tell me what they were talking about – the bees’ knees’ what? Fleas?

I mention these knees because knowledge is power. Well I didn’t get a free drink at the pub but I am sure they must have been embarrassed by their sign. I will mention just one aspect of French grammar and then you too can feel good with this knowledge, There is a quote from Manon des Sources – ‘la source, vous l’avez bouchée’ It is a very important line in the film, but notice the final e on bouchée. Why is it there? Firstly you have to know your past participles – bouché. Then you have to know that there is agreement with avoir participles only when you have a preceding direct object. They have blocked the spring. You have to know the difference between direct and indirect objects, but if you need to write to someone (the someone is an indirect object as I write to them) then you will have the power of correct grammar behind your letter.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Manon des Sources

I cannot write about Jean de Florette without mentioning the sequel (la suite de Jean de Florette) called Manon des Sources. They were written and filmed as a pair. Jean's daughter Manon, has grown up and is played by Emmanuelle Béart. Daniel Auteuil, as Ugolin, falls for her and it is sad to see his demise as well as that of his uncle played by Yves Montand.

I don't want to tell you the story as I want you to watch both films. However I do want you to do a little préparation by learning these citations. 'J’ai payé, je veux mon eau.' You should already know the next sentence if you have followed the blog chronologically - 'c'est Manon, la fille du bossu’. One line that is very poignant is 'tu as connu sa grand-mère?' Look out for 'je garde le couteau si vous prenez le lièvre' and if you didn't know the word for a hare then you do now. Finally here is a really sad line but you will only know how sad by watching the film - 'si tu me veux pas, ou je meurs ou je deviens fou'.

A bientôt

Monday, 23 February 2009

Jean de Florette

I mentioned that my favourite French film was Jean de Florette. It is worth watching because of the story, the magnificent views of Provence, the great French acting, and even Verdi's 'la force du destin'. The music was later used in the highly acclaimed Stella Artois adverts.

You could sit through the film and read the subtitles. However, as the main purpose of this blog is to get you to learn some French, I think it is important to be able to add to your French vocabulary by watching it. You should be able pick out the word bossu. Also listen out for the line which is difficult to miss 'je suis bossu. Vous croyez que c'est facile?' Another very nice citation is ‘c'est pas moi qui pleure ce sont mes yeux'.

If you can listen to 'je ne peux pas te le dire, c'est un secret' or 'et si par accident elle se bouchait' then you are well on your way to understanding the film without les sous-titres.

I mentioned that this was my favourite film when I was writing about words ending in ion. Generally you can say words ending in ion with a French accent and the French will understand you. However carnation is an exception, so do listen out for 'je te baptise le roi des oeillets'

A bientôt

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Les Proverbes 2

Have you seen the episode of the Simpsons when Bart is sent to France? Bart doesn’t realise that he can speak French but he can. If you can say a French proverb, even one that has an English equivalent, then you are well on your way to speaking French because even these proverbs are not translated literally and you have to be thinking of the French version. However I hope that you can work out the translation from the words that you know and then think of the English proverb.

How about ‘un nouveau balai balaie bien’? A proverb that is a little harder to translate is ‘un œuf aujourd’hui vaut mieux qu’une poule demain’ because we have a different expression in English, but it is not impossible to work it out. Here are two more to think about: c’est l’oiseau matinal qui attrape le ver, and noël n’arrive qu’une fois par an.

Use these expressions in a French sentence then you really will be as good as Bart.

A bientôt

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Les Proverbes

I remember watching the 1978 film ‘The Deer Hunter’ in which a Frenchman in Vietnam tells us that a man who says no to champagne says no to life. I had not heard this expression before (or since) but it has stayed with me. The French have an expression ‘quand un homme est fatigué de Londres, c’est qu’il est fatigué de la vie’. This is not a proverb that I have heard in English but I realise that there are many proverbs that I do not know in French and in English.

There are hundreds of proverbs in French. Some are the same as the English proverbs and some are very nearly the same. I hope that you can work out the translation, and let’s hope that you know the English proverb!

You should recognise ‘pour un Anglais, sa maison est un château’. Do you know ‘ne jetez pas vos perles au pourceau’ ? If you can use these sentences at the right time then you will really have a great command of the French language.

A bientôt

Friday, 20 February 2009

Salutations et au revoir

Although we would normally say 'greetings' rather than salutations. salutation is an English word, in fact I have had a beer or two in a pub called The Salutation in Manchester. As we have seen, because salutation is a word that ends in ion then it is almost certainly a French word, and this is no exception. The short version is salut and it can be a salute but it usually means 'hi' or 'bye'

You may well know bonjour and bonsoir and even bon après-midi, but you may not know quoi de neuf what's new or pas grand chose, not a lot. In many classes the first words are bonjour la classe and in most classes the pupils reply to the register with oui madame or oui monsieur. You could also hear the reply salut. In my experience the French do not usually say bonjour without adding monsieur, madame. the first name if it is known or even la classe.

A tout à l'heure means see you later but is usually said if you are going to see that person on the same day. It is interesting to note that 'toodleloo' means something similar in English and you can see how the French has been corrupted. You could say à la prochaine, if you are going to see someone again but not on that day. You could even say...

A bientôt

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Enjoy a trip to Rouen

On a different cultural level you may wish to visit Rouen. Flaubert’s characters in Madame Bovary live in Rouen and Emma and Léon meet in the cathedral. Flaubert also wrote 'Trois Contes', two of which, The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitatlier, and Herodias were inspired by stained glass windows within the cathedral.

Step outside and look at the exterior of the building. Monet painted La Cathédrale de Rouen many times, and the last two times that I was in Rouen there was a large copy of one of Monet’s pictures of le portail de la cathédrale right next to le portail.

Jeanne d’Arc may have been the Maid of Orleans but she was burned at the stake in Rouen. We have blue plaques to say that someone famous was born or lived or died here. Take a look around and find the plaque that tells you that Jeanne d’Arc was horribly burned here.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Enjoy a trip to Paris

They say that travel broadens the mind. It certainly leaves impressions and can be a great motivator to learn French. You may feel good if you go into a shop and manage to buy what you went in for. You may learn about the history of the area by going into the local syndicat d'initiative and picking up a booklet.

Does it make a difference to you if you are stood devant l’hôtel de ville in Paris and know that in that square there used to be hangings and burnings? It may well be that everyone is enjoying themselves at Christmas and they are ice skating around that very square, but I feel that it does enhance your French trip if you know that Henry IV had been assassinated and you were now stood where his assassin, Ravaillac was quartered by four horses setting off in different directions.

You may prefer to enjoy your Paris trip by ice skating.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

French singers and motivation

Following on from Barbara, you can tell the songs that people like because of their facial expression, their gestures, and singing along is usually a sign that they are enjoying themselves. There is a DVD of Johnny Hallyday, the Elvis of the French singing world (but Johnny is still alive) and it shows the audience singing along. I particularly remember a song called sang pour sang which I believe is about him and his son.

Another way that you can find out about French singers is to ask someone about their favourite French singer. I think that my favourite French song is Joe Dassin's Champs Élysées, and my favourite singer is Maxime le Forestier. I remember someone telling me that their favourite singer was Francis Cabrel and their favourite song was elle écoute pousser les fleurs.

Cabrel's song is about man's technological advances compared to the natural environment, and the need to take the time to listen to the flowers growing. This is a theme with his songs. I discovered most of the French singers that I know by personal recommendation. I went on to find out about those singers mostly by having conversations in French. So enjoy the songs and enjoy the conversations.

A bientot

Monday, 16 February 2009


When I am watching any French singer I always like to see the audience reaction. Are they singing along? How interested do they look? Do they show any emotion? You don’t need to ask any member of the audience if they can recommend any French singer as you just need to look at their faces.

Monique Andrée Serf, better known by one name, Barbara, was a great French singer who died on 24th November 1997. I was in France on Saturday the 24th November 2007 and the main event on prime time television was a tribute to Barbara. A top performer in England would not get this attention. Just think what would happen if Ant and Dec were taken off air so that a programme about a fifties and sixties singer who had died ten years earlier could be shown.

It is interesting to note that she knew both Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel, both great singers, and she used to sing their songs. I have played guitar and sung the songs of all these singers with French people and I have been amazed at their emotion and their gestures.

Search for the name Barbara on the internet. Listen to her songs. In particular listen to a song called L’Aigle Noir. If you translate the song literally then it is very strange but your vocabulary should increase. Learn the chorus and sing along with it. At the end of the song Barbara misses out more and more words and you become the singer. Is this the first karaoke? If you have enough emotion then you might even add the gestures.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Motivation 2

As I mentioned in my last blog, some pupils in the 1970s were not motivated to learn a language.Pupils can get through years of learning a language without knowing the basics of that language. I am sure that it is not because teachers have not told them so why does it happen? Every pupil has a different level of ability and some pupils will have less knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. However even the weakest pupil should be able to say something. If the French can speak French then it must be easy :-) Listening is perhaps the hardest of the language skills but every pupil should be able to recognise routine words.

In primary schools there is an enthusiasm for languages which is not as obvious in the secondary schools and motivation is the key. Pupils cannot get their motivation from cinema or music because it is not on the syllabus. They can't get it from holidays because most of them haven't been to France. They can't get it from speaking to any of the 60 million inhabitants of France because it is extraordinary to go on a school trip or set up any international school links.

The motivation has to come from enjoyment. Top pupils will enjoy any subject because of their positive feedback. Less able pupils may get rewards for being enthusiastic. Basically enjoyment comes from le sourire on your face.

A bientôt

Saturday, 14 February 2009


Where do you find motivation (it is in italics because it is a French word) to learn French? Do you go on holiday to France? Do you have a second home in France? Are you at school and you have to learn French? The best answer to learning anything is that you enjoy doing it. So how do you enjoy learning French? Enjoyment may not be the correct word if you go to the shop, ask for something and then get it, but it is a lot better than not getting it.

Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote 'l'enfer c'est les autres'. He did go on to explain that he meant hell may be other people, but I prefer to think that we are social animals and we need to communicate with others. We need to show respect and be given respect as well as have good relations with our family and friends. So we have to communicate verbally and French allows us to communicate with more than 60 million people just across La Manche.

Are you a stick or a carrot person? Personally, I respond very well to praise and I am not too fond of criticism. However I do remember when I was at school in the 1970s and the teacher stopped shouting at one particular pupil a few months before the O level examination. It struck me that the teacher had attempted many avenues of encouragement as shouting was not his first or even his second method. Eventually it got to the stage when the teacher realised that he could not motivate the pupil. I am not a fan of shouting but the absence of shouting at one pupil made us realise that when the teacher shouted at us then he felt we could make more progress.

Find your motivation. It might be travel or cinema or music or any other aspect of French culture or talking to one or two of those 60 million people. Whatever it is I promise not to shout in this blog.

A bientôt

Friday, 13 February 2009

Bon Courage

How do you translate bon courage? Good courage? That's not English as I know it. I have a big French dictionary and I looked up courage. There are 27 lines of explanation which are mostly to do with courage or bravery but there is no bon courage. So then I looked up 'luck' because I had been told that bon courage was good luck. The dictionary said I could use le bonheur or bonne chance but no mention of bon courage!

Then I looked at the word bon and there are far too many lines about bon to allow me to count them, but I eventually found bon courage. The dictionary tells me that it means good luck. It was slightly easier to look in a small dictionary and find the same information. The point is that it is much more enjoyable to hear someone say bon courage to you than it is to look up a word in a dictionary.

My French desk diary today says bonne chance ce soir. I would prefer bon courage ce soir because you have to work a bit harder to translate courage than you do to tranlate chance. You can guess that chance is luck, but you can't say the same thing for courage.

Today's date is vendredi le treize février. Perhaps the French have the same superstitions.

A bientôt

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Adverbs of time

If you want to improve the quality of your French sentence then why not throw in an adverb of time. If you are talking in the present tense then put in a maintenant. It probably won't add any information but it gives you thinking time and if you say it in a French accent it can make you sound a little more French.

If you want to improve your French the worst thing to do is say nothing. Be prepared to make erreurs but you can't go far wrong with words like souvent, normalement and de temps en temps. If you are talking about yourself then how often do you do something, find the appropriate word in French and use it.

If you have any hint of an English accent then most French people pick up on this and try to speak English. If you want to learn French then try to keep speaking French and get in there quickly with an adverb of time.

A bientôt

Monday, 9 February 2009

How to choose a French film

It is a useful test of a film to see who are the stars. In French a star is une vedette and it doesn't matter whether it is a man or a woman, it is still la vedette. I mentioned earlier that my favourite French film is Jean de Florette. If you enjoy a French film see who is la vedette and watch their other films. It is as good a way as any to choose your next film.

The stars of Jean de Florette are Daniel Auteuil and Gerard Depardieu. Do a search on either of them and you will see a wide choice of films. Recently Gerard Depardieu had a role in the film La Vie en Rose, the film about Edith Piaf. This is a fine film which I can fully recommend. Daniel Auteuil was in the film Le Bossu which is ironic considering that Depardieu plays the hunchback in Jean de Florette. You may want to watch La Veuve de St Pierre, or Caché.

As for French actresses the film 8 Femmes was not universally acclaimed but you will find eight very famous French actresses. Check the filmography for any of them. I enjoyed this film. In particular I enjoyed the songs. Learn peu à peu and you can do this by listening to Emmanuelle Béart sing about heads or tails – A Pile ou Face.

A bientôt

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Even more words ending in ion

The more you look, the more exceptions you find (exception n'est pas une exception). A couple of days ago I gave some answers to the question that I set a couple of weeks ago. Can you find exceptions to the rule that if an English word ends in ion then it is translated into French - just say it with a French accent. Now dictation may be something that you have not done for a long time and you may never need the French word, but if you do it is la dictée.

If you go to France because of their fashion, don’t say fashion with a French accent because nobody will understand you. La mode is the correct word and à la mode is the phrase for fashionable. Salvation is le salut, which also means a salute and you may know the word as an alternative to hello.

Here are two words that fit the usual routine. If you are a fan of Dr Who then you can say extermination and if you want to talk about vegetation then it becomes végétation.

Don’t let the exceptions put you off. Think of the word ending in ion and it is almost certainly French.

A bientôt

Friday, 6 February 2009

Lettres Muettes

French pronunciation is one of the hardest aspects of the language. Generally you don't pronounce the end of a French word if it ends in a consonant. Generally if the word ends in a vowel then you do pronounce the final consonant. So the masculine content rhymes with the English 'on', but the feminine contente has a definite 't' sound on the end. Are you happy with that? So far so good but it gets more complicated.

The careful consonants i.e. c r f l at the end of French words are pronounced. Avec is the common example for the letter c. You pronounce the end of words like hiver, oeuf, and avril. As well as endings with these letters look out for sud and sept (but don't pronounce the p). The best way to learn pronunciation is of course to listen and talk with French speakers.

Don't be afraid of mistakes. You can learn from listening but you can also learn from having your mistakes corrected.

A bientôt

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Those words ending in ion

This blog may seem a little strange because you could well be reading this in the wrong order. I set a challenge a couple of weeks ago to find English words ending in ion that do not directly translate into French. The three words that I gave you that do not translate are vacation, translation and explanation. The French for these word is vacances, traduction et explication.

Now for some more words. You have been waiting for this one - anticipation is attente. Bunion is oignon. My favourite is carnation which translates as oeillet. It is my favourite example because my favourite film is Jean de Florette which is all about les oeillets. Concussion is commotion and congregation is assemblée. Contraption is machin and cushion is coussin.

This list is not a reflection of the general rule. Generally you just say the word ending in ion with a French accent. Try a little examination. There are no conditions as anyone can give me their interpretation of their inspiration, and because of their actions I will try to give a reaction. The whole of the nation will support you. However if you do find any more exceptions then please let me know, as I would like a full evaluation.

A bientôt

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Le passé composé

The passé composé is the French name for the perfect tense. In this sense perfect means that an action has been finished (and imperfect means it isn’t finished). It may help you to remember the passé composé because it is composed of two parts. The first part is called the auxiliary and this is usually avoir but can be être. The second part is called the past participle. There are three types of regular verbs, -er, -ir and –re. For –er verbs you replace er with é. For –ir verbs you replace the ir with i. For –re verbs you replace the re with u.

The best way to learn the passé composé is to get some examples that you will use. J'ai parlé à mon frère. Il est venu chez moi, et il a répondu à mes questions. So that’s how you do the passé composé with regular verbs – only the irregular to learn!

A bientôt

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

French Singers 2

You can listen to French songs on CD or YouTube or in films. Two recent French films that were released on DVD in England are Les Choristes and La Vie en Rose.

Les Choristes means the choristers but was translated into English as 'The Chorus'. The story is excellent and the music is wonderful. Get the lyrics in front of you when you are listening to the music. Paroles and choristes are the words to search for on the internet.

La Vie en Rose is the story of the life of Edith Piaf. There are clips of her songs which may motivate you to go out and by a Piaf CD. Many will recognise the song La Vie en Rose from the advert on TV for Specsavers. The genuine paroles are so much better. There is a plaque on the wall outside 115 rue de Belleville Paris that says Edith Piaf was born there. Was she born on the street or could she possibly have been born in the Hôpital Tenon as her birth certificate states? It doesn't really matter if it motivates you to go to Paris and find la plaque and listen to some French music.

A bientôt

Monday, 2 February 2009

French Singers

How do you learn words? If you go to a football match you may hear a chant 'Oh! Hisse!' when the goalkeeper is taking a goal kick to try to put him off. Now it would be fairly unusual to go to a French football match but you can easily look at YouTube and hear French songs. One French singer is Hugues Aufray. Have you never heard the name Hugues? Well there was a French king called Hugues in the tenth century. Hugues Aufray is still around so now you know two Hugues. The singer is most famous for his song 'Santiano' and the chorus has the line 'hisse et ho Santiano'.

Listening to French songs is a great way to increase your vocabulary. How do you know who to listen to? One of the easiest ways is to sample the songs on YouTube, but the best way is to have a conversation in France and ask them about French singers. You will probably know of Piaf, Chevalier and Aznavour, but I would recommend Joe Dassin. Listen to his song 'Les Champs Elysées'. It is a very popular and catchy French song. I was on a bateau-mouche on the Seine and I was listening to a commentary through earphones. When we were near the Champs Elysées we could hear Joe Dassin’s song in the background.

There are so many other great singers. Find the style that you like and your vocabulary will increase tremendously, and you may even learn the French for heave-ho.

A bientôt

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Public transport

When I was at school (many years ago) my teacher told me that on the continent you do not queue for public transport. Be careful of the little old lady with the umbrella because she will use it against you when the bus comes. My experience of public transport in France could not be more different from this caricature.

A couple of years ago I was in Paris on New Year's Eve. There was naturally a reduced service on the métro, but after 7pm it was free. I had bought my carnet which made travelling very cheap but I didn’t need to spend anything.

The word to learn today is composter. It is nothing to do with gardening but means to punch the train or tram ticket. In Caen, the trams (like the métro) are very frequent, cheap and clean. There is no scrum to get on but il faut composter votre ticket.

A bientôt