French Language


The Francophone world is essentially insular. The reputed 'French Attitude' toward Americans and others (NOT found in Carbonne) is understandable because they don't really need us. They have everything, just as we have. If you want the benefits of life in France, you approach on their terms, just as we expect and even demand in USA.

French at Play
French at Play

Essentials: Greetings

As initial preparation for your Immersion you need the basics of conversation PLUS the confidence to use them freely. Nothing is more basic than greetings. You can even fool Francophones to think you are better than you are if you understand and use appropriate greetings.

Here we go…
Bonjour (hello): used on the street or in virtually any setting, personal or public, with all people as the first thing out of your mouth. If the person is very familiar, you add the given name. It is suitable all daylight hours.
Bon Journee (have a nice day): Used on departing a business or personal acquaintance.
Bon Soir (good evening): Used after sunset on the street but in established settings, normally only when departing in those hours.
Bon Soiree (have a nice afternoon or evening): Again, on departing, same setting.
Au Revoir (good bye): Universal departure expression.
A Bientot (see you soon).
A Demain (see you tomorrow).
A tout a l'heure (see you shortly).
Bonne nuit (good night): used in established relationships as you leave for the night.
Comment ca va? (how's it going) often shortened to an exchange of 'Ca va?+ Ca va!'
On being introduced
Enchantee (happy to meet you).
Je m'appelle (your first name) or Je suis (your name).
Answers to typical 'introduction questions'
Q: Ou habitez-vous? (where do you live)
A: J'habite a (your city or country)
Q: Quand arrivez-vous? (when did you arrive?)
A: Je suis ici depuis (I am here since length of time or name of day of the week)
Q: Qu'est-ce que votre metier? (what do you do for a living?)
A: Je suis...(I am…) Be prepared with your profession.
Q: Quand parterez-vous? (when will you leave?)
A: (name of day or date) Q: Comment trouvez-vous la France? (how do you like France?)
A: J'adore la France!!!

Language

  • Few people in small-town SW France speak English, so the visitor needs at least a survival-level expertise in French, and a willingness to learn more quickly.
  • For those with some French background, I have discovered some things I wasn't taught in class. They have mostly stopped using the 'ne' in spoken French. Also I never hear 'nous'. Instead they use the impersonal 'on'.
  • I often hear foreigners trying to speak French using the Spanish-type 'rolled R' sound. That instantly identifies them as 'non-French'. Before you try speaking French in France you will need to master that unique but indescribable way the French pronounce their 'Rs'. Trouble is, it varies by region.

Learning French

As an American in France I occasionally need to write in French, but speaking is always essential.

I once thought French was a silly, inefficient conglomeration of contrived rules, accents, and apostrophes. How do I get around my prejudice? First of all, there is a big difference between written and spoken. As with spoken Russian I Cyrillic problems, written French tries to create a 'system' to justify and codify the spoken version.

So, I learn French (re-learn it, really, since the formal training was 1957-8) first by digesting the basically reliable rules of pronunciation of written words, then visualizing the word/phrase I need or hear. Of course one can only visualize a spoken word after seeing it in print for a while, so language immersion is necessary. Eventually I use it a few times and as they say, "it is mine". Of course I wouldn't have bothered except for the present motivation (Emma).

I am still irritated by the numbering system, which stops at 69; then you have to construct succeeding numbers by combining smaller ones, but I am getting over it. Once you have the pronunciation, the rest is easier, with 75% of words sharing the same root and at least related meaning with English. You recall Professor Higgins' linguistic musings in My Fair Lady, "The French don't care what they do as long as they pronounce it properly!" Also, contrasted with German, word order is similar to English.

For the adult Anglophone, good conversation may never come easily, though on subjects I am knowledgeable or passionate about, it is better, and people seem to understand me. In addition, comprehension of more than 75% is within reach without getting really serious. I am comfortable in French after 15 years of part-time casual immersion.

I saw an interview with one of my favorite people, ex-Queen Farah, on France2 TV. She has resided in France much of her life. She stated that her biggest problem with French has been 'gender', a feature not found in English or Farsi, the tongues of her upbringing. I should tell her some of the tricks I use.

Again, the 'visualization' technique is used, this time to 'guess' a word's gender. In 90% of cases, 'feminine' written words end in a vowel, usually silent. You then go backwards and use the 'le' or 'Ia' plus the appropriate endings. Linguists certainly know such tricks, but their job security depends on teaching the old system.

By the way, Farah Diba is a very nice, bright, approachable person; without the aristocratic affectations so many 'ex-commoner' royals acquire. The Iranians should have tolerated the dictatorial Shah, if only to keep her.


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