11 Things You Didn’t Know About the French Language

11 things about the French language (and France) that you might not have known before reading this article. Some of them can be quite surprising. Enjoy and comment if you have anything to add. Thank You !

  1. French is the only language, along with English, spoken on all five continents
  2. The influence of the French language is to be found in Harry Potter books: Voldemort ? Vol-de-mort ? Joanne K. Rowling studied French at the University of Exeter and also  studied for a year in Paris.
  3. France is the third most attractive country for foreign students, after United States and the United Kingdom. In this way, France is also the first among non English speaking countries to welcome the biggest numbers of international students.
  4. France is also the world’s number one tourist destination.
  5. French people are really good at mathematics. René Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Pierre de Fermat, to only name some of the most famous ones of the past. Nowadays, France is the second after the United States to have the highest number of the recipients of the Fields medal (also known as the “Nobel Prize” in Mathematics, it is also considered the highest honor a mathematician can receive). Mathematics are also highly valued in French education in general and there are many outstanding institutions offering studying maths. Is it because of the French language ?
  6. Did you know that these people speak French fluently ? Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, Queen Elizabeth 2, Nick Clegg, the former UK Vice-Prime Minister, John Kerry, the US Secretary of State. There is also Prince William but his French is a bit rough. And there is the American actor Bradley Cooper who can speak quite well.
  7. French is the language of philosophy: Pascal, Voltaire, Descartes, Sartre and Derrida were all famous French philosophers. It is the only country in Europe (correct me if I’m wrong) where philosophy makes up an integral part of the high-school education system.
  8. Knowing French will also make it possible for you to communicate in half of the African continent. It will certainly make your stays in Morocco, Algeria or Tunisia a lot easier and more interesting. Take a look at this Wikipedia article about African FrenchFrancophone_Africa
  9. It is the third most used language for business after English and Chinese.
  10. The French language is one of the three working languages of the European Commission. The other two are English and German.
  11. The French counting system in France is partially vigesimal, which means the base of 20, that used to be common in the Middle Ages. That’s why in French the term for 70 is soixante-dix (3 times 20 plus 10), for 80 is quatre-vingts (4 times 20) and 90 is quatre-vingts-dix (4 times 20 plus 10).

If you feel like adding to the list, don’t hesitate to give your ideas in the comment section. Thanks !

10 Very Popular Everyday French Idioms

Here is a list of 10 French idiomatic expressions that you will probably hear most frequently while in France.  The list is rather subjective, as I did not base myself on any official document proving the frequency (Does such such thing exist ?). The only explanation I have is that to my mind these idiomatic expressions are used more often than others. Of course, there are others but I thought these might be the most useful ones for the beginning and intermediate learners of French. Thus, upon your arrival to France you won't be surprised to hear what may at first appear as some strange sounding expressions you have no idea about their meaning.

"Why learn French idioms ?"

You may ask. If you want to get over the "speaking the very basic French" level, you need to get to know some idiomatic expressions. And this is true for any language. That's just the way people like to express ideas. Idioms make the language more vivid, more colorful and more expressive.It's one of the things that shows that you know the language well.

You may also check this website about The French Idioms (origin, explanations, translation).

The List of the 10 Popular Everyday French Idioms:

  1.  Prendre quelque chose au pied de la lettre: It is used to describe somebody who believes too seriously in everything he/she hears. Eg. On entend souvent dire que tous les parisiens sont grincheux mais il ne faut pas le prendre au pied de la lettre. C'est juste un cliché.
  2. Il n'y a pas un chat: used to say that there are very few or no people in a particular place. There isn't a soul. Eg. Cet endroit est complètement désert ! Il n'y a pas un chat !
  3. Il pleut des cordes: when it rains a lot and hard. It's raining cats and dogs. Eg. Tu as vu le temps qu'il fait dehors ? Il pleut des cordes ! Hors de question que je sorte ! 
  4. Il n'y a pas le feu au lac / y'a pas le feu: when you are not in a hurry. There is no panic. Eg. Attends ! Pourquoi t'es si pressé ? Il n'y a pas le feu au lac !
  5. Fumer comme un pompier: to smoke a lot of cigarettes. To smoke like a chimney. / To be a chain smoker. Eg. Ca pue la cloppe chez ton voisin ! C'est parce qu'il fume comme un pompier

    fumée-pompier
    In the past the firefighters used to soak their clothes with water so they wouldn’t set ablaze while fighting the flames. The water turned to steam and made their clothes “give off fumes”.
  6.  Maigre comme un clou: speaking about someone really thin, a skinny person. Thin as a rake. Eg. Il est maigre comme un clou ! Il ne doit pas peser plus de 50 kilos tout habillé ! 
  7. Etre au taquet: when you are fully engaged in some activity. To be going flat out / to be going full throttle.  Eg. Regarde le ! Il est complètement absorbé par son travail. Ouais, il est vraiment au taquet
  8. Etre nickel (chrome): when something is neatly / very well done. To be spotless. Eg.(En parlant de nettoyage d'une voiture par exemple) Vous avez fait du bon travail. C'est vraiment nickel ! / C'est nickel chrome
  9. En avoir marre: to have had enough of something. To be fed up with something. Eg. J'en ai marre de ton comportement stupide ! Je me casse d'ici !
  10. S'en moquer / ficher / foutre:  to be completely uninterested or indifferent to something / somebody. Not to give a damn / toss about something. Eg. Tu es au courant que fumer tue ? Oui, me je m'en fous

French Conjugation of Etre and Avoir (Present Tense)

It this lesson you will learn or consolidate, if you have gone through the 1st and 2nd part of my French Lessons for Beginners, the conjugation and use of the two most important verbs in the French language: Etre and Avoir.  

1. French Verbs: Etre / Avoir

Here are some of the advantages of learning etre (to be) and avoir (to have) from the beginning. 

  • They are two the most important verbs in almost any language, but they are particularly useful in learning Romance Languages
  • Thanks to them you will be able to express all the basic things concerning yourself
  • Etre and avoir are essential in constructing most of the grammatical structures of the French language (past, future, conditional, perfect, subjunctive)
  • Two irregular verbs, which means they conjugate differently from other verbs
  • In both verbs, the second ( tu ) and the third( il/elle ) person singular are pronounced in the same way (although they are written in a different way)

Continue reading “French Conjugation of Etre and Avoir (Present Tense)”

Everyday French Expressions Part 1

Even if you have learned a substantial amount of the French language, once you are in the country you might feel overwhelmed by the way the people speak. One of the reasons will certainly be some of the French expressions that you won’t see in a French language course book. Here you will learn some of the common expressions of the spoken French.

13 Everyday French Expressions

Here is a list of the most common everyday French expressions that you will come across while in France. You will notice them easily as the people will be using them all the time. They are the words and expressions that each French person is using tens if not hundreds of times each day. The list is in no way exhaustive, but it will certainly make the everyday French a bit easier to understand. If you use them correctly, they will also make you sound more native like.

The List (with examples) :

  1. Ouais … : a colloquial way of saying “oui”, or showing that you agree with someone.
    1. Eg. A: “Tu viens ?” Are you coming ?
    2. B: “Ouais, j’arrive…” Yeah, I’m coming
  2. Vas-y ! / Allez-y ! : It means “go on!”, “come on”, or “do it!”. Don’t forget that “vas-y! ” is informal (used between friends and young people) and “allez-y” is formal (adults, people you don’t know, especially older than you people). 
    1. Eg. A: “Je n’ai pas encore acheté de billet.” I haven’t bought the ticket yet.
    2. B: “Qu’est-ce que tu attends ? Vas-y !” What are you waiting for ? Go ahead ! (Do it) !
    3. Eg. Formal situation. You want to let someone go in front of you, in a queue for example: “Allez-y (Madame / Monsieur). Vous pouvez passez devant.” Please, Madame, you can go ahead of me. 
  3. Je sais pas / Chais pas ! : Literally it means “I don’t know”. In the spoken French you won’t here the “ne” word normally added in negative sentences in writing. In spoken French, especially when spoken rapidly, it will sound more like “chais pas” (also written “ché pas”) than “je sais pas”. Interestingly, it doesn’t work in the affirmative way. You just cannot say “chais / ché” for “Je sais” (I know). 
    1. Eg. A: “Qu’est-ce qu’on fait ce soir ?” What are the plans for this evening ? (What are we doing this evening ?).
    2. B: “Ché pas ! Propose quelque chose  !” Don’t know. Propose something ! 
  4. Je suis / J’suis / Chui: The same principle as in the previous example. In spoken French the “to be” verb in “I am” sounds more like “chouis” than “Je suis” when said rapidly. You will rarely hear the French pronounce all the words from for example “Je suis chez moi” (I’m at my home). 
    1. Eg. A: (Au téléphone) “T’es où là ?” Where are you ?
    2. B: “Chui chez moi !” I’m at my place.
  5. Oh là là: Used to express stupefaction. You will hear it a lot. 
    1. Eg. Your friend injured him/herself. You may ask: “Oh là là! Qu’est-ce qui t’est arrivé ?! “. Oh my ! What happened to you ?!
  6. Laisse tomber ! The infinitive form: laisser tomber. To let  something go, to drop to, to forget it. Literally “to leave / let (something) fall” 
    1. Eg.  A: “Je vais l’attendre encore un peu.” I will wait for him (a bit).
    2. B: “Laisse tomber. Il ne viendra pas !” Forget it! He will never come !
  7. Je m’en fous / M’en fous / On s’en fout: It is very informal way of saying “I don’t care”, or simply “I don’t give a damn / shit about … .”. It has a formal equivalent “Je m’en fiche” but you won’t hear it as often as the informal version. 
    1. Eg. A: “Tu étais au courant que fumer tue ?” Did you know that smoking kills ?
    2. B:  “Oui, mais je m’en fous.” Yes, but I don’t give a damn.
  8. Putain ! The ultimate swear word in the French language. It basically is a pejorative term for a prostitute but it is used in the same context as the English word “f**k”. Nowadays, you can even hear it on tv sometimes. It is also interchangeable with the word “merde” which mean “shit” (literally). 
    1. Eg.  When you are really irritated: “Putain ! Où est-ce que j’ai mis mes clés ?!” F**k, where did I put my keys ?
  9. C’est bon ! : Literally it mean “It is good.” However, in the spoken language it is more used in the context of “That’s ok / Okay / All right.” You can also used it to express irritation. 
    1. Eg. A: “Tu as fini ?” Have you finished ?
    2. B: “Oui, c’est bon. On y va!” Yes, I have (it’s good to go). Let’s go.
  10. On y va ! As seen in the previous example, it means “Let’s go! ” (Literally: “we there go!”) 
    1. Eg. Before going out. A man to a woman: “Tu es prête? Si oui, alors on y va !”. You’re ready ? If so, then let’s go ! 
  11. En fait : Actually / In fact. Many people use it and some overuse it. 
    1. Eg. A: “Tu as fait ce que je t’ai demandé ?” Did you do what I asked ?
    2. B: “En fait, je n’ai pas pu. J’ai eu un empêchement.” Actually, I didn’t (I couldn’t). Something came up.
  12. T’inquiète pas. Don’t worry / Never mind / That’s ok. Normally, it should be “ne t’inquiète pas” but in the spoken French the “ne” is frequently thrown out. 
    1. Eg. A: “Excuse-moi, j’ai oublié de te rendre ton livre.” I’m sorry (lit. pardon me), I’ve forgotten to take your book.
    2. B: “T’inquiète pas. Tu me le rendras la prochaine fois. “ Don’t worry. You will give it back the next time.
  13. C’est clair! : Of course ! / you bet ! 
    1. Eg. A: “Il aurait pu au moins me prévenir qu’il ne serait pas là !” He should at least have let me know that he wouldn’t come (be here) !”
    2. B: “Oui, c’est clair!.” Of course ! (that he should have).

Please include in the comments which words you think you have heard most often or you think the French people are using most frequently. Merci !

Exercises

 

French Grammar Deconstruction (à la Tim Ferriss)

french-language-deconstruction

You may have heard about How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language 1 Hour article by Tim Ferriss. Here is a quick overview of his approach and how it applies to the French language. You can also test yourself in deconstructing the French grammar at the end of the article.

French Grammar Deconstructed

So if you are interested in deconstructing the French language Tim Ferriss’ way, you may dig right into it.

French Language Deconstruction (Tim Ferriss Way) of the French Language Grammar.

English French
The first 6 basic sentences from the Ferriss’ blog  
1. The apple is red. 1. La pomme est rouge. 
2. It is John’s apple. 2. C’est la pomme de Jean. 
3. I give John the apple. 3. Je donne la pomme à Jean. 
4. We give him the apple. 4. Nous la lui donnons. 
5. He gives it to John. 5. Il la donne à Jean. 
6. She gives it to him. 6. Elle la lui donne. 

Additional Sentences from this video, where he actually decided to
extend his range of grammatical structures to cover.

 
7. Is the apple red ? 7. La pomme, est-elle rouge ? (Est la pomme rouge ?) *  
                                                
8. The apples are red. 8. Les pommes sont rouges. 
9. I must give it to him ! 9. Je dois la lui donner !  
 / Il faut que je la lui donne ! **  
10. I want to give it to her ! 10. Je veux la lui donner. 
11. I’m going to know tomorrow. 11. Je le saurai demain. 
12. I can’t eat the apple. 12. Je ne peux pas manger la pomme. 

* Even though it is highly unlikely to hear this kind of sentence in France (it is more probable to encounter something like La pomme, est-elle rouge ? or Est-ce que la pomme est rouge ?) the subject / verb inversion to create a question is correct but rather formal and rarely used in speech.
** When it comes to expressing obligation in French, it is more common to use the il faut que structure. Eg. Il faut que je la lui donne !

The Method

Learn any language by deconstructing it, that is by stripping the language you want to learn to (almost) its bare bones and finding all the positive and negative for you aspects that you can turn into your advantage.

The Opinion

The good thing about this approach is that it gives you a rather global view of the basic grammatical structure of the language to learn. You get the impression of grasping the language, and thus the quantity of grammar to acquire less daunting. Its strength lies, in my opinion, in outlining the core of a particular grammar and thus the language itself. It is much easier to go further into details later on as opposed to trying to grasp every detail from the very beginning and quickly run out of your steam, a very common pitfall for all foreign language learners.

The Conclusion

The concept itself is nothing new in the way it approaches the understanding of the mechanics of any given concept. Let’s take learning any computer programming language for example: the most general teaching method consists of explaining the basic concepts (variable declaration, managing strings and numbers, control flow, lists or arrays, etc) which are common to all of the programming languages but which structure may be expressed differently in each of them.   

Nevertheless, the idea is somewhat new in teaching a foreign language as it compresses all of the grammar of the language into the most basic but also the most relevant things that will make the learning easier for us. We obtain an insight into what is already familiar to us, i.e. what the language(s) we know has in common with the one we want to acquire and what differentiates it from our native tongue(s).  

As far as the usefulness of the French language deconstruction is concerned,  I’m leaving it to your own judgement. I can only hope you will find it useful.  

Please, tell what you think about this French language deconstruction in the comments section.

Thank you !

PS: Don't confuse this article with the deconstruction, a philosophical and literary notion coined by Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher.

Test Your French Grammar

Exercise 1 A (easy):

 

Exercise 1 B (easy):

 

Exercise 2 (difficult): 

 

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