French Grammar Deconstruction (à la Tim Ferriss)


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. [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″]
2. It is John’s apple. 2. C’est la pomme de Jean. [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″]
3. I give John the apple. 3. Je donne la pomme à Jean. [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″]
4. We give him the apple. 4. Nous la lui donnons. [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″]
5. He gives it to John. 5. Il la donne à Jean. [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″]
6. She gives it to him. 6. Elle la lui donne. [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″]

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 ?) *  [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″]                                                
8. The apples are red. 8. Les pommes sont rouges. [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″]
9. I must give it to him ! 9. Je dois la lui donner !  [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″] / Il faut que je la lui donne ! **  [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″]
10. I want to give it to her ! 10. Je veux la lui donner. [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″]
11. I’m going to know tomorrow. 11. Je le saurai demain. [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″]
12. I can’t eat the apple. 12. Je ne peux pas manger la pomme. [sc_embed_player fileurl=”″]

* 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): 





French R Sound Pronunciation Practice

The French R makes you sound French and the only way to master it is through pronunciation practice.

The rrrrr sound is a distinctive sound of the French language. It gives satisfaction to those who can pronounce it effortlessly and nightmares to those who can’t.

I can say so because I have been through it.

Even if your speach is fluent, that is you understand and you speak without efforts, there might still be some slight differences in the way you pronounce certain French sounds.

Normally, anyone knowing that you are a foreigner won’t point those out, but it is indispensable if you want your French to sound, well … French.

And what makes you sound French ? Of course, the French guttural rrrrrrrr…. sound.

Why the French R is Important ?

Your French nasal sounds may be awful, your stress and intonation despicable, but as long as you are able to pronounce the French “r” you can feel French. It’s just so distinctively French that nothing beats it, but that is just my opinion….

With a correct pronunciation, you will avoid some sarcastic remarks too, people are people after all, whatever the nationality I guess …

Why did I create these exercises ?

I’m not French myself, so ever sine I came to France I wanted to learn the French language and sound French too. I just couldn’t stand the spiteful remarks and the way people would look at me if I started to speak with a hard “R”, the way the people from the eastern countries often do…

I thought that if your mouth muscles produce the sounds of your native language that your brain is subconsciously telling it to do, then all you need to do is to convince your brain to do the same but for new sounds.

And how you do that ?

By repeating the specific sounds many times. That is how you develop the muscles in your mouth to produce the sounds and get your brain accustomed to hearing them and producing them.

I don’t think it’s going to become 100% subconscious as with your mother tongue, but it will significantly improve your pronunciation.

That is why it is easier for the people already living in the country where the language is spoken since they hear and produce the specific sounds (or at least something that is close to it) on everyday basis.

However, it is wrong to think that this is the sine qua non condition to an adequate pronunciation. Far from it !

How many people have you met who have been living abroad for ages and still struggle to sound more like a native ? Lots of them.

Unfortunately, there are people who have been living for decades in a foreign country and they can’t even speak the language of their new home country. But that’s a different story, since there are many factors that must be taken into account: human factor, family relations, psychology of the individual, social contact, etc.

And this is not because they are less gifted or less smart. They just don’t know how to learn and didn’t take time to work on it.

That’s why I like to think of second language acquisition as very similar to physical workout, especially nowadays when the world is going fast and you need to (and want to) learn fast.

And this is particularly true in the case of pronunciation, since your muscles are involved in the process. It’s just you won’t come across people doing these exercises at your local gym [wp-svg-icons icon=”smiley” wrap=”i”].

How to produce the French “R” sound ? 

Uvula (

It is a sound that is produced in your throat.

What you should do is to gurgle as if you were cleaning your throat, or trying to scratch your itching pallet with the compressed air coming from your lungs.

The French “R” sound is what the specialist call a uvular fricative.

You need to have the feeling that the back of your pallet is working slightly and your tongue should stay motionless.

It is very close to the sound of snoring on exhalation (when you breath out). You can try this out.

It is very easy to inhale the air and make the palet vibrate. It is slightly more difficult to do the same on exhalation, but this is where you will find your French “R”.    

Of course, this is only an approximation ! Your gurgled “R” will sound a bit artificial and forced at the beginning.

To pronounce the French “R” correctly, you will have to practice it a bit to make it smooth.

You should not worry too much about pronouncing it correctly, as in the real speech you don’t pay that much attention to one particular sound.

That is also the secret of mastering this particular sound. Many learners of French commit the mistake, quite naturally, to push it a bit too far.

They overdo it and it makes them sound weird. This kind of behaviour is quite normal.

That’s why some of the learners give the whole thing up and either pronounce the “r” as the would in their native language (à l’américaine (the English style) ou à la russe (the Spanish style) , or they keep overdoing it. The solution lies, as usual, in between.

The types of “R”

You also need to know that the French “R” does not always sound the same way. Sometimes it is more or less audible. It may depend on such things like:

  • the speaker,
  • the speed of speech,
  • the place of the sound in relation to other syllables in the sentence,
  • stress that the speaker puts on that particular sound or others
  • or other things that I am not clever enough to enumerate …

But you don’t need to analyse all that in your speech, it is just good to know. With a bit of practice you will come to the same conclusion.

You might hear some of the French People make a trilling “R” with their uvula (like the one you can hear in the songs of Charles Aznavour or George Brassens).

This is not the reference however and most of the French people don’t speak like that.

How to practice the French “R” ?

In order to have an impeccable French “R” pronunciation, you must speak French and listen to a lot of French all the time ! Yeah, right….

That would take ages and would cost you a lot of frustration along the way !

In order to improve a particular aspect of something, you need to make a conscious and concentrated effort over a given period of time to accelerate its improvement.

In our case, you need to focus on that particular aspect of the French pronunciation (that is the French R sound), exhaust your muscles (yes, your mouth and throat have muscles too !), by repeating the sound in exercises, exaggerating it even, and then smooth it out in speech.

Exercise 1

Do you remember that gurgling  and snoring I told you about ? You take it and you repeat it continuously with all of the French vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, u). You start slowly.

With some practice you can make it faster so you can produce that uvular fricative “r” sound effortlessly.

  • ra ra ra
  • re re re
  • ré ré ré
  • ri ri ri 
  • ro ro ro
  • ru ru ru 

Exercise 2

With nasal vowels as with an, in, un, on.

In this exercise not only will you practice your French R sound but you will also practice the other distinctive French sounds, that is the nasal vowels like an [ã], in [ɛ̃], and on [õ].

  • an [ã] : grand, franc, ranger
  • in [ɛ̃] : brin, fringues, ringard
  • on [õ] : rond, front, gronder

Try to do that exercise whenever you have time (in a car, in the elevator, in your shower, etc). Once a day for a minute for one week would be perfect.

Exercise 3

The other trick is to practice with words. The ones below will really muscle your vocal apparatus. Some of them can be really hard.

They will not only make you work your French “R”, but also some other important sounds associated with o, e, é, er, an, u. 

  • rajouter, râler, racorder
  • regarder, recevoir, redire
  • répéter, réussir, récupérer
  • rire, ricaner, riche
  • robert, robinet, romantique 
  • rural, rustique, russe


Buy the ebook: “Master the French R Sound”

Do you want to take your French pronunciation to a higher, native like level ? Here is how !

Master the French R eBook

Example page French R


The best advice I can give you as a conclusion is to work hard your exercises everyday for a week exaggerating the sounds while practicing them and not to worry too much about it in the actual speech.

In fact, forget it is there and that it doesn’t sound very “RRR” like the real French “r”.

If you concentrate too much on pronouncing the French “R” correctly, not only will it sound strange but it will also wear you out, make your speech less fluent and natural and you will feel quickly exhausted.

That’s right, speaking a foreign language is kind of a strain for your brain (though beneficial and giving lots of satisfaction) so you’d better take it easy concentrate of the fun part.

Should you have any suggestions concerning how to pronounce and improve the French “R”, share it with me in the comments !


Resilience, brain workout and foreign language learning

brain, resilience in foreign language learning

The way resilience and the foreign language acquisition are connected is pretty straightforward. If we are to believe two renowned scientists, one a psychiatrist, the other a neuroscientist, in a recent article in TIME magazine (June 1, 2015), different people have different degrees of resilience. You may ask: so what ? This might explain why some people think they are bad language learners. Not without a reason. Simply, the resilience in that particular psycho-sociological case is not the same for everyone.

What the heck is resilience?

Well, according to the American Psychology Association, it is the individual’s ability to “bounce back”, or “to pick oneself up” after hardships or difficult situations experienced in life. It generally refers to pretty traumatic things (catastrophes or war experiences for example), but according to the TIME article “The Art of Resilience” people’s lives, especially nowadays, comprise of multiple small but stressful situations, and those are quite obvious: work, an angry boss, quarrels with other people. The key thing here however is that the brain can be trained in order to cope with these kind of situations, and even the big ones, better. In other words, the resilience, and that is your brain, can be trained to do that well. Or at least do better than it used to.

Some conspicuous extreme examples of weak / strong resilience and how different people react to it are: people suffering from heart disease and brain disorder, Alzheimer’s disease frequently, on the one side, and Navy SEALs, highly trained US soldiers, or POWs on the other.

brain, resilience in foreign language learning
Brain. Allan Ajifo, Flickr.

How does resilience refer to Language Learning?

If we are to apply the way the resilience works and how different people deal with it, it becomes clear why some people (referring only to adult learners in this case) are better foreign language speakers than others. It comes down to the person’s psychological response to a psycho-social stages of development in foreign language acquisition while learning and especially interacting in that new language. Some of those experiences can be more traumatic than others and thus influence the individual’s resilience accordingly.

To make it simple: here are some psychological factors that may deter from effective language learning:

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] fear of being ridiculous: at the early stages, learning involves saying some unexpected and funny things.

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] fear of being ridiculed: perception by other learners or native speakers, traumatic experience)

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] lack of control: some people might be scared at the idea of not being able to express everything they want. It may be psychologically interrelated with the two previous concepts.  

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] language inferiority: when an adult learner starts to learn a language, she/he doesn’t even speak as well as a 4 year old child. It might be quite frustrating. 

How can you improve your resilience ?

The good news is that resilience can be trained almost the same way the muscles are trained: you give your brain some stimulus at the right time and at the right places and thus progressively build up the brain’s strength (or resistance) to fight off more efficiently the traumatic and unpleasant emotional experiences. On the side note, the physical exercise increases brain’s resilience too in its own way.

The article gives several interesting and simple things that help developing resilience. Here are some of them that I find also easily applicable to a better language learning:

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] Developing a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] Don’t run from things that scare you: face them

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] Learn new things as often as you can

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] Find an exercise regimen you’ll stick to

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] Recognize what makes you uniquely strong – and own it

That set of tools could be particularly useful in a successful language acquisition. It can also be seen as what people don’t do and thus fail in acquiring the language or at being a successful foreign language speaker. All of them equally important but the most frequent, in my opinion, are:

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] a consistent, well defined and interesting foreign language exercise regimen to stick to

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] recognizing what your unique strength is,

[wp-svg-icons icon=”arrow-right-3″ wrap=”i”] and running away from problems and challenges.

This also proves several interesting points about language learning :

[su_list icon=”icon: arrow-circle-right”]

  • foreign language acquisition can be trained in a similar way the body is trained (but how and in what way, it is a different story): it accounts for 50% of successful language learner
  • psychology and personality of the individual: they make up the other 50 %.


The sum of both gives a truly individual result, superiour to the sum of the both parts. You may take a look at the study case I did on Arnold Schwarzenegger (to be published ) as an adult foreign language learner to get an example of how it looks in practice.