People sometimes ask me how I learned to speak French and I always tell them that the key was when I discovered language partners.
There are plenty of ways to learn French, such as traditional classroom courses, apps like Duolingo, and listening to podcasts. But while these can teach us the basics, what we really want to do is communicate. We want to be able to make our way around Paris and Provence on our own. We want to connect with the locals and learn about life in la belle France. And for that we have to speak, which can be scary. Which is where a language partner comes in.
A French language partner is someone who speaks French and is trying to learn English. You get together regularly and speak one language and then the other, encouraging and correcting one another.
Unlike a classroom where the opportunity to speak is limited, a meeting with a language partner gives you plenty of time to talk, listen, and ask questions. It allows you to learn not only formal French but also real-life French, with all of the slang and nuance that French people use in everyday conversation. And because you’re working with someone who is also learning a new language, you skip the usual embarrassment because you are both making the same kinds of mistakes. It’s relaxed and informal and downright fun.
Want to know more? Check out my article in Frenchly!
Sex permeates French society, including the language. All nouns have genders—either masculine or feminine—though it’s sometimes unclear why a word is one or the other. Chemise (shirt) is feminine, for example, while chemisier (blouse) is masculine. Go figure.
And just when you think you’ve figured out the gender rules, somebody goes and changes them. That somebody is the Académie française, the arbiter of all things having to do with the French language. And the new rules they just announced are such a big change that some consider them “true barbarism.”
Only in France!
Read all about it at Frenchly!
In the old days in the US, doctors were kind of like gods–Me Important Doctor, you lowly patient, that sort of thing. You certainly didn’t ask questions or share what you learned on the Internet. It’s still like that in France. So imagine visiting a French doctor and being interrogated…in French. It happened to me, with a surprising result.
You can read all about it at Perfectly Provence.
My wife Val and I live in California but spend several months every year in St-Rémy-de-Provence. When we first started doing this some years ago, Val spoke basic French and I spoke next to none. So we each took classes in the US to improve our French and then, after a few years of this, started private lessons in Provence with a professor named Geneviève.
I was nervous about starting a weekly class of just Val and me. On the one hand, it would really help me improve because I’d get lots of attention from the professor. On the other hand, Val’s been studying the language a lot longer than me and all that attention would make abundantly clear how much better she is. But part of learning any language is accepting occasional (or in my case, frequent) humiliation so I’ve resigned myself to it.
The first time we had a class with Geneviève, she pulled a book off a shelf and asked us to each read a few paragraphs to test our pronunciation.
I knew we were in trouble as soon as Val started. As she spoke, Geneviève began writing notes on a pad of paper. After a few sentences, she started grinning. Then she started giggling. When it was my turn she put down her pen and started laughing out loud and wiping her eyes.
You can read the rest of the story at Perfectly Provence. It is adapted from my new book Are We French Yet?
Admit it, you want to be French. Or at least be able to pass yourself off as French, like a spy who fools everyone with her secret identity. What a dream it is to speak perfect French, be stylish and sexy, and actually know what postmodernism means.
But to do that you have to pass through the different stages of Frenchness, slowly graduating from one to the next. Let’s take a look at these stages as they occur in France.
Real the rest of the article at Frenchly!
Every country has expressions that are confusing to foreigners. For example, if you told a French person “that’s in the ballpark,” they would wonder why you were talking about a sports stadium.
So what does it mean when a French person says “Il est fada“? Not every French person could tell you, because that expression comes from Provence. I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite Provençal expressions.
Read all about them at Frenchly.
Imagine this: The PTSA meeting hasn’t started yet and two parents in the audience are chatting away—about their kids, their vacations, the hot new movie in theatres. After a few minutes, one puts out her hand and says, “Oh, by the way, my name’s Jessica.”
In the US, a scene like this—two strangers talking like old friends—wouldn’t be surprising. But would it happen in France? Pas du tout! In France, it’s considered weird to just start talking with someone you don’t know. And if a stranger tried to chat with them, a French person’s first thought would be a suspicious “What do they want from me?”
Learn how to bridge the cultural gap between French and Americans at Frenchly.
“Let’s get a table in the front part of the restaurant. We can watch television and look at the menu while we wait for my cousin.”
Table, part, restaurant, television, menu, and cousin — those are all French words, even spelled the same way as in French. And if you order salad and onion soup, that’s three more (salade, oignon, soupe). You’re speaking French!
As much as half of the English language comes from French. Even Queen Elizabeth’s royal coat of arms is in French! Read all about it at Frenchly.
Americans can call their children practically anything they want. Beyoncé’s daughter is named Blue Ivy. Frank Zappa’s kids are Moon Unit and Dweezil. And unusual names are not just for the offspring of celebrities—people have actually named their kids Cheese, Fairy, and Jag.
This is not the case in France, where courts can reject a name if it is not in the best interest of the child. So can a French couple call their child Manhattan? How about Mini Cooper? Or Nutella? Non, non, and non. French courts have rejected those names and more.
Read all about the long history of French baby-naming laws at Frenchly.
There are lots of ways to learn French, like taking classes, using language learning software and watching movies. But once you get past the basics, what you really need to do is talk. And there’s nothing like talking to a native French speaker. So why not find yourself a language partner?
Find out how at My French Life.