Bergerac street

L’Imparfait (‘The Imperfect’). Sounds like my kind of place.

Mevrouw T and I will be back in la belle France fairly soon. It’s high time I did something to improve my shamefully inadequate high school French.

Year after year I’ve been promising to do this; this year, I’m getting serious. But I’m finding brushing up my French isn’t all plain sailing. Apparently they’ve invented a lot of new words since last I struggled through Balzac and Flaubert at uni.

Many years ago, in Melbourne, Australie, our high school professeur Monsieur Provan opened each class with ‘Bonjour, mes eleves’ (‘Good morning my elves?’) and bid us open our Cours Pratique a la page…. I almost enjoyed it. I tried to be one of the better students and my final exam marks were encouraging enough for me to take French as a first year uni subject.

I emerged from this study with a respectable ‘PASS’, able to make reasonable sense of a classic novel, knowing the future perfect and subjunctive and how to conjugate some irregular verbs. Unfortunately I still couldn’t actually speak French confidently enough to order un café in Paris.

‘They love it when you make an effort in their language,’ I’d been told. Not in my experience, they don’t. French waiters couldn’t wait to humiliate me by suggesting I speak English so (1) they could understand me and (2) they could show off their own linguistic superiority.

My natural shyness would have me stuttering to a red-faced stop and pointing to a croissant instead.

This year, things will be different. I’ve downloaded some Teach Yourself Francais courses (Yes, I know that ‘c’ in the middle of Francais should have a cedilla but je ne sais pas how to add such things on my keyboard.) Online I can study and practice anonymously, in my own time. The programs congratulate me when I get things right and musical down notes on the computer signify erreurs.

The Babbel course is trying to be hip and up-to-date. Apparently the French don’t eat in a restaurant in the après-midi any more, they go to a ‘resto’ in the ‘aprem’. Babbel teaches us words like ‘nana’ (‘chick’) and ‘mec’ (‘guy’) as well as telling us that ‘so outmoded’ in French is now ‘si has been’.

The course also prepares me for the prevalence of ‘verlan’ these days – a sort of cool slang in which words are inverted. ‘L’invers’ (‘the inversion’) is phonetically switched to make ‘verlan’. Just when I had ‘merci’ mastered, it becomes ‘cimer’ to members of the hip set. ‘Totally crazy’ (‘completement fou’ as I learned it years ago) is now ‘completement ouf’ to anyone under fifty.

Despite the Academie Francaise’s efforts to hold back the tide, English words are flooding into modern French. ‘C’est cool fun’, and ‘faire le shopping pour un t-shirt cet week-end’ for instance. That should make it easy for me to ‘draguer une nana’ or ‘hit on a chick’ while wearing my ‘baskets’ (‘basketball sneakers’) at a ‘teuf’ (‘Fete’ or party.) I can’t wait to get there and start showing off my new proficiency!


Filed under France

12 responses to “PARDON MY FRENCH!

  1. j’aimerais vraiment être une petite souris pour aller les écouter

  2. I look forward to hearing how your francais nouveau is accepted and understood in France. Keep us posted, Richard.

  3. “My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.” Mark Twain, ‘A Tramp Abroad –That Awful German Language’

  4. We laughed to read your experience which seems to be on the same crash course as us. We’ve been faithfully studying Spanish online every single day for 10 months with Duolingo in anticipation of our trip to South America. Reading and writing are maybe on a kid’s level but speaking is close to nil. We’ll study Spanish when we get there and our goal is to passably order food in a restaurant. Is that too much to hope for?

    • Damn! I’m trying Duolingo French too. It keeps encouraging me, but I fear I won’t do very well unless everybody speaks like the slightly robotic gentleman and lady on the app.

  5. Mais vrâiment messieurs, und Mark Twain aussi! Allemand, c’est wirklich einfach comme ABC. On peut simplement die Regeln lernen und befolgen. Il n’y a pas des exceptions dans la langue almande. Pratiquement. C’est si simple!

  6. steven herrick

    Duolingo tells me I’m 10% proficient – every person in France disagrees.
    I believe those compression tights I saw you in recently are tres chic in France, Richard.

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