French For A Dummy

I’m going to be spending some time in France in a few months, so I’ve decided to brush up on my French language skills.  Actually, calling them “skills” isn’t quite accurate — unless the meaning of “skills” can be stretched to include a capability that really doesn’t exist.  I can read a little French, and I remember that jambon means ham, but that’s really about as far as it goes.

IMG_4898I took French in junior high school, in high school, and at OSU until I met my language requirements.  Despite these years of patient instruction, I never moved past the most basic levels.  Not surprisingly, my French class memories don’t involve having rapid-fire conversations with proud and dazzled teachers.  Instead, I remember trying to get some “extra credit” by helping my high school French teacher decorate her classroom for Christmas.  To my befuddlement, she wanted me to hang up the letters of the alphabet.  After I did so, she asked me if I got the reference.  When  gave her a confused look in response, she gestured at the letters, barked out a short Gallic laugh, and said “No L!”  I shrugged at this weak example of French humor, then remembered that sophisticates in that country considered Jerry Lewis a genius.

In college, our pleasant if somewhat beefy French instructor wanted to give the class an example of the importance of precise pronunciation.  She explained that, during a recent visit to Paris, she was being pestered by a beret-wearing, cigarette-smoking man.  She meant to dismiss him with a gruff cochon, which means pig, but instead she said couchons, which unfortunately suggested a desire to do the horizontal bop.  She then barked out a short Gallic laugh as the members of the class snickered at her embarrassing predicament.  The only other things I remember from my college French classes are that we students thought mangez mes sous-vetements, which means “eat my shorts,” was a hilarious insult even though the exasperated teacher pointed out that the French never use that phrase, and we also put n’est ce pas? at the end of every conceivable statement because it at least ended our halting sentences with a smooth closing.

So, trying to get up to speed on French in a few months is probably futile — especially since studies indicate that trying to acquire new language skills becomes more difficult with age.  I’m going to try anyway.  I’ve reserved some French language instruction CDs from the library and am going to listen to them on our morning walks.  I’m starting with French for Dummies.  The title is a bit insulting — but it’s probably accurate, n’est ce pas?

1 thought on “French For A Dummy

  1. As everything average Americans believe about France, nothing is true .
    Jerry Lewis is unknown by any French under 40, and older people have no special appreciation about him . Berets ? Some old peasants in the South-West still wear them, because what you think is a French beret is called a Basque beret in France, and the Basque country is in the South-West, but progressively there are less and less of these beret wearers even in South-Western villages .
    It’s obvious for me that Americans continually repeat what other Americans have said when they repeated what they had heard from previous Americans . As you never watch any French movie, people in the US still keep images that date from 1918 or maybe 1944 . The best for me are “sacrebleu” and ooh-la-la . I think the last time a Frenchman said sacrebleu was in the XIXth century, and ooh-la-la is still said, but not at all with the meaning Americans think .
    You shoud wait , to make appreciations of French humour, to be in France if you can catch what’s going on around you . And for a starter you can drop “n’est-ce pas ?” In English people need to say ” isn’t it ?” or ” Does he ?” at the end of sentences, and you rightly translate those typical English endings by ” n’est-ce pas ?” But the thing is the French have a different mental and don’t end their sentences by this question . Therefore, “n’est-ce pas” is seldom used, and only when it has a specific utility . The first trap when learning a language is the tendancy to translate our language . But each language conveys a vision of the world, and the only way to learn a language is to try to think through this vision of the world . good luck, but please forget all you think about France, because you won’t see or understand anything if you watch through the stereotypes your childish countrymen have told .


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