Category Archives: French Language

Mairie de Paris French Courses

Language schools abound in the City of Light, but it’s difficult to find a program that provides quality instruction and doesn’t break the bank or wreak havoc on your schedule. However, the language program offered by the Mairie de Paris fits the bill–knowledgeable teachers, after-work hours, and convenient locations. The best part? The semester long courses cost as little as 1oo euros. For 60 hours of instruction, it’s the best deal in town.

But, there’s a catch! Signing up isn’t quite as easy as we’d like it to be and you must register in advance. Since the courses are cheap by Paris standards, lots of folks are vying for a classroom seat. To secure a spot, you need to stay on top of registration opening and closing dates*, fill out and mail in your enrollment paperwork (Bulletin d’Inscription), and, in some cases, follow up directly at the school where you applied to take the course (classes are held in Paris’s public school buildings). After the registration closing date, you’ll receive a response as to whether you’ve been accepted or put on a wait list. If accepted, the response letter will explain next steps, including payment, evaluation, and getting your ID card. The courses are extremely popular so there’s a slim chance you may be wait-listed. Don’t be discouraged! After the first few classes of the semester, many individuals drop out and spaces open up. Keep inquiring with the school to see if you can get in.

If you don’t mind going through the motions to get yourself enrolled, these courses truly are some of the best for the price. Unlike other programs, instructors are qualified professionals who often have backgrounds in linguistics and speak multiple languages. They have years of experience refining the prescribed curriculum to meet the needs of their students and generally work hard to make sure everybody’s French improves. If you’re willing to put in the effort, so are they.

If the Mairie de Paris program isn’t what you’re looking for, read our earlier post on language schools in Paris here.

 

Swearing and Degrees of Vulgarity

Another in a series of posts drawn from ielanguages.com, an incredible, free on-line French language resource created by Jennie Wagner, an English lecturer at the Université de Savoie in Chambéry, France. Jennie has graciously allowed Posted in Paris to repost several of her tutorials.

by Jennie Wagner

Swearing is a cultural concept that is difficult to master when learning a language. Exact translations among swear words are hard to come by since a lot of the meaning depends on the situation and tone of voice. What is considered vulgar in one language may not be in another. In French, merde is usually translated as sh*t in English, but it can also mean good luck or break a leg when talking to actors, and kids don’t get in trouble for saying it. American kids would be grounded or get detention for saying the s word. So should we really say that it means sh*t in English? It certainly doesn’t have the same impact in both languages.

In fact, swearing in French is much less obscene than in English – which is perhaps more detrimental to French students learning English than vice versa. There are many more degrees of vulgarity to English swear words and when we should use them or not, which is something that was unknown to my French students.  Since censorship on television doesn’t exist in France, the idea that certain words are bleeped out on American TV is a bit odd to them. Of course, censorship of nudity is also odd to them – Janet Jackson fiasco, anyone? – but that’s another story!

I tend to classify swear words in English by the situations where they would be censored or not and if children will get in trouble for saying them (but again, that can depend on the school and parents.) In my dialect of English, this is how I would describe the following phrases expressing indifference:

  • It doesn’t matter. – most neutral phrase, can be used in any situation
  • I don’t care. – still not swearing, but can be considered rude
  • I don’t give a damn. – cannot be said by children or teenagers at school; but allowed on network TV
  • I don’t give a sh*t. – cannot be said at school or on network TV; but allowed in movies that teenagers can watch
  • I don’t give a f*ck. – can only be said in movies or cable TV geared towards adults (17 and older)

Now in French, it is difficult to give exact translations for each phrase so let’s group them according to vulgarity:

  • Neutral: N’importe lequel. / Peu importe. / Ça m’est égal.
  • Informal: Je m’en fiche. / Je m’en balance. / Je m’en moque.
  • Vulgar: Je m’en fous.
  • Most vulgar: J’en ai rien à foutre.

There can be some overlap with these phrases as well, depending on who you ask. My French friend says Je m’en fiche and Je m’en fous are essentially the same thing to him and he doesn’t feel that one is particularly more vulgar than the other. And for less vulgar synonyms that replace foutre, such as J’en ai rien à cirer, where should we place them in the spectrum? Are they still considered vulgar or merely informal?

The verbe foutre itself presents the same problem as merde. Originally it had a very vulgar meaning, but nowadays it is used so often and with various banal meanings, that it is no longer as shock-worthy as it used to be. Can you imagine if English f*ck could also be used informally – without getting in trouble for saying it or being censored on TV – to mean to put/stick/shove/throw something or to do something?

Où t’as foutu les clés ? Where did you put the keys?

Qu’est-ce qu’il fout là-bas ? What is he doing over there?

More examples of foutre and the adjective foutu and their approximate English translations:

  • foutre en l’air – to ruin; to beat up; to kill
  • foutre (de la gueule) de quelqu’un – to make fun of someone
  • foutre dedans – to blow it; to stick one’s foot in it
  • foutre la trouille à quelqu’un – to scare the crap out of someone
  • se foutre par terre – to fall flat on one’s face; to embarrass oneself
  • foutre la paix à quelqu’un – to leave someone alone
  • foutre une baffe à quelqu’un – to slap someone in the face
  • foutu de faire quelque chose – to be capable of doing something
  • argent foutu – money down the drain
  • bien foutu – well built (muscular body)
  • café boullu, café foutu – boiled coffee, ruined coffee
  • foutu – screwed; finished; done for
  • mal foutu – sick
  • je-m’en-foutisme – apathy

When in doubt, it’s best to try to use the most neutral expressions as possible so you don’t offend anyone. And if you do say something wrong, you can always play the non-native speaker card. I was once told by a two year old that I shoudn’t say dégueulasse because it was a gros mot. I thought it was just a slang form of dégoûtant (disgusting) and it didn’t seem that vulgar to me. But since I didn’t speak French that well back then due to a lack of exposure to authentic language and culture, how would I have known?

Notes to Self

Today’s entry is reposted in its entirety from Chez Loulou: A Taste of Life in the South of France, the blog of Jennifer Greco.   Jennifer lives in the south of France with her husband, two dogs and a cat.  She is a chef, writer, photographer and French cheese addict.  

by Jennifer Greco

Olonzac Market Day

The expression “I almost had to give up my firstborn child” does not translate into French. Use it and they’ll think you’re certifiable.

Your neighbors and your hairdresser will never stop commenting on your weight gain or loss.

There’s a reason behind la priorité à droite. You will just never understand it.

The type of bra you prefer is a balconnet, not a banquette*.

As soon as they learn that you’re American, they’ll assume that you’re rolling in dough. The expression “rolling in dough” doesn’t translate either.

Stop trying to order your steak à point*. It will always arrive bleu*, no matter what.

That sweet looking, little old lady standing uncomfortably close to you in line at the boulangerie is trying to cut in front of you. Stand your ground.

It is de l’eau* or un verre d’eau*. Get that through your head already.

The day that you’re running late for an appointment in town is the day that all the streets on your route will be shut down for a manifestation.

You will never be able to pronounce the words grenouille* or moelleux*. Stop embarrassing yourself by trying to.

You will continue to have those incredible “oh my god I live in France” moments. Savor them.

As soon as you get comfortable and think you’ve got this whole living in France thing all figured out, remember that you really haven’t.
And remember to breathe.

*banquette – seat
*à point – medium
*bleu – rare
*de l’eau – some water
*un verre d’eau – a glass of water
*grenouille – frog
*moelleux – soft or mellow

Hitting the Gym

If you are still learning French, you may think that taking an exercise class in Paris is beyond your capabilities.  But think about it this way; if you’ve ever been to an aerobics class with the volume cranked up, you know that it’s possible to follow along by watching rather than by listening.  On the other hand, the prospect of going right when everyone else is going left, or being singled out by the instructor, can be downright scary.   But since you probably need to get out there and burn off a few of those pastries you’ve been eating, here are a few vocabulary words you’ll likely hear at the gym.   If nothing else, you’ll soon learn to count to eight forwards and backwards.  Courage!

Parts of the Body

la tête: head
le visage: face
le menton chin
le cou: neck
la poitrine: chest
les abdominaux: abdominals
le bras: arm
les épaules: shoulders
les pectoraux: pectorals
le coude: elbow
le poignet: wrist
la main: hand
le dos: back
les fessiers, fesses: butt
la jambe: leg
les cuisses: thighs
le genou: knee
la cheville: ankle
le pied:  foot
la pointe des pieds: tiptoe

Actions

Aller: to go but often in this case, let’s go
Balancer: to swing
Bloquer: to hold in place
Courir: to run
Descendre: to go down, descend
S’écarter: to move apart (as in moving legs or arms apart)
Flechir: to bend
Lever: to raise
Marcher: to walk
Monter: to go up
Se pencher: to incline
Plier: to bend
Pomper: to pump (as in pushups)
Relâcher: to let go, relax
Respirer: to breath in
Rester: to stay in place
Souffler: to breath out
Sauter: to jump

Directions

droite: right
gauche: left
en haut: up high
en bas: down low
vers la glace: to the mirror
à l’arrière: to the rear
changer de côté: to change sides
l’autre côté: the other side

Equipment

le banc: bench
le baton: stick
l’elastique: rubber band
les haltères: hand weights, dumb bells
le rameur: rowing machine
le tapis: the mat
le tapis de course: treadmill 

The Gym

le vestiaire:  locker room
hamman: sauna
les douches: showers
le casier: locker
la cabine: dressing cubicle

And then there are my personal favorites:  le stretching and le step touch.  Both of these mean exactly what you’d think.

Parlez Vous? Formal Instruction in French Language

While you can get by in Paris without speaking French (particularly if you speak English), it’s not a strategy I’d recommend.  You will be constantly frustrated, both by your inability to fully understand what is going on around you and your inability to say what needs to be said.   And the people with whom you are trying to communicate will get crabby too.  So do yourself a favor, even if you think you have no talent for languages, and make an effort. 

In the city of Paris, every mairie (town hall for the arrondissement) offers some kind of instruction for French language learners.  These vary in their intensity and quality; what they do have in common is they tend to be close to your home and the fees are quite reasonable.  The downside is that the instruction is variable and the classes often quite large. These sessions fill up quickly so don’t mess around once you figure out when registration will take place. 

There are dozens of options in Paris for language learners.  Here are a few that seem to pop up on everyone’s list. As always, leave a comment if you have information to share about these or other programs.

Alliance Francaise
101, boulevard Raspail
75006 Paris
Rolling enrollment; options range from 4 to 20 hours per week.

Ecole PERL
6, rue Spinoza
75011 Paris
Standard and intensive courses with class size limited to 15 students; rolling enrollment with courses starting throughout the year.

French As You Like It
Private French lessons focused on learning grammar and vocabulary for practical everyday purposes.  Learn the French you need for business or to go to the market.  Private and semiprivate (up to 4 students) offered for children as well. 

Institut Catholique de Paris
21, rue d’Assas
75006 Paris
A wide range of French language programs are offered on a traditional academic calendar, although there are also intensive short courses.

Institut de Langue Française (ILF)
3, avenue Bertie-Albrecht
75008 Paris
A variety of courses offered at all levels including private instruction and special courses for kids.  Standard courses are 10 or 20 hours per week with courses beginning the first of each month; classes limited to 15 students.

Institut Parisien
27, boulevard des Italiens
75002 Paris
General courses are for 15 or 20 hours per week with workshops also offered in conversation, phonetics, and written French.  One on one instruction is also available as is a special program for au pairs.

Lutece Langue
23, boulevard Sebastopol
75001 Paris
Intensive and standard courses with start dates every Monday.   This school also offers short courses for those whose schedules do not permit them to attend regular classes as well as private and semi-private tutoring. 

Paris Langues
30, rue Cabanis
75014 Paris
Small group instruction at range of levels with new courses starting each month; courses range from 2 weeks to 9 months.

Sorbonne
16 bis rue de l’Estrapade
75005 Paris
The Sorbonne’s courses in French language and civilization are suitable for levels from beginner to advanced.  There are a lot of options in terms of intensity, time of day, and focus.

Verlaine Langue
18, rue Martin Bernard
75013 Paris
Small group (no more than 6 students) with instruction daily (1.5 hours per day) and the expectation that you will complete 1.5 hours of homework daily.  Courses start every Monday.  No advanced courses.

Deciphering Acronyms Used by French Language Programs

CECR : Cadre Européen Commun de Référence
CERT: Certification
CFTJ : Club Français du Tourisme des Jeunes
CIDJ : Centre d’Information et de Documentation Jeunesse
CIJP : Centre International des Jeunes à Paris
CIEP : Centre International d’étude Pédagogique
DALF : Diplôme d’Approfondissement de la Langue Française
DELF : Diplôme d’étude en Langue Française
ECTS: European Credit Transfer System
FLE : Français Langue Étrangère
TCF : Test de Connaissance du Français
TEF : Test d’Évaluation du Français

Special thanks to Maureen Bartee for collecting much of this information.

Technical Difficulties

Time for another language lesson from ielanguages.com, an incredible, free on-line French language resource created by Jennie Wagner, an English lecturer at the Université de Savoie in Chambéry, France. Jennie has graciously allowed Posted in Paris to repost several of her tutorials. Make sure you follow the links in each post back to her site for the sound files.  Today:  some useful vocabulary for setting up a cell phone account and dealing with computer problems.

 Cell Phones

pay as you go plan sans engagement text message SMS
credit/minutes le crédit photo message MMS
to recharge your account recharger votre compte call waiting le double appel
contract plan le forfait caller ID la présentation du numero
extra charges hors forfait unlimited calls les appels illimités
payment plan le plan tarifaire PIN code le code PIN / secret
land line la ligne fixe SIM card la carte SIM
voicemail la messagerie vocale locked bloqué
account summary le suivi conso to download télécharger
empty / no credit épuisé ringtone la sonnerie

 

You can find the sound files here.

Computers 

computer l’ordinateur scanner le scanner
disk la disquette laptop le portable
document le document internet l’internet
CD-ROM le cédérom internet user l’internaute
monitor l’écran online en-ligne
keyboard le clavier link le lien
mouse la souris bookmark le signet
printer l’imprimante e-mail le courriel / le mail
memo la note de service password le mot de passe
fax machine le télécopieur search engine le moteur de recherche
photocopier la photocopieuse chat room la salle de tchatche
typewriter la machine à écrire bulletin board le forum
software le logiciel homepage la page d’accueil
file le dossier website le site
cabinet le placard web browswer le navigateur
memory card la carte mémoire cable le câble
flashdrive la clé USB DSL l’ADSL
external HD le disque dur externe to sign on / off se connecter / déconnecter
attachment la pièce jointe to scroll up / down dérouler le texte
to attach joindre to download télécharger

 

Sound files can be found here at #95.

Gender Bender

One thing that constantly trips up Anglophones when they’re trying to speak French is the gender of nouns. Virtually all nouns in English are neuter (with the obvious exception of those referring to boys, girls, men, and women) so it’s all new. Moreover, there seems to be no particular logic.

Well you’re right.  There’s no way to reason out whether a particular noun is masculine or feminine.   You just have to memorize them; in time, you will get used to hearing words in context and the right article will come off your tongue naturally.

But in the mean time, life must be lived and the correct articles (le or la) and numbers (un or une) should be used.  (I heard a story once about a guy so frightened about making a mistake that he always asked for two, rather than say une when the correct choice was un. )  And don’t get your panties in a twist if the shopkeeper corrects you. Trust me, you will never forget it! Finally, if you are ordering items at the boulangerie or marche, remember to use your thumb, not your index finger, to indicate one, and your thumb and index finger to indicate two, and so on. For quick reference, here’s a cheat sheet for some of the things you may be buying daily.

Fruits

These are just a few of the fruits you’ll find in a French market.   I’ve limited the list because I’ve never heard of anyone buying one cherry or one grape.  Thankfully, the article for multiples is les, no matter whether it’s masculine or feminine. 

English French
Apple La pomme
Apricot L’abricot (masculine)
Banana La banane
Grapefruit Le pamplemousse
Lemon Le citron
Lime Le citron vert
Melon Le melon
Orange L’orange (feminine)
Peach La pêche
Pear La poire
Pineapple L’ananas (masculine)
Plum La prune
Pomegranate La grenade
Watermelon La pastèque

 

Vegetables

English French
Artichoke L’artichaut (masculine)
Avocado L’avocat (masculine)
Broccoli Le broccoli
Cabbage Le chou
Cauliflower Le chou-fleur
Celery Le céleri
Cucumber Le concombre
Eggplant L’aubergine (feminine)
Onion L’oignon (masculine)
Pepper Le poivron
Tomato La tomate

For other fruits and vegetables, you will want to tell the vendor that you want a bunch (une botte), a handful (une poignée,) a small box (une barquette),  a dozen (une douzaine), or just the amount in grams or kilos (for example, cent grammes or un demi-kilo).

Baked Goods

No translations here because these items are almost all uniquely French.

Le beignet
La brioche
La baguette
Le chausson aux pommes
Le croissant
L’éclair (masculine)
Le gâteau
Le macaron
La meringue
Le millefeuille
Le pain
Le pain au chocolat
Le pain aux raisins
La religieuse
La tarte