Archive for October, 2011

Take a risk (#304)

There’s only one way to build speaking confidence in your new language.

By taking risks.

If you lack confidence in French, start taking risks. Walk up to people and ask for the time in French. Ask others where the metro station is, or the nearest bank. When that gets easy, tell someone standing at the bus stop that you like their shoes. You don’t live in Quebec? Call the French line of a 1-800 number and ask for product information. Become a guide for a French-speaking newcomer to your city.

You’ll make mistakes. Maybe you’ll forget a word. It doesn’t matter. Building confidence isn’t about being perfect. It’s about throwing yourself into new situations over and over again, and seeing that the world doesn’t come to an end just because you misconjugated a verb.

This isn’t school.

You won’t build speaking confidence by stuyding just one more page of grammar, by reviewing just one more vocabulary list, or by reading just one more entry on this blog. (There’s nothing wrong with these things, just don’t confuse learning about French with building confidence in French.)

Go. Take a risk.

Then do it again.

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Ça parle de quoi? (#303)

You’re reading a book. A friend sees you with the book in your hands and wants to know what it’s about. Your friend might ask you in French:

Ça parle de quoi, ton livre?
What’s your book about?

Or maybe you tell a friend that you’ve started a new blog. If your friend wanted to know more about your blog, you might be asked:

Ça parle de quoi, ton blogue?
What’s your blog about?

In a scene from Les Parent, Olivier is singing along to a song whose lyrics bother his mother. She interrupts him to ask him what song he’s listening to (C’est quoi la chanson que t’es en train d’écouter?), then she asks him what it’s about (Ça parle de quoi?).

The expression ça parle de quoi? can be used anywhere in the French-speaking world to ask about the subject matter of a book, movie, show, song, website, blog, magazine…

[This entry was inspired by the series Les Parent, “Fréquentations douteuses,” season 4, episode 4, Radio-Canada, Montreal, 3 October 2011.]

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Here’s another clip from the VideoHockeyQuebec YouTube channel. Even if hockey doesn’t interest you, I still recommend you learn some basic vocabulary related to it if you plan on living in Quebec! In this clip, the speaker talks about how to maintain balance when an opponent makes physical contact.

If you can’t see the video above, watch it here on YouTube.

Un joueur pousse sur les hanches et sur les épaules de son partenaire et tente de le déséquilibrer. Trépied solide utilisant le bâton comme troisième appui, appui solide du pied opposé à la mise en échec, plier le genou et s’abaisser du côté du contact, établir une ligne droite entre la jambe d’appui et le pied à l’endroit du contact sont les points clés d’enseignement. Le groupe à droite démontre quelques erreurs communes : le bâton n’est pas devant le joueur, la base n’est pas assez large, le tronc est trop fléchi vers l’avant.

le bâton, stick
la mise en échec, body check
le tronc, torso
fléchi vers l’avant, bent forward

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An excellent YouTube channel for those of you who want to learn some French hockey expressions and vocab through videos: VideoHockeyQuebec. In the clip below, the speaker talks about checking into the boards, or donner de la bande in French. I’ll try to do more of these videos in future entries.

If you can’t see the video above, watch it here on YouTube.

Une punition mineure ou, à la discrétion de l’arbitre, une punition majeure et extrême inconduite selon le degré de violence de l’impact contre la bande seront imposées à tout joueur qui met en échec un adversaire de façon à ce que ce dernier soit projeté violemment contre la bande. Un joueur qui va frapper un adversaire en se dirigeant vers lui dans un angle mort, de sorte que le porteur de la rondelle ne peut aucunement le voir, sera puni avec vigueur.

donner de la bande, to check into the boards
inconduite, misconduct
contre la bande,
against the boards
mettre en échec, to check
la rondelle, the puck

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In this article published yesterday by Radio-Canada, we find three different nicknames for the Canadiens de Montréal:

  • le Canadien
  • le CH
  • le Tricolore

The team can be referred to in either the singular or plural in French: le Canadien or les Canadiens. The singular form is a sort of nickname. The nickname le CH comes from the team logo. (The H stands for hockey, not “Habs.”) The nickname le Tricolore comes from the three team colours: red, white and blue.


Le Canadien a affronté les Bruins.
Le CH a triomphé des Bruins.
Le Tricolore a remporté le match.

affronter, to play against
triompher de quelqu’un,
to triumph over someone
remporter le match, to win the game

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Tabarnouche! (#299)

You’ve no doubt noticed that a lot of inspiration for these entries comes from the shows La Galère, Les Parent and 30 vies. Another good series is 19-2, which isn’t currently running, but season 1 is available on DVD.

In this entry, more from La Galère — an example of a softened version of the swear word tabarnac in Quebec French:

Stéphanie loses her temper, and the swear word tabarnac starts to come out of her mouth…


But then a priest approaches, whom she knows personally, and Stéphanie says the last syllable of the word as…

… nouche.

The priest comments:

Nac. Tu peux le dire.

Tabarnouche is a softened version of tabarnac (or tabarnak).

We don’t say nac on its own like in the last quote above — the priest just meant that Stéphanie didn’t have to replace the last syllable with something softer just because he showed up. (This doesn’t mean that it’s okay to say tabarnac in front of priests in real life, though. He was just being friendly with Stéphanie, who’s an acquaintance — and this is just a TV show!)

There are more notes regarding swearing in French in the comments section.

[The quotes above are taken from La Galère, season 4, episode 7, Radio-Canada, Montreal, 24 October 2011.]

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Isabelle from the series La Galère is a lawyer. In her personal life, she likes things to be in order. She’s very concerned with what people think of her — she’s always dressed professionally when she goes out, even when she’s not working. Isabelle never relaxes.

But then, one day, she meets a new man. He rides a motorbike, he’s rough on the edges, and Isabelle thinks he may even be a criminal. But she’s intrigued and, although she doesn’t let on, she’s attracted to him.

Try to picture these two different personality types: one, an uptight lawyer who never relaxes; the other, a rough guy who rides a motorbike, someone who maybe has a “past.”

In a scene where this new guys stops by Isabelle’s house on his motorbike, Isabelle puts forward her usual inhibited self — she doesn’t like that he’s stopped by without notice, and she doesn’t like motorbikes. She lets him know that she’s not impressed (even though we suspect that she’s secretly happy to see him). To tease Isabelle about how uptight she is, he says:

T’as l’air pognée.

[Said by a biker (un motard) in La Galère, season 4, episode 7, Radio-Canada, Montreal, 24 October 2011.]

When you come across new expressions in French, you can use Google or another search engine as a guide. Imagine that you’ve come across the expression avoir l’air pogné for the first time. Using Google, you can search for variations of this expression to see what you come up with. If you put your search terms between quotation marks, you’ll search for those exact words in that exact order.

As an example, you can type “as l’air pogné” (with quotation marks) into Google and find these examples:

Sois plus à l’aise au mic*, t’as l’air pogné.
T’es pas drôle en personne, t’as l’air pogné.

You can try the same experiment with different expressions that you’re learning. You can usually find good examples that help you to deepen your understanding. Just be aware that you’ll probably find lots of spelling mistakes in online forums!

Then you can start to use the expression in combination with other ones that you already know. For example, avoir l’air pogné + sur une photo:

T’as l’air pogné sur cette photo.

Were you able to infer the meaning of the expression avoir l’air pogné without needing a translation into English? (If not, you can check out the comments section.)

* mic = mike (i.e., microphone)

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