Archive for August, 2013

Remember this ad aimed at people with drug addictions?

Tanné d’être gelé?
Had it with being stoned?
Sick of being stoned?

Literally, gelé means frozen.

That sums up how someone who’s stoned looks.

Tanné means fed up. So, je suis tanné (which you can also hear pronounced informally as chu tanné or chui tanné), means “I’m fed up” or “I’ve had it.”

Tanné d'être gelé?I saw a new version of the ad the other day.

Now that it’s summer, the ad reads like this:

Tanné d’être gelé?
même l’été

It’s a play on words:

Had it with being frozen (i.e., stoned), even in the summer?

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Je mange d'in vidangesI was out with my camera when I came across a squat in an alley.

One of the squatters had spray painted je mange d’in vidanges on a wall.

je mange = I eat
d’in = dans les = in the
vidanges = garbage

Je mange d’in vidanges.
Je mange dans les vidanges.
I eat in the garbage, but better worded as:
I eat from the garbage.

In another entry on OffQc, we saw examples of how vidanges is used in the sense of garbage in Québec.

In this sense, vidanges is used in the plural: les vidanges. We’ll forgive the person who spray painted the singular vidange. He ran out of wall. There was no room for the s.

When dans + les come together, it sometimes contracts to form what sounds like dain (rhymes with main and hein). In the image, we see the spelling d’in.

It’s certainly not necessary for you to say d’in instead of dans les. Just make a mental note of this pronunciation for the times when you happen to hear it.

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1. Espace

During a conversation, the French word espace came up.

Remember, this word is pronounced espâce (a bit like “espawss”), but it’s never written the accented â.

2. Aucune câlisse d’idée!

Just overheard somebody say this — it’s means “(I’ve got) no fucking idea!”

3. Ç’a pas d’allure!

A reader of OffQc asks about the meaning of this expression. It means “that makes no sense!”

It becomes ça n’a pas d’allure if we include the ne.

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If you’ve got a francophone boyfriend or girlfriend who won’t speak to you in French, what can you do to change this?

Maybe the two of you have spent a considerable amount of time speaking in a language other than French, like English or some other language that you share. But your French has improved, and now you’d like to start communicating in French with your partner.

(I’m just going to say “partner” and “he” to keep the language simple. You can understand it to mean boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, he, she, etc.)

Is it possible for the language to switch in a relationship?

Yes, of course, it’s possible. It’s just that most people who attempt to make it happen go about it in selfish ways that backfire, like these:

Wake up one morning and declare that you’re both going to start speaking in French as of right now, whether your partner likes it or not.

Get upset when your partner speaks to you in English, whether on purpose or out of habit, and demand that he speak French.

Don’t do that stuff, okay? Let me explain.

Making a language switch is a monumental change in a relationship. Don’t underestimate it. If you go about it the wrong way, it’s not going to work.

You’re excited that your French has improved so much that you’re ready to start speaking in French with your partner. Good for you! Now come back down to Earth.

You may feel ready for the change, but that doesn’t mean your partner does too. When you start speaking in another language, the relationship is going to feel very different. Your partner will probably feel uncomfortable about this.

If you just wake up and decide that from now on it’s going to be French and only French, you can be pretty sure that your decision will be met with resistance, even if your partner seems to be willing to humour your crazy ideas at first.

You’re thinking: I can speak French now! I can speak to my partner in his language! Hooray for me!

He’s thinking: Oh shit. This is going to be hell.

And then the resistance starts. You start speaking in French and, maybe for the first ten minutes, he obliges. But then it’s back to English. And this frustrates you. Now when he says something to you in English, you get angry, when before it was perfectly normal for the two of you to speak English.

He thinks you’re crazy. “Why do we have to change?” he wonders. “Because I want to speak French now!” you retaliate. (Me! Me! Me!) And around and around you go, until all you’ve managed to do is create a whole lot of negativity around the idea of speaking French.


Can I make a few suggestions?

Find someone else to speak French with.

Don’t make your partner bear all the responsibility of providing you with speaking opportunities in French. Your French isn’t his responsibility – it’s yours. Find other people so that you don’t need to put this pressure on him and your relationship. You’re excited about speaking French, and that’s great. Now get excited about speaking French with someone else.

Take it very slowly.

When I say very slowly, I mean so slowly that he barely notices a change. Maybe for a long time the only thing you’ll say to him in French is je t’aime, or ça va?, or oui and non. You can try dropping in a little more French after a while, but always do it so slowly that it doesn’t feel like anything is changing between the two of you. He just thinks that you’re dropping in some French for the novelty of it, and you don’t require any French from him in return.

Let him speak English.

When he speaks to you in English, let him. You’ve been using that language for so long now that it’s unreasonable to expect him to make such a radical change on what seems to him like a whim. If you say something in French and he answers back in English, don’t sweat it. You’re already achieving a very nice result: he answered you back after you spoke in French.

Spend time with his family.

When you visit his parents, let him hear you speak French with them. He’s not used to the idea of French coming out of your mouth. Let him get used to it by hearing you speak French with other people, like his family or friends. If they answer you back in French, you’ll help him to start associating you with the idea of speaking French.

Let your partner convince himself.

Don’t try to convince your partner to switch to French. Let him convince himself of it. You go about your own business speaking French with other people. From time to time, you drop tiny bits of French into your conversations with him. You let him hear you speaking French with his family or friends. You let him speak with you in the language he wants.

If your partner is going to speak in French with you, let it be his decision, not yours. You’ve planted the seeds. Now be patient and let them grow.

Remember, your French is not your partner’s responsibility.

It’s yours alone.

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When I lived in Istanbul in 2003, I did everything wrong to learn Turkish.


  • I took Turkish classes instead of speaking in Turkish with Turkish people.
  • I spoke in English or French with the Turkish friends that I had made, instead of speaking in Turkish.
  • I studied Turkish from a textbook used in my class, instead of reading stuff that Turkish people read.
  • I listened to recordings accompanying the textbook, instead of listening to real conversations and stuff that Turkish people listen to.

I don’t speak Turkish very well today despite all of my hard work. I can have simple conversations, but it’s far from what I’d actually call knowing how to speak Turkish.

If I could do it all over again, here’s what I’d do:

  • Never attend a single Turkish class ever again in my life.
  • Consult a textbook only very occasionally, mostly to resolve a doubt.
  • Speak in Turkish with the Turkish friends that I had made. (Duh!)
  • Perhaps use recordings made for learners, but keep it to a minimum.
  • Listen to insane amounts of real conversations in Turkish and authentic materials (TV, radio).
  • Cultivate my sense of adventure and throw caution to the wind.

In fact, that’s exactly how I learned Spanish.

With Turkish, I took a much more “traditional” approach. By that, I mean that I studied it like a subject. How stupid of me! I was much smarter when the time came for me to learn Spanish.

The truth is that I really didn’t care about learning Spanish at the time. This indifference towards Spanish allowed me to get rid of all my inhibitions.

I spoke when I wanted to, said it any old way I knew how, and just didn’t give a damn what people thought. I listened to anything in Spanish just for the hell of it. I didn’t care if I understood it or not.

I speak fluent Spanish today.

Turkish, on the other hand…

I cared very much about learning Turkish. I might even say too much. I tried to “manage” my learning. I tried to do everything in graded doses so that I wouldn’t scare myself too much by coming up against what I couldn’t understand.

What I should have done was just say to hell with it like I later did with Spanish.

I’m not saying you should stop caring about learning French. That would be silly.

What I’m saying is:

  • Stop worrying about learning French.

What I’m also saying is:

  • Expose yourself to lots of French that you don’t understand. If what you don’t understand exhausts and frustrates you, you’re worrying about learning French. See the bulleted point immediately above.
  • Ditch your inhibitions. They are not your friends. They will only hold you back.
  • Stop trying to manage your learning like at school. You’ll never feel at home in French unless you stop doing that.
  • To hell with what you don’t understand right now. You’ll understand it someday without having to force it.
  • Drop your guard and make mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not even trying.

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Ramassez!I saw this sign tied around a tree in Montréal. It reminds people that the street is not a toilet for dogs:

Pick it up!

Maybe you’ll remember the verb ramasser from the list of 50 French words using the â sound in Québec but written without the accent.

It sounds like ramâsser.

I dug around OffQc for some more examples of ramasser.

There’s a good one in entry #431, where the expression ramasser quelqu’un was used in the sense of picking someone up by car. It comes from a telephone dialogue in 30 vies (season 2, episode 82) between Karine and Vincent:

V — Allô?
K — Je te ramasse?
V — T’es où, là?
K — Pas loin.
V — Oui, viens-t’en.

V — Hello?
K — You want me to pick you up?
V — Where are ya?
K — Not far.
V — Yes, come.

In #437, we came across an example of se ramasser used in the sense of being tidy and picking up after oneself. Natalie from Les Parent (season 4, episode 18) reminds her son that she’s always telling him and his brothers to pick up after themselves around the house:

Ce que je vous dis souvent aussi c’est de ranger pis de vous ramasser.
What I often also tell you is to tidy up and to pick up after yourselves.

Quelqu’un qui ne se ramasse jamais is someone who never picks up after himself. He’s messy.

In the video below (transcribed in full here in the Listen section), a magician explains how to do a magic trick with a cord. He uses the verb ramasser twice.

He says:

Et là, lorsque nos bras sont croisés, il faut ramasser la corde avec chacune des mains.
And now, when our arms are crossed, we have to pick up the cord with both hands.

And then:

Avec la main droite, on ramasse la corde de l’autre côté.
With the right hand, we pick up the cord on the other side.

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In 5 solid ways to improve your listening comprehension in French, Ash comments:

What I have a particular problem with is that I am totally not at a level where I can begin to understand most of what is being spoken on the TV shows or radio. I understand a few words here and there but for the most part, my A1-A2 level french lands me perfectly in a deluge of sounds that I can never seem to wrap my head around.

I would love to be able to follow all the pieces of advice on this post, but if anything, I see myself frustrated and mentally exhausted, through entire segments of french audio, whether through TV shows or radio, and completely just listening to what seems like a wall of incomprehensible noise. I am currently trudging through french-subtitled versions of french-dubbed American TV shows in hopes of reaching that level of critical mass at which I can perhaps begin to understand some of the stuff spoken without relying on subtitles exclusively.

Ash, the first thing I want to say is good for you. If you’re listening to lots of French, you’re doing things right. You don’t understand everything you hear right now. That’s completely normal. Every single learner will tell you that they went through the same thing.

What’s the difference between a learner who manages to make sense of the noise and one who doesn’t? The one who manages to make sense of it just kept going. Ash, keep going.

The next thing I want to say is: relax. If you’re frustrated and mentally exhausted, you’re pushing yourself way too hard. You’re forcing yourself to understand things that you’re just not ready for yet.

This doesn’t mean you should stop listening to French. What it means is stop worrying that you understand next to nothing right now. It’s OK.

Don’t try to understand everything right now. Just let all that French wash over you without getting caught up in details. Watch a show. What you understand, you understand. What you don’t understand, just let it go.

You’re not going to learn French better if you force yourself to try to understand things. It doesn’t work that way. You’ll need lots of exposure to French so that your brain can start making sense of it without you having to force it.

This takes time, not struggle. It may help at this stage to scale things back a little, though. If listening to two hours straight of French is mentally exhausting, do frequent but shorter doses. 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there. Increase the time as you go along.

Expose yourself to lots of French that you don’t understand. Don’t limit yourself to just the easy stuff that you know you get. Listen to lots of French that doesn’t make sense, but avoid dissecting it and getting stuck. Just let it go and relax.

If you can stop worrying that you don’t understand, you’ll probably find that you can listen to much longer segments without becoming exhausted at all. This is exactly what’s needed.

There’s a lot of stuff that you’re not going to understand the first time. Maybe you’ll understand it on the twentieth time, though. But to get to the twentieth time, you need to listen to enough French so that the twentieth time has a chance to come around.

If you stop after the first time forcing yourself to understand something, you’ll get stuck at that point.

Keep listening to French.

Relax and let things go.

Trust that French is revealing itself to you exactly as it should be.

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