Archive for August, 2013

I have a friend who used to have trouble with French in public places, like in restaurants and shops. People had trouble understanding him when he spoke.

He was frustrated and disappointed by this. He would often ask me afterwards if the way he had said things was correct.

And you know what?

He usually said things close enough to perfect that it shouldn’t have presented an obstacle to communication.

What was going on then? If his French was good, why would people have trouble understanding what he said?

The problem wasn’t his French.

When he started to learn French, he was understandably shy about using it in public at first.

He would speak too softly. It was hard to hear him in public places.

That was the only problem.

But it was a problem that stuck with him long after his beginnings in French. He had become convinced that speaking French in public would always be a struggle, so he continued to be shy about it.

In private with his francophone friends, he had no problem rambling away in French!

When he started using a louder voice, his problems went away. He became confident about speaking French in public.

If you’re struggling with using your French in public, ask yourself a simple question before you assume that your French is bad:

Am I speaking loudly enough?

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If you lack the courage to speak in French, it’s not because your accent is wonky.

It’s not because your grammar is off.

It’s not because you’re short on vocabulary.

When you’re at home speaking in French to the cat, none of these things hold you back.

If you lack the courage to speak in French, it’s because you worry about how other people will react to your French.

You’re worrying about things you can’t control.

Worrying about things you can’t control is stupid.

This is where an “oh well, whatever” attitude helps.

He didn’t understand me.
Oh well, whatever.

She switched to English on me.
Oh well, whatever.

I forgot how to say it.
Oh well, whatever!

You can fix what needs fixing later.

The “oh well, whatever” attitude works after you speak. Before you speak, you need to silence the thoughts in your head.

Your thoughts are screaming: “Oh my God. My accent is so bad. I can’t speak. I just can’t do it.”

You can’t control other people’s behaviour, but you can control your own.

Now is not the time to be a sissy.

You need to take that inner voice and slap some sense into it.

“Hey there, Inner Voice. You’re right. My accent isn’t so hot. But someday it will be. Oh, and by the way bitch, fuck you.”

Now speak, dammit.

If you lack the courage to speak in French, your priority right now shouldn’t be to learn more French.

It can wait.

Close your books.

Stop studying.

I don’t mean that learning French isn’t important.

What I mean is that worrying about other people’s reactions to your French is the best way to prevent yourself from feeling at home in it.

Make adopting a new mindset your priority instead.

If what you really want is to make French yours, this can’t wait.

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Yes-no questions can be formed in colloquial French using tu. In the examples below, pay attention to the position of tu. This tu doesn’t mean you.

C’est cher. It’s expensive.
C’est-tu cher? Is it expensive?

C’est bon. It’s good.
C’est-tu bon? Is it good?

J’ai raison. I’m right.
J’ai-tu raison? Am I right?

Tu m’aimes. You love me.
Tu m’aimes-tu? Do you love me?

J’ai fait ça. I did that.
J’ai-tu fait ça? Did I do that?

T’as appelé. You called.
T’as-tu appelé? Did you call?

Tu is placed after the conjugated verb (c’est-tu bon?). In composed tenses (like the passé composé), the tu is placed after the auxiliary, not the past participle (j’ai-tu fait ça?).

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Débarre ta villeIn the last post about how to talk about locking up your bike in French, we saw the verb barrer.

I was reminded of this verb’s opposite earlier today on the métro, when I spotted a free newspaper sitting on a seat.

The front page reads:

Débarre ta ville
Unlock your city

If you can lock things up with barrer, then you can unlock them with débarrer, like:

débarrer un cadenas
to open a lock

débarrer une porte
to unlock a door

Débarre ta ville is a treasure hunt from the STM.

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Bien verrouillerDo you know what a bike lock is called in French? What about those U-shaped bike locks… what are those called? How about locking up your bike: can you talk about this in French?

I saw this sign in a park. Bien verrouiller, c’est important! “It’s important to lock up well!” And it’s true — bike robberies are commonplace in Montréal, so be sure to never leave your bike unattended without locking it up.

The sign uses the verb verrouiller in the sense of “to lock.” But maybe you’ll remember from a previous post that the verb barrer is very frequently used in Québec in the same sense.

Barrer is pronounced with the â sound, even though the letter a in this verb isn’t actually written with the circumflex accent. Remember, â sounds something like “aw” to an English speaker.

Both of these expressions mean “to lock my bike”:

verrouiller mon vélo
barrer mon vélo

A lock is called un cadenas in French. When you say cadenas, don’t bother pronouncing that letter e in the middle, and don’t say the s on the end either. It’s pronounced cadnâ.

We can also be more specific and say cadenas pour vélo, or “bike lock,” if the context hasn’t already made it clear.

In the image, we see two kinds of locks, in fact. One is a U-shaped lock, the other one is a cable. That U-shaped lock is called un cadenas en U. The cable is called un câble. We can also call it un cadenas à câble.

You noticed that câble is spelled with â, right? This word takes the â sound.

When you choose where to lock your bike, choose something solid, like a pole, un poteau. We read on the sign:

Roue et cadre attachés à un support solide
Wheel and frame locked up to a solid support

Guess what… cadre is pronounced câdre. That’s another word that uses the â sound but it has trouble openly admitting it!

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