Archive for February, 2015

prendre une débarque

Overheard on the radio — la débarque de Madonna. The radio host talked about Madonna’s débarque on stage this week: she fell backwards off it.

The informal expression prendre une débarque used in Québec means to fall, to take a spill.

Une débarque is a fall, une chute.

If you spend any time walking in Québec streets in the winter, you know you have to be careful about not taking a débarque on the ice.

In fact, I saw a man take a débarque on the sidewalk just after hearing about Madonna’s on the radio.

TVA Nouvelles used this headline to talk about Madonna’s fall:

Méchante débarque pour Madonna!

Méchant is used in the headline in the sense of nasty.

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Does French seem like this when you listen? If so, you’re doing it right. Now keep going.

Listening (and understanding what you hear) is the most challenging aspect of learning a language. It’s possible to be a decent speaker of French and still understand little of what you hear.

What can you do about this?

Listen to more French.

Yeah, I know, you already knew that. But are you actually doing it? And if you aren’t, why are you avoiding it?

For some of us, it can be distressing to notice that we don’t understand spoken language very well, so we avoid listening. Or maybe you find it exhausting to listen to what seems like endless noise, so you avoid it.

Everybody goes through this — it’s not just you. But everybody who eventually gets past this also had to just put up with it and keep pushing forward.

If it’s exhausting to listen to French because it all sounds like noise to you, listen in shorter doses. Listen for 10 minutes, then stop. Do another 10 minutes later on, and then another 10, and another. Don’t force yourself to listen to an hour straight if it’s going to frustrate you. As your understanding increases, you can listen in longer sessions.

If hearing all that language you don’t understand is distressing to you, listen for what you do understand instead. Pick out all the words and expressions you do understand and focus on that. Let the rest go.

Understanding movies in another language is very challenging, so don’t put unrealistic demands on yourself. Listen to them for enjoyment, but don’t drive yourself insane trying to understand language you don’t understand. It won’t work anyway, and you’ll just get frustrated.

Don’t let what you don’t understand deter you. Even when the language is above our level, there are still parts we’ll understand. At first, there won’t be many of them, but they’ll become more numerous over time. Listen, enjoy and let the rest go. If you’re listening a lot, that language is going to keep coming up again and again. Maybe you won’t understand something the first time you hear it, but you might understand it the thirty-seventh time in a different context without even trying.

If you’re exposing yourself to a lot of French, then it’s only natural to come across copious amounts of stuff you don’t understand. You’re doing it right.

Increase your vocabulary.

We need to know a huge amount of vocabulary and expressions to understand spoken French comfortably. That’s not meant to freak you out. It’s meant to reassure you — this is something you can work on, starting today.

Pick a topic and then speak aloud about it for 10 minutes in French to yourself. Every time you find yourself struggling to express yourself, write down the words you didn’t know how to say. At the end of the 10 minutes, go find out how to say those words in French and learn them. Keep doing this over and over to uncover gaps in your vocabulary. You’ll probably be amazed by what you discover.

Make a friend who speaks French.

And then speak in French with that friend!

A lot of learners of French want to practise with cashiers, store employees, strangers, etc., while on holiday in Québec. There’s nothing wrong with this (it can be motivating), but it’s not high quality practice. There’s only so much you’re going to learn from a cashier who tells you how much you owe and asks if you want a bag or not for your purchase.

Ideally you’ll make a friend who speaks French (or boyfriend, girlfriend, co-worker, etc.) — someone who cares about you and isn’t just a random stranger. If you’re fortunate, that person will speak to you in French in a way you’re more likely to understand and will spend lots of time speaking with you. Obviously the more people you have like this in your life, the better your chances.

Your listening comprehension will improve dramatically the more you take part in meaningful conversations.

Learn colloquial language.

Textbooks and language classes are usually very faithful to the written standard. Often what you learn in a language class sounds more like written French than spoken French. It’s not surprising then that spoken French can seem like a wall when the most basic features of colloquial language have never been encountered, stuff like contractions, omitted words, informal vocabulary and turns of phrase.

That’s why I wrote C’est what? 75 mini lessons in conversational Québécois French. This guide will give you a broad overview of important features of spoken language. It will raise your awareness of how conversational French differs from what you learned in school or from a textbook, and it will make it easier for you to figure things out on your own. You can download C’est what? here.

Have patience.

Even when you’re doing all the right things, it’s still going to take time. You’ll speed things up by working on your listening every day, but accept that you can’t force understanding to happen. Expose yourself to as much spoken French as you can, then relax and let time do the rest. Perseverance and patience really are the keys.

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More Urbania!

Keven Breton writes about the consequences of having fingers that don’t bend and, as a result, are stuck in the “fuck you” position.

I don’t know what it’s like to have fingers that don’t bend. I only know what it’s like to have an ankle and toes that don’t bend.

Since being hit by a vehicle that ran over my foot, my fourth toe sits partially atop my big toe. (It’s not so much the “fuck you” position as it is the “what the fuck” position.)

So I read Keven’s blog post with great interest — and then I came across some vocab that you might like to know.

In his blog post, Keven writes about the time he came back from the store with a beer, the beer that would make his journée poche all better.

Once home, he begins to clean la slush off the wheels of his wheelchair. He does this on the rug so that he doesn’t get the floor dirty.

But then he spills his beer all over the floor anyway — il renverse la bière drette dessus.

une journée poche
a crappy day

la slush, la sloche
slush (dirty, soupy snow)

drette dessus
right on it, right on top of it

J’ai renversé la bière drette dessus means I spilled the beer right on it. Chu tombé drette dessus means I fell right on it. T’as mis le doigt drette dessus means you hit the nail on the head (literally, you put your finger right on it). Drette dessus is an informal usage.

Keven Breton’s blog posts on Urbania can be found here. If you want to check out the blog posts from all Urbania authors, that’s here. Urbania blog posts are refreshingly different, and the writing often contains elements of informally spoken language.

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Keven Breton, Ces doigts qui ne plient pas, Urbania, 27 January 2015.

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On Urbania, Donavan Lauzon lists his top 10 signs you’ve failed Valentine’s Day.

Number 9?

Tu t’es fait domper au mois de février.

You got dumped in the month of February.

Domper is an informal usage. It comes from the English dump.

But se faire domper isn’t the only way he says to get dumped in his post. He also uses the swear word crisser in the expression se faire crisser là.

[…] tu te fais crisser là, la semaine ou la journée même de la St-Valentin.

Maybe that expression will remind you of Lisa LeBlanc’s song Câlisse-moi là. Câlisser is a swear word. Câlisse-moi là is a rude way of saying dump me. If you follow that link, you’ll find another example of this: Maude Schiltz in Ah shit, j’ai pogné le cancer says she’s dumping a health professional at the hospital where she’s receiving treatment because she’s lost all faith in him. She says:

C’est fini, je le câlisse là.

Crisser and câlisser are often used when talking about getting rid of things (and people!). Crisser quelqu’un dehors and câlisser quelqu’un dehors both mean to kick someone the hell/fuck out. But when the sense is one of dumping or ditching someone, instead of dehors it’s là.

Tu te fais crisser là.
Je le câlisse là.
Câlisse-moi là, etc.

The author goes on to explain that getting dumped on or around Valentine’s Day is bad timing:

Être en break-up à cette période de l’année, c’est comme pogner une érection en public : vraiment pas un timing optimal.

Being broken up this time of the year [around Valentine’s Day] is like getting an erection in public: really not the best timing.

Broadly speaking, pogner means to catch. So pogner une érection means to “catch” an erection, in other words, to get an erection.

se faire domper
se faire crisser là
crisser quelqu’un dehors
pogner une érection

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Donavan Lauzon, Le Registre : les 10 signes que tu échoues ta St-Valentin, Urbania, 12 February 2015.

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On Urbania in “Il ne fait définitivement pas beau dans le métro,” Marie Darsigny writes about her displeasure with taking the métro.

She says:

Mon rêve : une bataille générale à Berri-UQAM, où je sors ma sandwich et l’effouerre dans la face de mon prochain.

My dream: a brawl at Berri-UQAM, where I take out my sandwich and squash it in the face of the person next to me.

A few interesting things to look at in this quote:

1. Your dictionary probably says un sandwich, but it’s used here in the feminine instead — ma sandwich. You’ll often hear sandwich used in the feminine, particularly in spoken language.

2. The verb effoirer means to squash, to crush. This verb is an informal usage. It didn’t even make it into the Usito dictionary.

The author has used a pronunciation variation, and then spelled that variation phonetically (effouerrer).

I squash my sandwich in the face of the person next to me.
J’effoire ma sandwich dans la face de mon prochain.
Or using the author’s variation:
J’effouerre ma sandwich dans la face de mon prochain.

The Wiktionnaire article for effoirer says the following about this verb’s spelling variations:

Variantes orthographiques
Elles sont très nombreuses : ce verbe étant essentiellement oral, il est très souvent transcrit phonétiquement par la personne qui l’écrit. Par exemple, on trouve effouarer, effouerer, effouérer, effouèrer, éffoirer, éffouarer, éffouèrer, éffouérer, éffouerer, effouairer, éfouérer.

Got all that?

The reflexive verb s’effoirer has a different meaning. For example, s’effoirer sur le divan means to crash on the sofa. The same Wiktionnaire article gives this example of it: J’ai juste le goût de m’effoirer sur le divan, I just feel like crashing on the sofa.

3. Can you say how dans la face in the quote might be pronounced spontaneously? Dans la can contract in informal speech, but do you remember how?

Maybe you’ll remember from past posts the expression dans la marde, which contracts informally to dans’ marde in spoken language. T’es dans’ marde means you’re screwed. Dans’ is a spoken reduction of dans la.

The same reduction can occur in dans la face.

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Marie Darsigny, Il ne fait définitivement pas beau dans le métro, Urbania, 17 February 2015.

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