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During a conversation in French last weekend, a young woman in her 20s used three expressions over and over while speaking:

1. Là, j’étais comme…
2. Moi là…
3. Fa’ que là…

Here’s what they mean (because you’ll definitely be hearing them during French conversations):

  • Là, j’étais comme…

This is similar to the English “then I was (just) like…” used by certain people when telling a story about something that happened.

She pronounced j’étais informally as j’tais. When j collides with t, the j makes a ch sound.

Là, j’étais comme : « De quoi tu parles?? »
Then I was like, “What are you talking about??”

  • Moi là…

She often gave her opinion about something by starting off with moi là. It’s similar to saying “personally” or “as for me” in English.

Moi là, j’aime pas ça.
Personally, I don’t like it.

Sometimes it’s also said with pis (an informal pronunciation of puis) when relating events. It’s just an informal way of saying “and.”

Pis moi là, j’étais comme : « De quoi tu parles?? »
And me, I was like, “What are you talking about??”

  • Fa’ que là…

This is similar to saying “so then” in English, where fa’ que (from fait que) means “so” and means “then.”

Fa’ que là, j’ai dit : « De quoi tu parles?? »
So then I said, “What are you talking about??”

She always said fa’ que là with three syllables, but you’ll also hear it said with two: fak là.

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1. de quoi tu parles?

Confused, a guy asked his friend de quoi tu parles?, or “what are you talking about?” Using the inversion here (de quoi parles-tu?) would sound much less conversational.

2. viens-t’en!

A mother told her child to come to her by saying viens-t’en, “come here.” The opposite (go away) is va-t’en. The infinitive forms are s’en venir (to come along) and s’en aller (to go away). Je m’en viens means “I’m coming.”

3. un esti de gros cave

A guy told his friend that the person they were talking about was un esti de gros cave, or “a big fucking idiot.” Esti is a swear word in Québec. Cave (idiot) isn’t a swear word, but it is an insult.

4. chu allé

During a conversation, my neighbour’s child pronounced je suis allé informally as chu allé. Another informal pronunciation you may hear is chui allé. My young neighbour also got into an argument with an another neighbour. He told her she was crazy: t’es folle!

5. y’a rien de bon icitte

An angry lady in a restaurant said y’a rien de bon icitte, “there’s nothin’ good here.” Some native speakers may find it odd to hear a learner of French say icitte instead of ici. Saying y’a rien de bon ici is perfectly conversational too.

Il y a is generally pronounced as y’a during conversations. In this example, y’a rien is an informal pronunciation of il n’y a rien.

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

Everything.

  • 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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