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Posts Tagged ‘listening’

Here’s a video of Ricardo describing the correct way to melt chocolate. There are some interesting things to note about the language in this video:

  • You’ve a great example of the dzidzu in this clip. At 1:18, Ricardo says the word dur, which you’ll hear very distinctly pronounced as dzur.
  • The expression une espèce de means “a sort of.” For example, le bonobo est une espèce de singe (the bonobo is a sort of ape). But Ricardo doesn’t say une espèce de in this clip; he says un espèce de. The feminine form is considered to be the “correct” one, so it’s best to use that one in writing. But note that you’ll also hear the masculine when people speak spontaneously.
  • The third-person singular form of the verb bouillir is bout. For example, l’eau bout (the water is boiling). If we follow the rules of written French, bout becomes bouille in the subjunctive: on veut pas que ça bouille. But Ricardo says boue instead: on veut pas que ça boue. There’s a helpful article from the OQLF about the verb bouillir. They use the word erreur to describe anything that deviates from the usual rules, but these “errors” are so prevalent that it seems misguided to call them that. Still, you should probably follow the rules in writing. Here’s a complete conjugation of the verb bouillir.

Quand on veut faire fondre du chocolat, le problème qu’on rencontre souvent c’est que plutôt que de le faire fondre, on le fait cuire. Et là, notre chocolat va devenir granuleux, et si on le fait refiger, souvent vous allez voir apparaître en surface un espèce de film un peu blanc.

Donc, pour mettre toutes les chances de notre côté, ce que je vous conseille d’utiliser, c’est un bain-marie. Un bain-marie, c’est une casserole avec un peu d’eau au fond. Faut pas que l’eau touche à la partie supérieure du bain-marie. Ce qui va faire fondre notre chocolat, c’est la vapeur, température égale, et on veut pas non plus que ça boue, ça va être trop chaud. Juste frémir, c’est parfait.

L’autre chose très importante, c’est de hacher le chocolat assez finement. Plus il sera haché, plus il va fondre rapidement.

Faites fondre le chocolat tout doucement, jusqu’à ce qu’il soit fondu à peu près aux trois quarts. Après ça, on ferme le feu; la chaleur résiduelle va faire le reste. Faites attention de jamais échapper une goutte d’eau dans cette préparation-là parce que le chocolat risque de figer. Si jamais ça vous arrive, ben ajoutez encore un peu plus d’eau. Ça va refondre et vous allez avoir quelque chose de soyeux et de lisse.

Par contre, ça redeviendra jamais dur. Mais pour une fondue au chocolat, par exemple, y’a pas de problème. Fondu tout doucement comme ça, vous allez avoir un chocolat parfait pour réaliser n’importe quelle recette. Il faut qu’il soit soyeux, brillant, onctueux.

J’aurais pu aussi faire fondre mon chocolat au micro-ondes, mais c’est délicat. Alors si vous voulez vous essayer, faites-le à puissance «médium», jamais plus de vingt secondes à la fois, remuez parce que le chocolat va fondre sans perdre sa forme. Ça c’est vraiment la façon la plus sécure de le faire — au bain-marie.

faire fondre du chocolat, to melt chocolate
faire cuire du chocolat, to cook chocolate
granuleux, rough, lumpy
faire figer du chocolat, to solidify chocolat
un espèce de film, a sort of film
pour mettre toutes les chances de notre côté, to be on the safe side
un bain-marie, you can read what a bain-marie is on Wikipédia
on veut pas non plus que ça boue, it shouldn’t boil either
frémir, to tremble, shake (just before boiling point)
échapper une goutte d’eau, to drop a drop of water
soyeux, silky
lisse, smooth
onctueux, smooth, creamy
au micro-ondes, in the microwave
s’essayer, to have a go
remuer, to stir
sécure, safe (sécure is borrowed from English; OQLF gives examples)

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Focus on what you have control over, like speaking and listening skills. Don’t worry about your accent because it’s not a big deal. [Image courtesy of Snob Affair]

Are you disappointed by bilingual francophones who switch to English on you when you speak French? There is a solution.

It will require work of you and it won’t come overnight, but it’s within your control and it’s achievable.

Last week in Montréal, I overheard two women, one francophone and one anglophone, speaking to each other in French. The two women didn’t know one another. The francophone asked the anglophone for directions, and they spoke together for almost two minutes.

I listened in on their conversation. I’ve developed a very bad habit of listening in on other people’s conversations since I started this blog.

What struck me about the conversation was that the anglophone had an English accent so thick that you could have sliced it with a knife — and yet, the francophone did not switch to English on her. They spoke in French only.

The anglophone, although she had a very heavy accent, seemed reasonably comfortable speaking spontaneously in French. Admittedly, I don’t know if the francophone was bilingual.

I know another woman, also anglophone, who has a very strong accent when speaking French. I don’t know her very well, but I can recall four times recently where she spoke in French with a bilingual francophone who did not switch to English on her.

She may speak with a strong English accent, but she’s able to speak French spontaneously, and I’ve never noted any listening comprehension problems.

I have observed other instances of this with different anglophones in Montréal. Although they had an obvious English accent — sometimes heavy, sometimes not — there was no language switch from French to English.

Yes, I know this is all anecdotal evidence. That’s because: OffQc.

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from anglophone learners of French is that bilingual francophones always switch to English as soon as the English accent is detected.

I too used to believe that the language switch was caused by a heavy English accent. I don’t believe this anymore.

I believe now that what causes the language switch is the impression that you’re struggling to find your words (speaking problem), or that you don’t understand what’s being said (listening problem).

This is great news for you.

It means that you can chill out about your accent, which is pretty much impossible to eliminate entirely for us adult language learners, and focus on the stuff that you have much more control over — speaking and listening.

How do you improve your speaking and listening?

I’ll let you in on a secret.

The best way to improve your speaking and listening is by… speaking and listening. 🙂

You’ll become great at whatever you spend large amounts of time doing. Spend your time memorising verb conjugations, and you’ll become great at memorising verb conjugations. Spend your time speaking and listening instead, and you’ll become great at speaking and listening.

As adults, sometimes we think that we’re not ready to speak with others in our new language because we still have trouble recalling words. We fear that we speak too slowly — and it may even be true. However, no amount of independent preparation will ever cure this entirely.

The only way to become a faster speaker with the ability to recall words immediately is through speaking with others.

Until you begin putting yourself in situations where you’re obligated to speak spontaneously in French, you’ll always be a slow speaker searching for your words. And those bilingual francophones will switch to English on you.

The same goes for listening. I don’t remember who said this, but it’s not the native speakers who speak too fast; it’s you the learner who listens too slowly.

Until you begin putting yourself in situations where you’re listening to large amounts of spoken French, you’ll always be a slow listener with a look of bewilderment on your face. And those bilingual francophones will switch to English on you.

So, the best way to get those bilinguals to stop switching to English is to improve your speaking and listening by doing lots of speaking and listening.

You can worry about perfecting your accent later. Or never.

And this is great news because speaking and listening are things you can start improving right now. Yes, you’ve got work ahead of you, but it’s your call.

_ _ _

In the meantime, here are a couple essential phrases to learn for the times when you’re confronted with the language switch:

Nooon! Continue de me parler en français! L’accent québécois, je trouve ça tellement hot! Noooo! Keep speaking to me in French! I think the québécois accent is so hot!

Tu vas devoir me parler en français, tsé. Sinon, tu risques de pogner un ticket. You’re gonna have to speak to me in French, you know. Otherwise, you might get a ticket.

Who knows, maybe you’ll even hope for the language switch just to try those out on someone. 😉

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Last year while in Italy, I was hit by a van. The van drove over my left foot, crushing all the toes and the ankle. My foot looks pretty mangled.

Three months after the accident (and three surgeries later), my surgeon told me during a check-up that I could start walking again. Before that moment, he had instructed me to not put my foot to the ground.

When he told me to start walking again, I thought he was crazy. There was no way I could put pressure on the foot with all the pain I was in. And, yet, here was my surgeon telling me that I could start walking again.

I went home after that check-up and tried to walk. I couldn’t take one single step. Not only that, I couldn’t even bear to put my foot down for more than a few seconds. I kept trying every day. But, one month after that last check-up, I could manage only one very painful and hesitating step.

When I went back for another check-up, the surgeon scoffed when I told him I was unable to walk. For him, I should have been walking around like nothing had happened by that point. He even laughed at me.

Then he took a look at the foot and realised something was indeed wrong. He diagnosed CRPS. I was unable to walk not because I was being a wimp but because of a medical condition.

A year has passed since the accident. I still struggle with the foot every day. I walk with a limp and it’s painful. But I can take many steps now. I’m pretty sure that I even walk more in one day than some people without physical problems.

I say this not to brag but to say that it’s possible to work through difficult situations if you do it slowly. I had to stop listening to my surgeon in order to make progress. He wanted me to be up on my feet and walking around faster than my body would allow. His attitude undermined my confidence and made me feel pretty bad about myself.

Even I’m guilty of that attitude, though. It’s easy for me to say that you should listen to a few hours of French a day, or get out there and talk to people. But if you haven’t made this a habit yet, getting started can be very difficult.

At the end of January, I was able to take one step. By the end of February, I could take about ten. In March, I made better progress. I started taking hundreds of steps with the help of my crutches. This summer, I even managed to start walking a kilometre at a time.

I still have bad days, days when I can barely get out of bed. Some days I even come back home in the evening and wish that I had lost my foot in the accident because the pain is so intense. But — I can walk. I had to do it on my own terms, not on my surgeon’s. If I had listened to my surgeon, I’d have convinced myself that I was useless.

You can change your habits, but do it slowly. If you want to make listening to French every day a new habit, start so slowly that the amount seems ridiculous. For one month, I only took one step a day before my body would start screaming for me to stop.

The truth is that maybe even taking one step was too much for me. Maybe I should have just started by standing on the foot for a few seconds instead.

Start with listening to French for one minute a day. Just one minute. It’s such a small amount that it seems silly not to do it. After one week, double it to two minutes. If you keep doubling the amount like this, you’ll be at one hour a day after almost two months.

You can do this with any new habit that you want to form. Start with an amount so small that it barely feels like you’re doing anything. Increase the amount very slowly over the weeks that follow. If you try to do it all at once right from the start, you risk becoming overwhelmed and dropping it altogether.

I’ve learned to listen to my body, not the doctors. I know the difference now between just feeling lazy and being physically unable to do something. It’s good to push yourself when you’re feeling lazy, but when your body (or mind) needs a break or wants you to go more slowly, listen to it.

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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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“Help! I think I speak pretty good French, but I still have so much trouble understanding what people are saying!”

If that describes you, know that you’re not alone. Improving your listening skills takes time — a lot of it. If you’re struggling to understand spoken French, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a gift for languages. We all have to work on it. It just means that you need to revise what you’re doing to avoid fumbling along without making progress.

Seeing improvement in your listening skills is a lot like losing weight (or gaining it). You only see the changes in hindsight after a long period has passed. You don’t see the changes on a day-to-day basis. If you start following some or all of the suggestions below, you can be sure that your listening skills will improve.

By the way, I’m not going to include “speak with francophones” in this list. That one’s so obvious that you already knew you should be doing it.

1. Speak with francophones

OK, I lied. Speak with francophones! There can be no better listening practice than speaking with francophones. Start with just one francophone. One-on-one conversations will reform your French in ways that you can’t even imagine if you’re not doing this yet. In one-on-one conversations, you have to listen to what your friend is saying for the conversation to continue.

Please don’t be one of those people who thinks that they need to improve their French just a little more before speaking. That’s missing the whole point of learning French. Nobody cares about your perfect or imperfect French, people care about you.

The francophone you find doesn’t even need to be québécois. Just find a francophone and start building a relationship.

If you are in fact already speaking with francophones very regularly but still feel like you’re struggling to understand spoken French — relax. You’re doing everything right. Your listening skills are improving, even if you don’t see it right now. Keep doing what you’re doing.

2. Familiarise yourself with more vocabulary

Yes, become familiar with the vocabulary specific to Quebec French, but please don’t neglect French vocabulary in general. Sometimes I see certain learners get so hung up with wanting to learn all the typical québécois words (nothing wrong with that) that they forget to learn even the most basic and important vocabulary common to all francophones (that’s a problem).

Become familiar with vocab however it is that you like to do it. You like word lists? Go nuts. Flash cards? Flash away. Read the newspaper? Browse the dictionary? Do it. Just do something that you enjoy and that you’ll be inclined to do often enough.

The point of this isn’t to study vocabulary. Really, I don’t think that you’ll learn vocabulary by studying it. The point of this is to make an initial contact with lots of vocabulary on your own so that when you’re doing the more important work of speaking with francophones or listening to French, you’ll hear that vocab again and have a better chance of understanding what you hear. And that’s when you’ll learn the vocab for real.

3. Listen to the radio

I know of learners who have made incredible progress in French after listening to the radio. I’ve recommended it numerous times on OffQc: 98,5 fm. It’s all-talk radio on weekdays, which means that it’s very dense with spoken French. You can listen to it live on the radio in Montréal, or listen online from anywhere.

Again, if I’ve insisted so much on 98,5 fm, it’s because I’ve seen the success that other learners have had with it with my own eyes (or ears). If this station isn’t for you, no problem, there are others to choose from. Pick something you like and listen to it. But really listen to it. Don’t just keep noise on in the background for the sake of it — pay attention to what you’re hearing.

4. Watch television series

OffQc is full of examples from québécois television series. This isn’t an accident! I’ve chosen the language examples that you’ve discovered on OffQc because they’re pertinent to everyday language situations. Three television series that I’ve quoted from extensively on OffQc are Les Parent, 19-2 and La Galère.

These three certainly aren’t the only québécois series that prove useful, but I’ve consistently gone back to them time and time again because of their pertinence, quality and entertainment appeal. You can watch films too, but the advantage to picking series is that they have many episodes and are produced in several seasons’ worth.

The most important consideration, of course, is to watch something that interests you. There’s not much point forcing yourself to sit through something that you feel is dead boring. You’re not going to become hooked enough to want to continue. Keep looking for something that you fall in love with, then listen, listen, listen.

Don’t just watch an episode once and be done with it. Watch it the first time to enjoy it. Watch it a second time to become even more familiar with it. Listen a third time, and then a fourth. You get the idea. The more you listen to it, the more that language is going to worm its way into your head and the better you’ll become at listening.

5. Every single day, baby

As a bare minimum, spend one to two hours a day of listening to French or taking part in French conversation. If you want to pick up steam in French though, I say increase it to the highest amount that you can manage, without driving yourself crazy. There is time for it. (No, you don’t need to spend quite so much time on Facebook.)

I don’t want to be a downer, but if the number of hours you spend per month listening to French and taking part in conversation can be counted on the fingers of one hand, you’re not doing enough. This is why you feel like you’re struggling to understand.

The number of hours should be more like the number of fingers on both your hands and all the toes on your feet. And then add to that all the fingers on my hands and all the toes on my feet. (OK, maybe not my feet because I’m missing some toes. Somebody else’s feet.) And then multiply that by three. Or four…

Increase the hours dramatically and you can be sure that your listening comprehension will improve. There’s nothing magical about it, honest.

Enjoy your journey!

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Author Stephen King said:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

If Stephen King were the author of OffQc, I’m sure that he’d have also said:

If you want to be a speaker of French, you must do two things above all others: listen a lot and speak a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

You listen to French to absorb the language. You speak because you can’t be a speaker of French without speaking.

P.S. Stephen King also said: “French is the language that turns dirt into romance.”

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