Friday, October 15, 2010

Non means no!

My son started kindergarten at a French Immersion school recently, and has been reluctant to speak, though I know he understands at least a little of what is said, and he can devine much more from the context and tone of the teachers. Still, he has not been speaking any French, and hasn’t wanted much to tell me about his school days (normale, je sais!)
Breakthroughs come in small, surprising packages sometimes.

The other morning, while getting ready for school, we began our usual “I hate brushing my teeth” dance, and when I told him to come to the bathroom, he gave me a very Frenchified “Non!” in response.

I said, "Did you just say Non?”

He said “Non!” again.

Flabbergasted, I said the first thing that popped into my head:


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Foster French Connections

A move to a new city--I have recently moved to the Seattle area, myself--can be a lonely effort, or you can view it as a vibrant opportunity to expand your community of friends and acquaintances. It's a matter of choice, and of knowing what you want. Presumably, if you are reading this, you want to learn or improve your French.

If you seek opportunities to work on your language skills, the best thing you can do is tell people--tell everyone!--you speak French, or that you're studying French. Francophones will come out of the woodwork, guaranteed. They will tell you where they connect with other Francophones in your city, where they take/took classes, what they have done in France, and where you can meet other Francophones.

Whether you feel you speak French well, or are just beginning, opportunities open up when you identify outwardly with what you want for yourself inwardly. Once the opportunities become clear, il faut profiter! Check out the classes, go to the conversation groups, look up the French theatre festival, and get involved. When you show up, talk to the others in French, and others will respond in kind.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Never Let Them See You Move Your Mouth

French pronunciation for American speakers is a challenge. We have our pronounced Rs and twangy consonants, though we let a lot of things slide through our teeth, unlike our English counterparts: we say “twenny” instead of “twenty” for example.

The French are much more subtle, rolling everything together with liaison (connecting the ending sound of one word to the beginning of the next) and producing the R from the back of the throat, much like the American Y or G sound. The result is a harmonious phrase—and the reason that French rappers sound extremely silly.

Like many American speakers, I struggle with pronunciation, and saying things sans my Western accent. A friend recently was trying to help me pronounce Honolulu as the French would, when we hit on the crux of the matter.

I move my mouth entirely too much when I try to speak French.

If I pay attention and don’t bouge ma bouche, Honolulu glides out with ease and a French flair. It’s an good trick to help ameliorate the American pronunciation of French words: never let them see you move your mouth.

Not that the French never move their lips, but I’m thinking their speech patterns were developed partly out of a preference to save their mouth energy for other, more important things, like eating and kissing, perhaps.

I think a little more practice is in order for me!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

La Grammaire est une Chanson Dure

There's a book for youths here by Erik Orsenna that I'm slowly reading in my moyenne french, and every time I look at the title a potentially revised title comes to mind. French grammar is certainly douce, and slow to absorb, at least for me.

The wonderful teacher at the Alliance Française here, Christiane D'Angelo, tried to encourage our class when she saw 17 pairs of glazed-eyes trying to understand when to use the imparfait, the passé composé, and the plus-que-parfait for telling a story. She explained to us that even the French (children) have a lot of difficulty with the complex grammar.

Kind words, but we have a long way to travel on the road to proper French.

Extract from "La grammaire est une chanson douce"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Filling in the Gaps

As much as one can enjoy learning a language over conversations at petits dejeuners, picnics at le Jardin du Luxembourg, and luxurious French diners, soirees never hurt either.

But all of that delicious work aside, classes are very useful for filling in gaps in grammar that come from learning on the fly, the way I have over the past year.

I’ve begun a class at Alliance Française in Paris, and though it at times seems to move slowly for a motivated student, and at other times the heat in the salle de classe threatens to put my brain to sleep in the second half of the three-hour class, it’s useful to study grammar points and fill in gaps in my moyen vocabulary.

This week, for example, the class has studied rules for the gender of nouns. Though as in English, there are many exceptions to the rules, in general one can divine the gender of many nouns by their endings. Nouns that end in –age, -ment, and –isme are generally masculine. Nouns that end in –sse, -oire, -ion, -ée, -ique, -té, and –ie, are generally feminine.

Another frustrating point in conversation until one understands the why is when to use qui and que. Qui does not always follow a person, and que does not always follow a thing, but rather, qui is used following a verb’s subject, and que follows the verb’s direct object. Confusing? Yes, un petit peu, but less confusing when you can follow a rule.

Though the points seem minor, they confuse many people like myself, I think, who hear them in action but don’t have the book learning to back up conversation choices.

After class, it’s back to the joyful practice speaking French over a luxurious dinner in Paris. A few more soirees couldn’t hurt either.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

L'Homme Qui Pêche

To take a modern look at Rodin's theme, as seen through my camera lens en marchant around Lac Daumesnil at Bois de Vincennes. The park is full of joggers, walkers and, this morning, this fisherman manning four poles.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Photo Du Jour: Metro Music Man, 12ème arr.

I thought this harp music was a recording--
or not really a harp--
until I peeked around the corner.
We've also been trumpeted on the Metro trains.