It can be hard to find French outside the classroom if you don’t live dans un pays francophone (in a French speaking country). That’s why I started the Real French Series as a way to bring French speakers closer to all of you.
This time I interviewed un ami qui s’appelle (a friend whose name is) Arnaud Fièvre. I met Arnaud through Jean Guyomarc’h and Arnaud has helped me get involved in the local music scene. He spends his days finding des salles (venues) and setting up concerts for many of the local musicians. Le collectif de musiciens (the collective) that he works for, Capsul Collectif, focuses on improvised and free jazz music, but is not afriad of le jazz manouche either.
I asked Arnaud a few questions about sa famille et son travail (his family and his work), and then about un mot (a word) that may be new to you: pied-noir(literally “black foot”). He explains in la vidéo what le mot means and touches on its complicated history.
Before the end of l’interview I asked Arnaud to réciter un poème (recite a poem). Heureusement (luckily), he had a poem by le poète françaisSaint-John Perse ready! However, he didn’t expect me to ask him to réciter un poème and comments on how he feels like he’s à l’école (at school) with the pressure of la caméra.
La vidéo should have les sous-titres (subtitles) activated, but if they are not showing up, cliquez l’icône en forme de roue dentée (click on the gear icon) on the bottom right of the YouTube player and there should be an option for les sous-titres. You can choose between les sous-titres français ou anglais (French or English subtitles) either to help follow along with the French or to see une traduction (a translation).
« Le zapping est, dans le langage familier, une manière de regarder la télévision consistant à changer régulièrement de chaîne, et le plus souvent à une fréquence élevée, dans le but de trouver un programme que le spectateur jugera satisfaisant à regarder. Une pratique courante est de zapper durant les coupures de publicité. »*
In 1985 France only had three TV channels: TF1, France 2, and France 3 (four if you include Canal+, France’s first pay cable channel . . .), but even with limited options to choose from, watching TV was a great way to build my language skills! And I have to admit I took full advantage of it when I lived in France in the 80’s and 90’s!
Today, France has an ever larger number of cable channels and ever growing numbers of shows to choose from . . . and ‘le zapping’ is commonplace, but watching TV is still a great way to build language skills. Here are two ways that I’ve found to use television to improve your French.
‘les Pubs/la publicité’ (Commercials/advertising)
Because they’re short, often repetitive, and designed for maximum engagement, ‘les pubs’ are great for practicing your French comprehension skills. If you’re not lucky enough to live somewhere where you have regular access to French TV, you can still find great commercials to watch online like these 80’s classics:
[Transciption: “J’aime, j’aime, j’aime . . . CX2 . . . la beauté sauvage!” (“I love (it), I love (it), I love (it) . . . CX2 . . . savage beauty.”)]
[Transciption: “On a parfois besoin d’autres hommes pour réussir . .. ensemble. Manpower” (“Sometimes you need additional /other men to succeed . . . together. Manpower”)]
American classics . . . en VF **
Watching shows that you’re already familiar with can be a great way to improve your French. You know the plot and you’re familiar with the characters, so you can focus on the language and leverage the elements of the show you already know to help you “fill in the gaps”.
There were two things I loved about watching shows “from home” in French:
Things have gotten better over the years, but dubbing remains an art. Getting the voices to match and the sound to feel natural takes real talent. In the mid 80’s it always seemed like there was only a tiny pool of good voice talent. Watching any number of dubbed American TV shows meant hearing the same voices over and over again. Sometimes it seemed as if every young girl had the same voice whether she was Sam on ‘Madame est servie’ (Who’s the Boss?) or Laura Ingalls on ‘La Petite Maison dans la Prarie’ (Little House on the Prairie).
The titles! As you can tell from the two examples above, it’s not always obvious from the translation of a show’s title what the original show is. See if you can guess the original TV show from the French titles below (translations and answers follow . . . but no peeking!)***
* « Le zapping » is, in familiar language, a way to watch tv where the viewer changes the channel, generally at an elevated frequency, with the goal of finding a program that they find ‘watchable’. A common practice is to “zapper” during commercial breaks.
** VF: When you go to see a foreign film at the movies in France, you will usually find you have two choices. You can see most foreign films in either VO (version originale) or VF (version française). Films (or in the case of this blog, TV shows) in VF are dubbed in French. Films (or TV shows) in VO are shown in their native language with French subtitles.
*** Some of these shows even have their own opening sequences in France. I’ve linked to a few below.
Ma sorcière bien aimée – Bewitched (“My beloved witch”)
I’ll never forget the moment my husband pointed at the tie he was wearing and said, “Do you think she’s too short?” He was just learning English at the time and was used to all nouns having a gender in French. I didn’t understand who he was talking about at first … me? Some other woman? And then I realized: he was referencing la cravate (the tie) that he was wearing.
To a French speaker, it’s very strange to hear English speakers referring to all kinds of things by the gender-neutral pronoun “it.” For English speakers, however, it’s terribly confusing to memorize all of the genders of French nouns. (Who said that a tie had to be feminine, anyway?) I’ve previously written about general rules that make it easier to guess the gender of common nouns (with 80 percent accuracy!) here.
To make it all the more confusing, unfortunately, some French nouns are dual-gender nouns. This means that a word can be spelled exactly the same way (or at least sound the same) but, depending on if it is masculine or feminine, it can mean completely different things!
Here are a couple of examples:
le boum In its masculine form, le boum means a bang or an explosion
la boum In its feminine form, however, la boum is a familiar way of saying “the party.” (Have you ever seen the famous movie La Boum, starring Sophie Marceau?)
le capital The masculine form refers to money …
la capitale … while the feminine form refers to a capital city or a capital letter!
le diesel The masculine form refers to the diesel fuel you would put into your car.
la diesel The feminine form refers to the diesel car itself!
le fil This word means “string.”
la file While this word means “line” or “queue.” Filer as a verb can also mean to line up.
le gène With an accent grave, this word means “gene.”
la gêne While with an accent circonflexe, this word means “trouble” or “embarrassment.”
un icone What you click on (the icon) on a computer screen.
une icône Someone or something that is an icon (can also refer to the paintings that depict religious icons).
Of course, you were probably taught one of the most famous examples of dual-gender nouns: le livre and la livre. Le livre refers to a book, while la livre refers to the pound (both the currency and the measurement of weight).
Now, it’s your turn. Can you think of any nouns that completely change meaning depending on whether it is feminine or masculine? Write your responses in the comments.
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