French Language Blog

‘Zapping’ for beginners Posted by on May 3, 2016 in Culture, Vocabulary

« 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. »*, May 1, 2016

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!)***
    • Ma sorcière bien aimée
    • L’amour du risque
    • La croisière s’amuse
    • Shérif, fais-moi peur
    • Amour, Gloire et Beauté
    • Les Années coup de cœur
    • Arnold et Willy
    • Deux flics à Miami
    • A la Maison-Blanche
    • Buffy contre les vampires
    • Chérie, j’ai rétréci les gosses
    • La Fête à la maison
    • 24 heures chrono
    • Les Experts
    • Les feux de l’amour
    • Les Disparus
    • Mer parrains sont magiques
    • New York, police judiciaire

Vocabulaire supplémentaire / Supplemental Vocabulary

l’émission de télé – TV show

la chaîne de télévision – TV channel

la poste de télé – television set

la télécommande – remote control

la pub / la publicité  – commercial / advertizing

* « 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”)
  • L’amour du risqueHart to Hart (“For the love of risk”)
  • La croisière s’amuse – The Love Boat (“The cruise has a good time”)
  • Shérif, fais-moi peur – The Dukes of Hazzard (Sherrif, scare me)
  • Amour, Gloire et BeautéThe Bold and the Beautiful (“Love, Glory, and Beauty”)
  • Les Années coup de cœur – The Wonder Years (‘coup de cœur’ is en expression that would loosely translate as “favorites” . . . so this show is “Our favorite years”)
  • Arnold et WillyDiff’rent Strokes
  • Deux flics à Miami – Miami Vice (‘flics’ is a slang term for “police” equivalent to “cops” in English . . . so this show is “Two cops in Miami”)
  • A la Maison-Blanche – The West Wing (“In the White House”)
  • Buffy contre les vampires – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (“Buffy vs. the vampires”)
  • Chérie, j’ai rétréci les gosses- Honey, I shrunk the kids (‘gosses’ is a slang term for “kids/children”)
  • La Fête à la maison – Full House (“Party in the house”)
  • 24 heures chrono – 24
  • Les Experts – CSI (“The Experts”)
  • Les feux de l’amour – The Young and the Restless (“The fires of love”)
  • Les Disparus – Lost (“The dissappeared” or “The missing”)
  • Mer parrains sont magiques – The Fairly Odd Parents (‘parrains’ means “godparents” . . . so this show is “My godparents are magic”)
  • New York, police judiciaire – Law & Order


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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Since my first trip to France at 16, I have been a passionate francophile. I love the language, food, music, art, people, and more that make France and la Francophonie in general such an amazing part of our global community. Having lived in France and studied the language and culture for over 35 years, it is my great pleasure to be able to share a little bit of my deep love with you through this blog.