by Clare Jones
These days we are totally spoiled by the choice of websites we can access as language learners! I have put together here a list of my very favourite websites which I go back to time and time again.
Linguée English-French dictionary for translators. Search for a word or a term and you will get a list of suggestions in a range of contexts which have been submitted by translators. Comme Une Française – Géraldine’s wonderful videos explain French language and culture in English. Français avec Pierre – Pierre and Noemie are very endearing! There are podcasts and videos where French language is explained in clear and simple French with a transcript below. Français Authentique – Johan creates podcasts and videos explaining French language and culture in clear French. One Thing in a French Day – in these podcasts Laetitia talks about her day in French. You can access free material or pay for the full text and exercises. Podcast Français Facile Vincent makes podcasts to teach French in French. He creates dialogues and also goes into more detail in short videos. AudioLingua snippets of French (and other languages) contributed by members of the language-learning community. FluentFrench for pronunciation and I particularly recommend David Tolman’s oral gymnastics course.
Geri Metz provides some free sample lessons on her site PronouncingFrench.com. Her pronunciation lessons are also free on YouTube. Forvo a pronunciation dictionary – you can search to see if someone has already provided a sound file for the tricky word you need help with and, if not, you can put in a request for someone to make one for you.
For grammar and much more: Lawless French. Laura K. Lawless used to host the AboutFrench website but now has her own excellent site. 1jour1actu – videos explaining current affairs made easy for French children.
What are your favourite language-learning websites? Please share your ideas by leaving a comment.
Are you looking for a great present to offer to a lover of French? Take a look at my book Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid! You can download chapter one for free at www.figureoutfrench.com and buy the book from Amazon or Oundle bookshop. If you have already bought it and enjoyed it, please leave a review! A bientôt!
Rouler des/les mécaniques – to walk in a swaggering, arrogant, macho way which shows off your muscles
I found a good example of the use of this French expression when reading Les ciels de la baie d’Audierne by Hervé Jaouen (Pocket edition, 2006, page 314):
« je ne fus pas la seule sous le barnum à me statufier quand le quatrième gosse roula des mécaniques vers la barre en saluant son public. Mon voisin, le journaliste curieux, resta le stylo en l’air. »
“I wasn’t the only person in the marquee to be transfixed when the fourth kid swaggered, shoulders swaying, towards the witness box, waving to his audience. My neighbour, the nosy journalist, stopped still, his pen in the air.”
Les mécaniques (notice no H!) refers to the skeleton and joints of the body, so you have to imagine a muscular person (usually a man) who rolls his shoulders while walking, in an attempt to intimidate those around him. I don’t think there is an exact English translation but please leave a comment if you can think of one.
This book rather took me by surprise as the front cover and title give no clue as to the content. It is in fact a modern tale about a family whose lives are turned upside down by an accusation against the parents concerning their supposed involvement in a paedophile ring. I found it completely gripping and read it in three or four days! Because the story is written in the first person, the language became more of a challenge to me as the book progressed: more and more slang is used as the teenage protagonist gets sucked into a downward spiral. However, it was well worth the time spent with a dictionary and I do recommend it to advanced learners.
Many thanks to the BBC Radio 4 programme You and Yours for helping my son get his money back from the driving instructor agency Drive Dynamics after a 4-month battle. If you live in the U.K., you can hear the article here starting at about 20 minutes into the programme.
This has reminded me of a useful, colloquial French expression which features in my book, Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid (available on Amazon or from The Oundle Bookshop).
rouler quelqu’un dans la farine – to pull the wool over somebody’s eyes; to deceive or dupe somebody
Literally: to roll somebody in flour
se faire rouler dans la farine – to be deceived or duped; to be had; to have the wool pulled over one’s eyes
Literally: to have oneself rolled in flour
Ils ont essayé de nous rouler dans la farine mais ils n’ont pas réussi.
They tried to dupe us but they didn’t succeed.
This 19th century expression is a happy combination of two ideas, each to do with being conned. Se faire rouler on its own means ‘to be done’: je me suis fait rouler ! – I’ve been done! La farine once had the meaning of ‘deceitful arguments’ and, also, might have referred to the makeup used by actors to disguise their faces when taking on a role. Put the two halves together and you have been well and truly duped!
When Jacques Chirac was président de la République, it was sometimes cheekily said that his Prime Minister (2002-2005) Jean-Pierre Raffarin “roulait la population dans la raffarine”.
By the way, if you have read my book and enjoyed it, please leave a review on Amazon!
I was teaching a lesson recently, talking about driving schools, and I realised I had fallen into the trap of using a false friend. Be careful not to use un instructeur to translate ‘an instructor’. The word you need is un moniteur / une monitrice d’auto-école. The same goes for ‘ski instructor’: you need un moniteur / une monitrice de ski. The French word instructeur or un juge instructeur is an examining magistrate.
Some more vocabulary you might need on this topic is:
une auto-école – a driving school
un apprenti conducteur / une apprentie conductrice – a learner driver
une leçon de conduite – a driving lesson
un disque A – an L plate
The reason I was discussing driving lessons is because, unfortunately, a member of my family has been badly let down by the firm Drive Dynamics who took money for lessons but failed to provide a service. If you are looking for driving lessons, beware of this company or you might well need the French expression je me suis fait avoir ! – I’ve been had!
Here is an article in The Guardian about the agency and in the next few days there will be an exposé on Radio 4’s consumer rights programme, You and Yours.
I am very fond of stories based in France in the early 20th century and this book by Gilbert Bordes did not disappoint. You can find it here on Amazon, though I found it during one of my afternoons spent happily browsing the shelves of a second-hand bookshop in Tours last summer. Set in 1903, it deals with the shocking plan to bring electricity to the small town of Cornemule in the Corrèze region of France. Valentin Lescure wants to be the mayor “qui fait briller le soleil à minuit ! ” – who makes the sun shine at midnight. This starts a panic in the town where the simple inhabitants believe the new-fangled invention will turn the animals mad and render the men of the town impotent, rumours not quashed by the doctor who hopes to benefit from this misinformation. When light comes to the town, the curtain-twitchers can now see what their naughty neighbours are getting up to in the evening and a rumpus follows.
I wholeheartedly agree with one appreciative reader who comments on the website Babelio.com: “Franchement, à mourir de rire!” -Really, a book to die laughing. I shall get it out and read it again whenever I need cheering up.
This morning all the inhabitants of Oundle, my new place of residence, woke up wondering if they had a problem with une chaudièreen panne –‘a broken-down boiler’ but no, we were soon to discover by knocking on neighbours’ doors that the whole town is without gas. Somewhere underground there must be a problem with la canalisation de gaz – ‘the gas main’. There are two nice things about this event: one is that strangers are talking to each other in the shops and in the street as everyone tries to work out what is going on; the other is that I can wrap myself up in blankets on the settee with a book in my hand without feeling guilty. I love the French word s’emmitoufler – ‘to wrap up warmly’. Je me suis emmitouflée dans une couverture polaire – ‘I wrapped myself up warmly in a fleecy blanket’. We are not expecting our gas to be restored very soon, so I hope Oundle’s residents are all finding a way to keep warm.
Bonne année! I hope you are all raring to improve your French in the new year!
You probably already know the expression faire le ménage (to do the housework) and faire du ménage (to do some housework) but let’s explore a little! You can also use faire le ménage as a euphemism to mean ‘to get rid of the deadwood’ (i.e. to sack people). If you ask someone what job they do and they reply, “Je fais des ménages”, that means that they work as a cleaner. Une femme de ménage is a cleaning lady who cleans in someone’s home. For an office or school cleaner this would be different: une femme / un homme de service and for a hospital un agent d’entretien.
Un ménage is the word for a household and ‘to set up house with somebody’ is se mettre en ménage avec quelqu’un. The French term un ménage à trois means ‘a household where three people are in a romantic and / or sexual relationship’. As the English language doesn’t have an equivalent term, we borrow the French expression. If your love life is less complicated, you might want to say, “Je suis heureux / heureuse en ménage” – I am happily married (or happy with my partner). If, on the other hand, things are not going too well, you might say, “Ça ne va pas dans notre ménage”.
Faire bon ménage is ‘to go together well; to work well with; to be compatible’ and is used in many contexts. Here are some examples:
L’homme doit faire bon ménage avec la nature – mankind must work well with nature.
La coriandre et le curry font bon ménage – coriander and curry go well together.
Can you think of some more? Please leave a comment.
There is much to learn about the verbs déménager, emménager and aménager but that will be for another blog post.
We have now been in our new home in Oundle, East Northants, for a whole month and all the boxes have at last been unpacked. I was delighted that so many of my students decided to travel a little further to continue attending lessons with me and I have been pleased to take on a few new learners too. I think we will be happy in Oundle!
A week after moving in, we had a little party for friends and family. The French call this la pendaison de crémaillère (literally the hanging of the chimney hook). This comes from medieval times when, on completion of the building of a house, the last thing to be done was to hang within the chimney place a long piece of metal with several notches taken out of one side; it allowed a large stew pot to be placed at varying heights above the fire to cook the meal. Once the hook was in place, guests could be invited to share the first meal.
Une semaine après avoir emménagé, on a pendu la crémaillère. Nos invités nous ont apporté des fleurs et de petits cadeaux pour la maison. On a passé un très bon moment ensemble. Maintenant nous avons l’impression d’être chez nous !
A week after having moved in, we had a housewarming party. Our guests brought us flowers and small gifts for the house. We had a great time. Now we feel at home!
You can see a picture of une crémaillère and read about the expression in French here on Wikipedia.
Next week I’ll write more about the verbs déménager, emménager and aménager so don’t forget to subscribe to this blog if you would like to learn more!
September and October are my favourite months and the one activity which gives me the most pleasure at this time of year is blackberry picking. I love to cycle on a sunny morning to a quiet country lane and on the edge of a field find brambles glistening with juicy blackberries. Philippe Delerm in his wonderful book La Première gorgée de bière et autres plaisirs minuscules devotes an essay to this simple pleasure. He likes to invite friends to join him:
– Vous viendriez cueillir des mûres ?
– C’est drôle, on allait justement vous le proposer.
“Would you come blackberry-picking?”
“Funnily enough, we were just going to suggest the same thing to you.”
It is the end of the summer and each family collects a pot of small black shiny berries (des baies), the adults talking of this and that (on parle de tout et de rien) and the children talking of new classes and teachers. Finally, they stroll home.
« On a cueilli les mûres, on a cueilli l’été. Dans le petit virage aux noisetiers, on glisse vers l’automne. »
“We have picked blackberries, we have picked summer. On the small bend with hazel trees, we slide towards autumn.”
If you don’t know this beautiful book yet, do take a look. It’s a book I go back to time and time again like a well-loved poetry book.
Here is the verb cueillir (to pick) in the present tense. Notice that it conjugates like an -er verb, as do the verbs ouvrir (to open), couvrir (to cover), offrir (to offer), souffrir (to suffer) and accueillir (to welcome).
je cueille, tu cueilles, il /elle/ on cueille, nous cueillons, vous cueillez, ils/ elles cueillent.
You might find the pronunciation a little tricky so here is a sound file.
I recently watched one of the excellent educational cartoons produced by 1jour1actu which explains at the level of a 9 year old French child how a cartoon is made: Comment fait-on un dessin animé ? Had I not had the pictures in front of me with the helpful labelling of key points, my understanding might well have floundered at three points of the explanation. The reason for this was that my brain was tuned into French mode and I have often noticed that what completely confounds me is when a French person slips in an English expression which I wasn’t expecting and I just can’t get my brain to recognize it! In this video we meet the technical terms “les model sheets”, “le storyboard” and “motion capture”. I once watched a French video clip over and over again and just could not grasp one elusive word. I finally gave up and asked my very helpful French penfriend to watch the clip and transcribe the tricky sentence for me. It turned out to be the franglais phrase “une session de wellness” which had flummoxed me (it means a keep-fit session). So if you just can’t work out what that tricky word is after listening a dozen times, try turning on your franglais antenna and see if that helps!
Have you ever been stumped by an English word used in a French conversation? Please leave a comment!
I am taking a break from my blog and from teaching for the duration of the school summer holidays. If you would like to book French lessons with me starting in September, please contact me on 01832 272905 at the end of August or beginning of September. If you are looking for some good summer reading, why not buy a copy of my book on French expressions, Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid. And please use some of that extra free time you will have to write a review and post it on Amazon!