by Clare JonesLumière à Cornemule

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.

A bientôt!

Clare

 

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by Clare Jones

emmitouflé

This morning all the inhabitants of Oundle, my new place of residence, woke up wondering if they had a problem with une chaudière en 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.

A bientôt!

Clare

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by Clare Jones

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.

A bientôt!

Clare

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by Clare Jones

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!

A bientôt!

Clare

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By Clare Jones

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.

.

A bientôt!

Clare

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by Clare Jones

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!

Bonnes vacances!

Clare

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by Clare Jones

Raunds Community Choir

Raunds Community Choir

Last Saturday I sang in my very last concert with Raunds Community Choir at the Raunds Flower Festival in St Peter’s Church. I have been singing with the choir since its very first meeting six years ago. When I joined, I said to the organiser, “I’m not sure how regularly I’ll be able to attend as I often teach on a Tuesday night”. Little was I to know that I would fast become hooked and Tuesday night lessons were immediately rescheduled. I only missed one and a half rehearsals in six years!

Saturday’s concert was the best we have ever given and at the end I was so full of adrenalin, j’avais de l’énergie à revendre! I was overflowing with energy – I had energy left to sell off. Unlike in previous concerts where I often felt nervous and unsure of myself, this time we were singing mainly songs we had sung many times before and I was happy and confident. Je m’en donnais à coeur joie­ – I was having a field day (literally I was giving myself of it with heart joy).

Sadly, toute bonne chose a une fin – all good things come to an end, and having now moved to Oundle, I’ve decided to say goodbye to my Tuesday night rehearsals in Raunds but without a doubt I shall be sitting in the audience at their next concert wishing them well and waiting for that little tingle down the back of my neck when the music starts.

A bientôt!

Clare

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by Clare Jones

Oundle bookshop

Oundle bookshop, Northamptonshire

Last week I was delighted to finally get my book on display in a shop window! Oundle bookshop is housed in wonderful old premises in the centre of the beautiful historic town in East Northamptonshire where I now live and teach. It helps local writers by not taking a huge cut of the profits from a book, thereby allowing us poor authors to make a small profit from our sales. Here’s a photo of my book dans la vitrine de la librairie – in the bookshop window.

Je mourrai moins bete: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid

Je mourrai moins bete: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid

Don’t forget that la librairie in French is a false friend. It is not a library, which is une bibliothèque. I wouldn’t be happy if you tried to take my book away without paying! Nor would I be content if all the French learners in Oundle contented themselves with window shopping (faire du lèche-vitrines –  literally to do lick-windows).

faire du lèche vitrines

picture by Tamsin Edwards Texart

 

For those of you who live too far from Oundle to come and buy a copy, you can buy it on Amazon worldwide. If you have read and enjoyed it, please do leave a review for me. It would only take you a few moments and would give me much encouragement.

A bientôt!

Clare

 

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by Clare Jones

Cwellyn Arms campsite

Cwellyn Arms campsite, Rhyd Ddu

I have just come back from a fabulous two nights’ family camping trip to the “wild and wonderful” Cwellyn Arms campsite in Snowdonia. I can’t exactly say “nous avons dormi à la belle étoile” (we slept under the stars) because there was a very small canvas separating us from the sky but it was close enough! The sky turned pink and yellow as the sun set over the lake, and we chatted by the camp fire until it got dark well after 10pm then we wriggled into our sleeping bags which barely fitted in the tiny tent. We were in fits of giggles when we realized we had put our sleeping bags in the tent the wrong way round and we somehow had to reverse our positions before it was possible to lie down – not an easy task!

le soleil se couche – the sun is setting

le soleil couchant – the setting sun

un feu de camp – a campfire

un sac de couchage – a sleeping bag

à l’envers / sens dessus dessous – upside down

piquer un fou rire – to get a fit of the giggles

The following morning, we set off on the half-mile walk up to the pub for one of the best cooked breakfasts I have ever had the pleasure to eat. The uphill walk was excellent for stretching the limbs and easing out the aches and pains I could feel from passing the night on the hard ground, and as the French say, “Ça ouvre l’appétit” – it whets the appetite (literally it opens the appetite). The breakfast wasn’t cheap but it was obviously made with the finest of local ingredients and was cooked to perfection. Myam myam!

According to Internaute.com, the expression dormir à la belle étoile used to be used ironically as if La Belle Étoile were the name of an inn (The Beautiful Star) and the ceiling above you the stars in the night sky.

Rhyd Ddu

Rhyd Ddu, Snowdonia

We were lucky to have splendid weather for the whole of our stay in Snowdonia. It wasn’t until I got home that I heard of the appalling weather the French have had to suffer this week. I do hope my French friends and readers are safe and well. Please leave a comment in French or in English.

A bientôt!

Clare

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by Clare Jones

Here is the second half of the spelling reforms in France which have caused such recent controversy despite it being old news. For the first five changes, please refer to last week’s blog and for more details in French look here.

Nouvelle orthographe

 

  1. Words which have been borrowed from other languages will be made to conform to the normal rules for French words in the plural.

Previously: un match, des matches

Now: un match, des matchs

Previously: une miss (an English girl), des misses

Now: une miss, des miss

An accent will be added if this helps the reader to pronounce the word correctly –

Previously: un revolver

Now: un révolver

Notice that this doesn’t mean that the word is pronounced exactly as it would be in English; rather it has been modified to sound more natural to a French speaker and therefore to be more easily absorbed into the French language.

  1. Lots of words which used to be hyphenated will now be written as one word. These will include
  • words which start with contr(e) and entr(e)
  • words which start with extra, infra, intra and ultra
  • words with scholarly elements such as hydro and socio
  • onomatopoeic words such as tictac
  • foreign words such as weekend

So ‘to go away for a weekend’ will now be partir en weekend.

In fact, dictionary writers are invited to extend the rules above to all hyphenated words so, for example, porte-monnaie (a purse) now becomes portemonnaie.

  1. Words which used to end in -olle, e.g. corolle (corolla – part of a flower) will now end in -ole to bring them into line with words such as bestiole (creature; creepy-crawly) but exceptions to the new rule include la folle (the mad woman), la colle (the glue) and la molle (the soft or spineless woman).

Also, verbs which formerly ended in -otter will now end in -oter with one T. Exceptions to this new spelling rule are the verbs botter (to boot) which comes from a noun –  la botte (the boot) – and any other verbs which come from nouns with a double consonant. So we now have the lovely verb mangeoter (to eat without appetite; to pick at one’s food) which is now in line with another verb I rather like, neigeoter (to snow a little).

  1. The ninth new rule clears up an area which has caused many headaches to learners: the tréma (two dots) has either been moved or added so that it now sits over a letter which is pronounced separately from the letter before or after it.

Bye-bye to: aiguë (high-pitched – feminine adjective), ambiguë (ambiguous – feminine adjective), ambigüité (ambiguity) and also arguer (to argue).

Hello: aigüe, ambigüe, ambigüité and argüer.

There is also now a tréma in the word gageüre (challenge) –

C’est une véritable gageüre ! It’s a real challenge!

  1. The final rule concerns the verb laisser (to let /allow) when followed by an infinitive. Previously in the passé-composé, there would have had to be an agreement, e.g. elle s’est laissée maigrir (she let herself get thin), je les ai laissés partir (I let them leave). Now this construction follows the similar construction using faire followed by an infinitive, where the past participle is invariable: elle s’est laissé maigrir, je les ai laissé partir.

 

There are several anomalies which have also been regularized. Here are a few of them:

asseoir → assoir (to sit somebody down)

bonhomie → bonhommie (affability)

chariot → charriot (trolley)

combatif → combattif (ready to fight)

eczéma → exéma (eczema)

imbécillité → imbécilité (idiocy)

nénuphar → nénufar (waterlily)

oignon →ognon (onion)

pagaïe → pagaille (mess; chaos)

saccharine → saccarine (saccharine)

papeterie → papèterie (stationery; stationer’s)

leader → leadeur (leader)

allô → allo (hello – on the phone)

I hope I’ve managed to summarize well enough for you to follow the main ideas and that you don’t find the whole thing too much of une véritable gageüre and that it hasn’t made you feel too combattif /combattive ! If it’s all too much for you, go for a trip to the supermarket to take your mind off it, and fill your charriot with ognons ! Don’t forget to leave a comment below, please.

A bientôt!

Clare

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About the author

Clare Jones was born in the North of England in 1960. She fell in love with the French language at the age of 11 and went on to study it to degree level at Leicester University, where she also became a qualified teacher. In 2011 Clare collaborated with Tamsin Edwards to produce an iPhone application, “Figure out French, Rouler un patin: to give a French kiss and other French expressions for leisure and health”. Though she now lives in England, Clare always has her nose in a French book and she surrounds herself by all things French. She is currently very busy teaching French as a private tutor and when she has the time, she writes a blog on the subject of the French language (click on the blog tab to read it). Clare enjoys tai-chi, swimming, and cycling in the local country park. She is also an enthusiastic member of her local community choir.

About the illustrator

Tamsin Edwards studied art at both Nene Art College, Northampton, and Derby School of Art during the early 1980s. Though well known for her atmospheric watercolour landscapes, Tamsin also creates quirky pen & wash illustrations, often portraying comic images of people and places. Tamsin has already collaborated with Clare Jones to produce an iPhone application. Past commissioned projects also include the children’s storybook ‘Tales of Two Shires’ and a book of poetic verses. As well as regularly exhibiting work and selling to clients around the world, Tamsin has also had several paintings published in an international magazine. To view further examples of her work or to buy original artwork from this book, please visit texart.co.uk. Tamsin can be contacted at art@texart.co.uk.

Author Photo

Illustrator Tamsin Edwards (left) and author Clare Jones (right)

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