This Blog describes how to learn modern French language like it's spoken today in France. French Today's audiobooks and lessons all come with audio, are developed for adult students and adapted to their level.
La madeleine [mad-lène], aujourd’hui, appelée “petite madeleine” est un petit gâteau avec une grande histoire !
The madeleine, called today « petite Madeleine » is a cupcake with great story to tell !
Ce gâteau a la forme d’une coquille Saint Jacques. Bien sûr, aujourd’hui, on peut manger des madeleines aux pépites de chocolat, des madeleines salées, au roquefort et aux noix, par exemple. Mais au départ, c’était un gâteau au beurre, très simple, juste à la vanille, avec une pointe de citron parfois.
This cupcake has the shape of a scallop shell. Of course today you can eat chocolate chip madeleines, savoury madeleines, with roquefort and walnuts, for example. But it was originally a butter cupcake, very unpretentious, just with vanilla and sometimes a touch of lemon.
Et cette madeleine est née en Lorraine, dans la ville de Commercy. C’est pour ça qu’on parle de la madeleine de Commercy.
And this madeleine was born in the region Lorraine, in the city of Commercy. That’s why the expression « madeleine of Commercy » is used.
The Madeleine, a King’s Desert
Le roi Stanislas, ancien roi de Pologne, duc de Lorraine, est le beau père Louis XV. Stanislas, c’est en fait le même roi qui a inspiré le Baba au Rhum, donc on peut dire que c’est un vrai passionné de pâtisserie !
The king Stanislas, former king of Poland, duke of Lorraine, is Louis XV’s father-in-law. Stanislas is actually the same king who inspired the rum baba, so we can say that he was a true pastry enthusiast.
En 1755, il donne un festin dans son château de Commercy, en Lorraine.
In 1755, he gives a feast in his castle of Commercy, in Lorraine.
Le problème, c’est que pendant le dîner, l’intendant et le cuisinier se disputent dans les cuisines. Le cuisinier est très fâché et s’en va en emportant le dessert. Mais un dîner sans dessert, c’est le déshonneur ! la catastrophe !
The problem is that steward and cook start to have an argument in the kitchen during dinner. The cook is very angry and storms out taking the dessert with him. But a dinner without dessert is disgrace ! Tragedy !
Avant que le roi s’en aperçoive, une jeune servante, Madeleine Paulmier, propose son aide. Elle peut faire le gâteau que sa grand-mère lui faisait quand elle était petite.
Before the kings realizes, a young maid, Madeleine Paulmier, offers her help. She can make the cake that her grand-mother used to make her when she was a child.
Au moment du dessert, on apporte au roi et à ses invités de petits gâteaux dorés, fondants, à la forme originale.
When the dessert comes, the king and his guests are given browed, fondant cupcakes with unusual shape.
Et quand le roi et ses invités commencent à manger, et ils sont tellement surpris par ce dessert délicieux que le roi demande à parler à l’auteur du dessert. Un miracle !
And when the king and his guests start eating, there are so surprised by this dessert that the king asks to speak to the dessert’s author.
Le roi dit à Madeleine :
Comment s’appelle ce chef-d’œuvre ?
Il n’a pas de nom, sire, c’est ce qu’on fait chez moi, à Commercy, les jours de fête.
Et quel est ton nom ?
Eh bien, il s’appellera comme toi : Madeleine de Commercy.
The king says to Madeleine :
What’s the name of this masterpiece ?
It has no name, Sir, this is what we do at home, in Commercy, during celebrations.
What’s your name ?
Well, it name will be like yours : Madeleine de Commercy.
Pour faire de bonnes Madeleines traditionnelles, il faut :
150 g de farine
125 g de beurre ! Attention, prendre un bon beurre, qui a le goût de beurre !
130 g de sucre de canne (jamais de sucre blanc pour les gâteaux)
20g de miel d’Acacia
1 gousse de vanille
1 pincée de sel
5 g de levure chimique
zeste d’1/2 citron non traité
Un moule à madeleine !
To cook good traditional Madeleines, you need :
150 grams flower
125 grams butter ! Be careful to take a good butter, that has butter taste !
130g cane sugar (never put superfine sugar in a cake)
20 grams acacia honey
1 vanilla bean
1 salt pinch
5 grams of yeast
est of a half untreated lemon
A madeleine moulding tray!
Astuce 1 : Pour faire des gâteaux bien fondants, il faut faire un beurre noisette. Ça veut dire qu’il faut d’abord faire fondre du beurre sur un feu régulier. Quand le beurre devient couleur châtain clair avec une odeur de noisette, il faut le mettre dans un bol froid pour le laisser refroidir.
Et enfin, pour un goût très subtil, vous mélangez ce beurre noisette avec du miel d’Acacia !
Tip 1 : To make fondant cupcakes, you have to cook a brown butter. This means, first, melt butter over a regular fire. When the butter becomes light-brown with a smell of hazelnut, put it in a cold bowl to cool it down.
And at last, for a very subtle taste, you mix up this brown butter with some Acacia honey !
Ensuite vous battez les œufs, le sucre, la pincée de sel. Ajoutez la farine et la levure puis le mélange au beurre+miel avec le zeste de citron et la vanille.
Then beat the eggs, the sugar, and the pinch of salt. Add the flower and baking powder, then the mixture butter+honey with lemon zest and vanilla.
Astuce 2 : Pour avoir une belle madeleine, on doit essayer de garder cette petite bosse typique de la Madeleine. Pour ça, il faut laisser reposer la pâte au frigo pendant 2h…ou toute la nuit ! Sinon elle retombe à plat et tout est raté !
Tip 2 : To get a beautiful madeleine, you have to try to keep its typical small hump. Therefore, you need to let the batter rest in the fridge for 2h…or the whole night ! Otherwise, it falls flat and all is wasted !
Ensuite, préchauffez le four à 240 degrés, remplissez les moules à madeleine et baissez la température à 200 degrés quand vous les mettez dans le four. Après 5 minutes, baissez la température à 180 degrés. Laissez les madeleines encore 5 minutes et sortez-les du four pour les faire refroidir avant de les manger !
Then, preheat the oven to 460 Fahrenheit, fill in the baking pans and low the temperature to 390 Fahrenheit while you put them into the oven. After 5 minutes, low the temperature to 355 Fahrenheit. Leave the madeleines 5 minutes more and get them out of the oven to let them cool down before to eat them !
Comme je vous ai dit, on peut faire beaucoup de variantes de madeleines ! Moi j’adore faire des madeleines au roquefort et aux noix pour l’apéro en hiver au coin du feu !
As I told you, you can make lots of variations ! Personally, I love madeleines with Roquefort and wallnuts for the aperitif in the winter by the fireside !
3 – French Idiom : “Une Madeleine de Proust”
Dans son livre de la Recherche, Marcel Proust, probablement l’un des plus grands écrivains français du XXème siècle, va donner un destin tout particulier à ce dessert qu’est la madeleine.
In his book In Search Of Lost Time, Marcel Proust, one of the greatest french writers of the 20th century is going to give a very singular destiny to this dessert.
Dans Du côté de Chez Swann, le héros fait tremper un morceau de madeleine dans une cuillère de thé, il la met dans sa bouche et tout à coup, il sent une joie puissante, un plaisir sans limite. Il se souvient de quand il mangeait des madeleines étant enfant, et il vit une expérience de mémoire involontaire. La madeleine fait ressurgir dans les profondeurs de sa mémoire des souvenirs et des émotions de son enfance. Et c’est cette sensation, ce goût, ce plaisir, qui vont provoquer, au long des pages, la création littéraire.
In the first volume, Swann’s way, the protagonist dunks a madeleine piece in tee, he puts it into his mouth and suddenly, he feels a powerful joy, a limitless pleasure. He remembers having a similar snack as a child and he experiences involuntary memory. The madeleine makes his child memories and emotions reappear from the depths of his mind.And this feeling, this taste, this pleasure make the literary creation true over the pages.
En fait, cela veut dire que la Madeleine c’est l’impulsion, l’élan de l’artiste. L’artiste a besoin de l’expérience de la Madeleine s’il veut pouvoir se dire dans son œuvre. C’est incroyable.
In fact, this means that the Madeleine is the impulse, the impetus of the artist. He needs the experience of the Madeleine if wants to be able to tell about himself in his work. It is incredible.
Alors, l’expression une « madeleine de Proust » est restée. On l’utilise quand une sensation nous ramène dans le passé.
So, the expression « madeleine de Proust stayed. It is used when a sensation leads us back into our past.
Voilà l’extrait de Proust, lorsqu’il décrit l’expérience de la Madeleine. Attention, Proust est connu pour être un écrivain très difficile à lire, même pour les Français !
Here is the extract of Proust, when he describes the experience of the Madeleine. Be aware, Proust is famous for being a very difficult writer to read, ever for French !
Proust – Du coté de chez Swann – A la recherche du temps perdu
Elle envoya chercher un de ces gâteaux courts et dodus appelés Petites Madeleines qui semblaient avoir été moulées dans la valve rainurée d’une coquille de Saint-Jacques. Et bientôt, machinalement, accablé par la morne journée et la perspective d’un triste lendemain, je portai à mes lèvres une cuillerée du thé où j’avais laissé s’amollir un morceau de madeleine. Mais à l’instant même où la gorgée mêlée des miettes du gâteau toucha mon palais, je tressaillis, attentif à ce qui se passait d’extraordinaire en moi. Un plaisir délicieux m’avait envahi, isolé, sans la notion de sa cause. Il m’avait aussitôt rendu les vicissitudes de la vie indifférentes, ses désastres inoffensifs, sa brièveté illusoire, de la même façon qu’opère l’amour, en me remplissant d’une essence précieuse: ou plutôt cette essence n’était pas en moi, elle était moi. J’avais cessé de me sentir médiocre, contingent, mortel. D’où avait pu me venir cette puissante joie ? Je sentais qu’elle était liée au goût du thé et du gâteau, mais qu’elle le dépassait infiniment, ne devait pas être de même nature. D’où venait-elle ? Que signifiait-elle ? Où l’appréhender ? Je bois une seconde gorgée où je ne trouve rien de plus que dans la première, une troisième qui m’apporte un peu moins que la seconde. Il est temps que je m’arrête, la vertu du breuvage semble diminuer. Il est clair que la vérité que je cherche n’est pas en lui, mais en moi. Il l’y a éveillée, mais ne la connaît pas, et ne peut que répéter indéfiniment, avec de moins en moins de force, ce même témoignage que je ne sais pas interpréter et que je veux au moins pouvoir lui redemander et retrouver intact, à ma disposition, tout à l’heure, pour un éclaircissement décisif. Je pose la tasse et me tourne vers mon esprit. C’est à lui de trouver la vérité. Mais comment ? Grave incertitude, toutes les fois que l’esprit se sent dépassé par lui-même ; quand lui, le chercheur, est tout ensemble le pays obscur où il doit chercher et où tout son bagage ne lui sera de rien. Chercher ? pas seulement : créer. Il est en face de quelque chose qui n’est pas encore et que seul il peut réaliser, puis faire entrer dans sa lumière.
She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory–this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs.
The theory is since the French language is going to be all around you, you’ll be soaking it in, and have many opportunities to practice, right?
Wrong. Actually, learning French while living in France can prove to be a real challenge.
In this article, I’ll explain why it’s not that easy to pick up the French language and give English speakers who live in France precise tips to learn French efficiently.
1 – A Fake French Immersion
Ok, you live in France but what language do you speak at home and at work?
If the answer is English – or any other language for that matter – you are not in French Language immersion. You may be surrounded by the French language, yet you live in a bubble: an English-speaking bubble in France.
So first thing to assess: realistically, how many hours per day do you spend communicating in French?
For many foreigners living in France, it’s actually surprisingly low. That’s one off the reasons why you are not “picking up” the French language.
2 – No Motivation to Speak French Fluently
Once you’ve mastered “bonjour Monsieur” and “je voudrais une baguette s’il vous plaît”, what are your daily needs to speak French?
This is especially true if you live in a city where lots of people speak English.
Most people you need to interact with will speak some English… Between your French and their English, you’ll be able to communicate. And if not, there will always be a good English speaking soul around to help you out.
Did you even choose to come to live in France? Did your job take you there? Or your spouse? Is learning French a choice or something you feel is being imposed on you?
In other words, what’s your motivation to speak French fluently? If the answer is “because I should”, it’s unfortunately not enough.
3 – Extremely High Expectations From The French
Furthermore, what’s the point of even trying?
The French tend to be extremely judgmental when it comes to their precious language. Most French people have no clue how hard it is to learn French and will give you no credit for trying, and harshly correct your every mistake.
It’s really hard to build any self-confidence in your ability to speak French if you let them get to you.
4 – Very High Expectations From Yourself
Students of French living in France often give up on improving their French.
The goal is just too high. Whatever their efforts, it seems like it’s never enough to please the French, or to even please themselves since they feel they will never be able to represent themselves adequately in French.
I went exactly through the same thing when I was living in the US.
I am a pretty funny person in French, I mean, I have a good sense of humor. And I’m pretty eloquent when I want to be.
But in English, I feel I cannot articulate with wit what I want to say, or show my sense of humor (puns or jokes take too long to formulate and I miss the ‘opportunity’ window).
And I hesitate and stammer a lot – or so it seems to me! In my brain, it’s often chaos: not only do I struggle to find the right words and pronunciation, but I keep hearing the mistakes I’ve just made, and then I blame myself.
My “inner voice” keeps yelling nasty things to me:
“what you just said sounded so stupid”
“you should know better: you’ve studied that!”
“really? Still mispronouncing that word after all this time?”
My close friends constantly bursting in laughter to mock me doesn’t help either.
So what’s the point of studying a language if you feel you’ll never be able to be adequate?
5 – Accepting The Multiple Versions of You
That’s my first tip for English speakers living in France.
Yes, chances are you will never be able to reconcile your English speaking self to your French-speaking self. It can be scary and frustrating.
It also can be quite exciting.
As a foreigner, you are “exotic”. You bring a new perspective to the table. And this is intriguing to French people. The French will want to know you because you are American, Australian, Irish… You have the upper hand there compared to just another French person (even though his French is perfect…).
But more importantly, you can learn a lot about yourself in the process.
Constructing your “French” self will make you use parts of your “English” self that you are not accustomed to. Maybe you’ll smile more for example. Or be more grateful towards people taking the time to talk with you. It will certainly help you have more empathy towards people learning English!!
Once I accepted I couldn’t be “French” Camille in the US, my inner “blame” shut down. Darn! It’s amazing how much time you have to actually construct your sentences when you are not constantly insulting and judging yourself!
To my surprise, once I calmed down, I realized that people actually understood what I was saying. I made mistakes, OK, but they still understood me. And it got better with time and practice.
And yes, sometimes, my friends laughed at me, and it was hard to take at first, but once I accepted it was not ill-intentioned, I was “almost” able to laugh with them. Here you go, my “English” self had taught me to take myself a bit less seriously, and enjoy laughter for laughter. A useful lesson (in any language) for sure.
OK, so there is a bit of psychology involved… Once you are over that hump, what can you actually do to learn French in France?
6 – You Need a Roadmap
To English speakers living in France, mastering French may look like a huge mountain.
But like any mountain, it’s climbable: however, if you go at it by yourself, explorer mode, you are really complicating your life! However, that’s exactly what you do in French when you think “I’ll just soak it up once I’m in France”.
People have climbed this mountain before you… follow their lead: find a good roadmap or even a guide.
So, there is a bit of soul-searching to do before you start your French journey.
What’s your motivation: why do YOU want to learn French? And please leave the “should” behind…
What’s your real French goal – do you really want to put in the efforts, time, resources to climb all the way to the top of that mountain, or would a nice hike on the highlands be enough?
What are your priorities? Communicate efficiently (if not necessarily with eloquence)? Improve your pronunciation? Your grammar?
When surrounded by native French speakers, it’s easy to feel you are not progressing at all. So, set short-term goals for yourself. You have a huge opportunity since you live in France: you can find people to practice with.
It may not be easy to engage in full conversation with some people – waiters, shopkeepers, etc are usually busy: they may not be willing to speak French to you and may switch to English for efficiency sake. But you can still exchange a few words in French.
When you do that, push yourself and “place” in the sentence a new idiom or tense you’ve been working on. And enjoy the feeling of a winning challenge.
8 – Smell the Roses
Take the time to acknowledge what you have achieved. Yes, there will always be room for improvement – actually, when you think about it, there is room for improvement in your English self as well, isn’t it?
So now, you are able to go buy your bread in French in total confidence. Yeah you!
Next step, ordering in a restaurant. Next one, buying clothes…
Take time to congratulate yourself once you’ve achieved these goals. They are huge steps, important steps!
Next situation: talking to the plumber… Wait… is this realistic?
At this point in your studies, are you going to be able to successfully interact with a plumber who possibly doesn’t speak a word of English?
If the answer is no, then get some help. If the answer is “I don’t have a choice”, then heck, go for it… but don’t feel stupid or inadequate because the interaction was a bit rough… You are not omniscient. Neither is your plumber!
The highly philosophical conversation with your next door neighbor you’d love to impress? Well, this one will have to wait. Maybe forever. Impress him with something else… Or better yet, don’t! Who cares?
9 – Dealing with the French
And yes. There will still be people who don’t get it. People who don’t understand how hard it is to speak French fluently. People who are going to shame you into the “but you should speak French by now”, or correct your every word.
It’s frustrating. I know, I’ve been there… I am there.
Let it go. There will always be the lovers and the haters. And the lovers who love to hate…
Bottom line: you speak two languages. They only speak one. No matter what, you win.
The French language has different “registers”: different levels of formality. You don’t use the same vocabulary whether you are talking to your bestie at a barbecue, or to your future boss during a job interview.
The particularity of French is that the register you choose will affect not only the vocabulary, but also the whole sentence structure, and also the pronunciation.
Use the wrong register and you’ll misrepresent yourself: book French: may make you sound snobbish; slang: vulgar.
So let’s see what the different French language registers are, how they affect the language, and then I’ll tell you what register I believe a French student should use.
1- French Slang
Slang, “l’argot” in French is fun to study. However, with French slang, it is extremely easy to make a really bad impression.
There are several registers to French slang. Slang can be colloquial and familiar like saying “bosser” instead of “travailler” (work), “une meuf” instead of “une femme” (woman).
In French, we have a form of slang when we invert the syllables of a word, called “verlan”: “t’es ouf” = “tu es fou” (you’re crazy). Some French slang words nowadays have an Arabic or African origin, such as “kiffer” (to enjoy) – as featured in the image above : “quel kiffe ce bouquin” – this book is such a great trip / I love that book
Some of these expressions may be OK for you to use: it really depends on how you speak in English. Do you use slang? Do you swear? How formal is your English?
However, slang can be very vulgar too, or offensive. If saying “putain” (whore, but translates more like fuck) is a very common and used swear word / exclamation in French, it will strongly stand out in the mouth of a foreigner. Furthermore, “putain” can be an insult as well.
Besides, French slang evolves. Some words are timeless : “une nana” for woman has been around for a long time and is still very much used. But saying “une pépé” will make you sound like an 80 years-old. Say “une zouz” and you’ll sound like a teenager from the hood.
So, French students learning slang need to play it smart:
use only “mild” slang words: colloquial, time proven, everyday slang
know the real difference between everyday and vulgar, offensive slang (and also be extra careful that what you might see as ‘acceptable’ on TV or YouTube in one context, could be much worst in another)
pick “age appropriate” slang
only use slang in the right context, with the right people
Not so easy, right?
2 – Familiar / Modern / Everyday French
Obviously, that’s the language most people use every day in France (from the 20-year-old clerk at the store to our 70-year-old parents)
What students of French should know is that this everyday French is quite different from the French they are learning in school.
First of all, modern French is a mix of ‘light’ slang and formal French. It, of course, varies on the speakers’ age, level of education, personal vocabulary choice and above all, the context.
More importantly, as far as the French language is concerned, the register affects not only the vocabulary used but also the language structure and pronunciation!
Here are a few examples:
The “ne” of the negative disappears:
Sophie (ne) vient pas. Sophie is not coming
“Je” “tu” “il(s)” “elle(s)’ are really glided:
Ch’ui = je suis. I am
T’as un chien = tu as un chien. You have a dog
I sait pas = il ne sait pas. He doesn’t know (we would never just write “I”, even in a text message, but that’s how we’d say it)
Questions are asked by just raising your voice. Interrogative expressions move to the end:
Tu fais quoi ? What are you doing?
Unfortunately, this modern French is almost never introduced to French students. You may learn a few mild French slang words here and there, but you never get the full picture, with the modern French glidings found in pronunciation, and everyday form of questions.
This is exactly why I developed my À Moi Paris French learning method. All the points of French grammar/vocabulary are illustrated by a novel written using modern, everyday French. The story is then recorded twice: first in a slower enunciated way, then in a more natural way, featuring the modern French glidings.
As a foreigner, you may decide you do not want to speak this way yourself. That is your choice but it is still absolutely essential you train with it or else you will not understand the average French person when they speak.
Look at that woman! She looks great! – Modern French slang
3 – Formal French
Formal French is what you’re likely to have learned in school.
It’s the language used when the speaker wants to “make a good impression” and speaks to someone s/he doesn’t know at all or wish to show special respect for.
That’s how newscasters speak on TV or most politicians.
That’s how I’ll speak during a job interview, or if I meet people I’m trying to impress.
In formal French, one would use “vous” instead of “on”, proper grammar, proper vocabulary. Questions are likely to be formed with inversion. The pronunciation will be more articulated, a bit slower, and featuring all the proper liaisons.
However, in everyday life, French people are not all that proper!
4 – Literary / Refined French
We call this “le français soutenu”. This is an extremely formal and elegant language used in literature of formal French letters.
Only French scholars and lawyers speak that way. Well, scholars, lawyers AND foreign French students ;-)
Unfortunately, a lot of French textbook feature only formal or literary French. It’s also the French pronunciation still featured in the large majority of audio methods.
Speaking this way will make you sound overly sophisticated, possibly snobbish and definitely old-fashioned. If that’s the image you want to send, it’s fine. But it’s important you are aware of it.
5 – Do French People Switch Register?
Yes, we do. Or at least, we try to. The ability to switch between language registers will vary from people to people.
I cannot speak “hood” French. I cannot speak “teenage” French. I may know a couple of words but I’m not fluent! And I sure don’t know the intonation or glidings.
I know a lot of regular slang words. I don’t know many swears nor vulgar slang words.
I use mostly everyday modern French. Because of my upbringing, also my age (I’m 47 as I write this article), I tend to use a bit of formal French too. And sometimes, when I want to impress someone, I may use a bit of literary French, even quote poetry or famous authors.
My daughter who is 14, is learning to use formal and literary French in school, for her essays. It’s funny to see her try to push up her French, use fancy words and constructions. She often makes mistakes, and I tell her to simplify her French. She first needs to get the basics right, then she can push it to the next level – without trying to impress too much or she’ll sound like a snob.
So, there is a fine line. You do want to show your wit and education through the language, but you also need to show that you are a fun, approachable, normal person.
6 – What French Register Should a Student of French Learn?
It’s a question you should ask yourself. The answer will vary on your age, the reason you are studying French (to communicate or to pass exams) and your personal preference.
For most people, I would say modern French and formal French. A bit of colloquial slang here and there to show you’re “in”, a few fancy words when you want to impress. And above all, a correct French pronunciation.
In my audiobooks, or in my newsletter, when I explain vocabulary words, I always add notes on the register I’m using.
As you now understand, it is really important to study from a method that will teach you the register you want to use, but also prepare you to understand the register most French people use nowadays = modern French.
C’est une grande joie de voir les arbres qui fleurissent au printemps. Après, ou même pendant le gris de l’hiver, ça fait du bien de voir toutes ces fleurs… oui, ça fait beaucoup de bien de les voir. Ça nous rappelle que les jours tournent, que le printemps va bientôt arriver, que de meilleurs jours arrivent. Et en plus, cerise sur le gâteau, les fleurs de ces arbres sont souvent parfumées !
It’s a great joy to see trees in flower in the spring. After, or even during the gray of winter, it does you good to see all these flowers … indeed, it’s does you a lot of good to see them. It reminds us that the days are moving on, that spring will arrive soon, that better days are coming. And in addition, icing on the cake, the flowers of these trees are often scented!
1 – French Flowering Tree Vocabulary
Vous connaissez d’autres noms d’arbres qui fleurissent au printemps (en français et en anglais ?) Ajoutez-les dans les commentaires et je les ajouterai dans ma liste ! Merci!
You know more names of trees that flower in the spring (in French and in English?) Add them in the comments and I’ll add them to my list! Thanks!
Le mimosa – mimosa
Le Pêcher – peach tree
L’abricotier – apricot tree
Le poirier – pear tree
Le prunier – plum tree
Le pommier – apple tree
L’arbre à soie – silk tree
Le sorbier – mountain ash tree
Le sumac – sumac
Le laurier – laurel
Le tamaris – salt cedar
Le cognacier du japon – Japanese quince
Le lilac – lilac
Le lilac de Californie – California lilac
Le prunus – plum tree
L’ajonc – gorse
Le sureau – elder
Le magnolia – magnolia
Les camélia – camelia
L’aubépine – hawthorn
Le prunellier – blackthorn
2 – Mimosa in French = Le Mimosa
Ceci est le cas pour le mimosa, un des premiers arbres à fleurir. Le nôtre, devant la maison, embaume la cour pendant tout le mois de février et début mars aussi. On peut cueillir quelques petites branches pour en faire de beaux bouquets, comme ici où le mimosa est combiné avec des jonquilles.
This is the case for the mimosa, one of the first trees to bloom. Ours, in front of the house, perfumes the yard during all the month of February and beginning of March too. You can pick some small branches to make lovely flower displays, as here where the mimosa is combined with daffodils.
Quand mes étudiants en immersion de français viennent chez moi en Bretagne au moment de la floraison du mimosa, ils sont souvent surpris : un arbre jaune ! Quelle splendeur !
When my French immersion students come to my house in Brittany when the mimosa blooms, they are often surprised: a yellow tree! How gorgeous!
3 – Plum Tree in French = Le Prunus
Avant la fin de la floraison du mimosa, c’est le tour de mes prunus ornementaux. J’en ai plusieurs : au fond du jardin, ou près de notre maison, derrière le parking. Mais encore mieux, notre ancien voisin Louis en avait planté une ligne au bord de son champ en allant vers le bourg de Saint Igneuc.
Before the end of the mimosa’s flowering, it is the turn of my ornamental plum trees. I have several: at the bottom of the garden, or near our house, behind the car park. But even better, our former neighbor Louis had planted a line of them at the edge of his field, going towards the village of Saint Igneuc.
Ces arbres ont une profusion de petites fleurs délicates d’un rose pale, qui sortent avant les feuilles. J’aime le moment, à peu près une semaine après l’éclosion de ces fleurs, où les feuilles commencent à s’ouvrir aussi. Après quelques semaines, les feuilles vont tourner au rouge, mais au début elles sont de couleur bronze, et je trouve sublime la juxtaposition du rose et du bronze.
These trees have a profusion of delicate, pale pink flowers that come out before the leaves. I like the moment, about a week after these flowers open, where the leaves begin to open too. After a few weeks, the leaves will turn red, but at first they are bronze, and I find the juxtaposition of pink and bronze wonderful.
4 – Magnolia in French = Le Magnolia
J’adore les fleurs du petit magnolia stellata : d’un blanc pur, et comme de petites étoiles au début du printemps quand le reste de notre jardin semble toujours endormi. D’abord, j’ai pris une photo de ce petit arbre au moment du coucher du soleil, un très beau jour de février. Les fleurs étaient d’une blancheur éclatante, presque lumineuse dans la pénombre. Malheureusement, la photo ne rendait pas justice, donc j’ai refait la photo en plein jour.
I love the flowers of the small magnolia stellata: pure white, and like little stars in early spring when the rest of our garden still seems asleep. First, I took a picture of this little tree at sunset, a beautiful day in February. The flowers were dazzlingly white, almost luminous in the dim light. Unfortunately, the photo did not do justice, so I took another photo in broad daylight.
En parlant des magnolias, il y en a de très beaux, tout autour d’ici. L’arbre le plus impressionnant que je connais, c’est celui devant l’église Saint Malo à Dinan. Il a 160 ans et figure sur une liste des arbres remarquables du département des Côtes d’Armor. Il est vraiment magnifique pendant quelques semaines en mars.
Speaking of magnolias, there are beautiful ones all around here. The most impressive tree I know is the one in front of Saint Malo church in Dinan. It is 160 years old and is on a list of remarkable trees in the department of Côtes d’Armor. It is really beautiful for a few weeks in March.
5 – Wisteria in French = La Glycine
Retour chez nous pour la glycine sur la façade de la maison. Ce n’est pas un arbre, bien sûr : c’est une grande plante grimpante qui peut monter haut, et qui est spectaculaire et très agréablement parfumée au moment de sa floraison en avril. Et quel parfum enivrant !
Back home for the wisteria on the front of the house. It is not a tree, of course: it is a large climbing plant that can go up high, and which is spectacular and very pleasantly scented when it blooms in April. And what an intoxicating perfume!
C’est aussi au tour des arbres fruitiers de produire leurs fleurs délicates: le pêcher, le poirier, les pruniers et les pommiers. (L’abricotier également, mais le mien est mort, malheureusement…) On espère qu’il n’y aura pas trop de vent ni de fortes gelées pendant la floraison – nous pensons déjà aux fruits qui vont arriver plus tard dans l’année.
It is also the turn of the fruit trees to produce their delicate flowers: the peach tree, the pear, the plums and the apple trees. (The apricot tree also, but mine is dead, unfortunately …) We hope that there will not be too much wind or heavy frosts during blossom time – we’re already thinking about the fruits that will arrive later in the year.
6 – Elder in French = Le Sureau
Puis vers la fin du printemps, c’est le sureau qui va fleurir. Nous avons un sureau dans notre petit verger. Les fleurs signalent vraiment l’arrivée du beau temps. Elles ne sont pas des plus jolies, blanches et plutôt ordinaires ; pourtant l’arbre est très utile, et chaque jardinier bio devrait en avoir au moins un dans son jardin. On peut faire une sorte de sirop ou de limonade avec les fleurs, même du ‘champagne’ ou de la vinaigrette, puis plus tard dans l’année on peut faire de la confiture avec les baies noires. On peut éloigner les insectes nocifs et les rongeurs avec un purin fait des feuilles. Et j’ai découvert récemment qu’on peut utiliser les fleurs séchées pour retarder la germination des pommes de terre pendant le stockage.
Then towards the end of spring, it is the elder that will flower. We have an elder in our small orchard. The flowers really do signal the arrival of good weather. They are not amongst the prettiest, white and rather ordinary; yet the tree is very useful, and every organic gardener should have at least one in his garden. You can make a kind of syrup or lemonade with flowers, even ‘champagne’, or some vinaigrette, then later in the year you can make jam with the berries. You can get rid of harmful insects and rodents with liquid made from leaves. And I recently discovered that the dried flowers can be used to delay sprouting of potatoes during storage.
7 – Gorse in French = L’ajonc
On ne doit pas oublier les arbres indigènes non plus. D’un joli jaune intense, les fleurs de l’ajonc sont devenues l’emblème de la Bretagne. Arbre ou arbuste, l’ajonc ? C’est vrai, il n’y a pas de tronc principal, donc c’est un arbuste, mais quelquefois ils sont énormes ! Et là encore, ce sont des fleurs qui restent ouvertes pendant de longues semaines sans faner. En fait, les trois espèces d’ajonc présents en Bretagne se relayent pour fleurir presque toute l’année.
We mustn’t forget native trees either. A beautiful intense yellow, the flowers of the gorse have become the emblem of Brittany. Is gorse a tree or a shrub? True, there is no main trunk, so it’s a shrub, but sometimes they are huge! And again, these are flowers that stay open for long weeks without fading. In fact, the three species of gorse present in Brittany take turns to bloom almost all year.
Et voilà – est-ce que j’ai fait le tour ? Je relis ce que j’ai écrit, et je me rends compte qu’il y a des oublis : je n’ai pas mentionné mon lilas : la belle Madame Lemoine, blanche, et très parfumée vers la fin du printemps. Je n’ai pas parlé non plus des petits arbres sauvages, l’aubépine et le prunellier, si importants pour la biodiversité. Et les camélias, et les lilas de Californie aux fleurs bleues, qui fleurissent si bien dans les jardins bretons.
And there you go – have I covered everything? I reread what I have written, and I realize that there are omissions: I haven’t mentioned my lilac: the beautiful white Madame Lemoine, very fragrant towards the end of spring. I haven’t mentioned the small wild trees, hawthorn and blackthorn, which are so important for biodiversity. And the camelias, and the California lilacs which bloom so nicely the Breton gardens.
Mais il faut s’arrêter quelque part – et j’aimerais bien publier cet article avant la fin du printemps !
But one has to stop somewhere – and I’d like to publish this article before the end of spring!
Et vous ? Quels arbres fleuris avez-vous dans votre jardin ?
What about you? What flower trees do you have in your garden?
The other day, Oliver Gee from the Earful Tower interviewed me on “how to start French”. You can ear our conversation and the tips I gave him on his podcast here.
I figured I had even more tips to share with beginner students of French. I also wanted to give you a clear list of what French grammar and vocabulary points should be studied first, in other words, the priorities and organisations of topics to learn French.
1 – Starting to learn French: school student or self-student?
When it comes to starting to learn French, a student enrolled in a French school and self French learner are not necessarily going to have the same priorities.
If you are starting French on your own, you need to first assess your priorities. Why do you want to learn French? Is-it to travel to France and communicate with the French? To write songs or poems in French? To read French literature in French? Your approach should not be the same whether the focus is on speaking or reading or writing French.
If you are studying school in French, your teacher should provide a French curriculum. Whether it will teach you French or not, that’s what you need to study to ace the class.
2 – Traditional French curriculum for beginners
Traditional methods will pretty much all follow the same French curriculum for beginners (A1 level):
French politeness and greetings
French verb conjugations for regular ER, IR, RE verbs
Present conjugations of être, avoir, aller, prendre, pouvoir, devoir… about 30 common irregular French verbs
French articles: definite, indefinite, partitive
Asking questions with est-ce que and inversion
Regular and Irregular adjectives, possessive, demonstrative adjectives…
Introduction to Passé-composé and soon after Imparfait, futur… more French verb conjugations.
All mixed with some useful vocabulary and written dialogues introducing a lot of new words each time.
The progression is super fast. These methods assume you know or remember what a subject, a pronoun, an adjective or a direct object are. They make you memorize a ton of new info, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
There is almost no repetition: each chapter comes with its mountain of new words, expressions, grammatical rules and conjugations to memorize.
If you are studying French to communicate in French – not only to pass school grades – there is a different way: a much less painful, and really effective way to start learning French, which is both logical and gradual. Here is comes :-)
3 – Start learning French the smart way = study with audio
First thing, if you are studying French to communicate in French, you must study with audio. It’s extremely unlikely you will achieve a decent French pronunciation if you are studying French only with books since spoken and written French are so different.
The French audio you follow needs to come from a French native from France (if you want to learn French from France that is) and feature:
enunciated French so you can start French by learning the right sounds,
but also modern spoken French. I’m not talking about a slang street language here, but just the natural way the French speak French in their daily life – the pronunciation is quite different than when they enunciate.
You need to understand both enunciated French, and the more natural daily life spoken French if you are to communicate effectively with the French. Watch-out! Most methods only feature the slow enunciated French pronunciation! Then students don’t understand the French when they speak!
4 – French starter: prioritize your French studies
The next thing to do is to prioritize. You cannot learn everything at once.
With so many free tools to learn French, it’s really easy to jump for one funny video to the next and learn bits here and bits there but lack a solid path to link and hold your new French knowledge.
To start French efficiently, you need a structure.
A logical approach.
A beginner French method that will cover the basic French vocabulary and grammatical tenses, teach you daily French vocabulary and the right pronunciation.
If you are learning French to communicate in French, and are an English speaker, here are my tips to begin French efficiently
Stay in the present tense.
French conjugations are overwhelming. Yes, they are an important part of the French language, but the tense you will use the most in everyday interactions is the present tense. You need to start somewhere. Start with the present tense and only the present tense. It’s already a lot.
Master the affirmative and the negative
You’ll use your verbs as much in the affirmative as in the negative. You may understand the logic, but you need to drill to get it fast when you speak! Repeat, repeat, repeat!
Learn daily vocabulary essential to communicate
Food. Travels. Family. Weather. Work & Hobbies.
These are among the most common topics of conversations. Health also but maybe you’re not going to discuss your health right away with a friendly waiter, hein… So, aim for the likely conversations that are relevant to your life, and learn that vocabulary.
Ask basic questions
Questions are the base of communication.
If you can’t ask/understand a question, you cannot communicate.
There are many ways of asking questions in French. Start with the simpler one, which I call “street French” in my French audiobooks. It’s not really grammatically correct, but it’s the one the French use in their daily life. And it’s simple and to the point.
As a beginner in French, there are many things to study. You will feel you progress fast because each new word, each new topic opens up a world of opportunity.
But if you are not careful about how you organize the info, you won’t learn efficiently: you will soon forget things, and the logic of French won’t fall into place, and everything will crumble. You need to slow down, follow a method and study efficiently.
5 – Best Way to Start Learning French: List of Topics and Order
I’ve been teaching French to adult English speakers for over 20 years. Here is the most logical gradual approach to start learning French for a total beginner English speaking student.
As stated above, the vocabulary priorities are up to you. And of course, my French learning method will teach you a lot of vocabulary as well since all the rules are illustrated by a fun, level-adapted novel.
But here are the French rules I recommend you study when you start your French journey.
1 First French goal – Being polite, subject pronouns, tu ≠vous, the concept of “conjugating” a verb
Basic greetings and politeness words – different ways to say “hi”
Singular subject pronouns – je, tu, il, elle, on
You in French, the difference between tu, toi, te, t’ and vous
Plural subject pronouns – nous, vous, ils, elles watch out the “s” are silent!
Aller in the present indicative tense
Asking and answering “how are you”
Thank you, you’re welcome and please – because you always need to be polite
Asking “and you” is essential – never forget it.
Introducing yourself, your family
The many ways of saying good bye, see you soon… more or less formal French
PAUSE. REPEAT. Check your pronunciation, do additional exercises etc…
2 – Second French priority – getting the pronunciation of your ER verbs right. Understanding the difference between spoken and written French
Present indicative tense of “to be”
How to learn your French verbs: there is a write way and a wrong way
Verbs in ER + consonant – Pronunciation only. That’s the most important thing!
Verbs in ER + consonant – written form. But don’t let the silent letters fool you
Mastering “elision” + drills
Mastering “liaison” + drills
Verbs in ER + vowel or h – pronunciation: liaison, elision, glidings with the pronouns
3 – Third priority for French beginners – starting to put basic sentences together with nouns. Mastering the pronunciation of Le, la, les and understanding the difference between them
Le, la, l’, les – pronunciation differences and use
Aimer – a verb that can be tricky (to be in love ≠ to like)
The verb préférer – spelling and pronunciation
Making a noun plural – the silent S in French
Irregular plural – OK, but they are less common than regular ones!
Moi, toi, lui… The stress pronouns and how to use them
PAUSE. REPEAT. Check your pronunciation, do additional exercises etc…
4 – The fourth point French beginners should master are the articles. When to use le, la, les ≠ un, une, des. Then understanding the difference between a noun and an adjective
Un, une: use and pronunciation
Des = more complex than “some” + liaison in Z
Introduction to Se or S’ verbs and the glided pronunciation of reflexive pronouns
S’appeler + cultural explanations on the many ways of introducing yourself in French
How to say French and France – introducing the French adjective
Continent, countries, nationalities – Nouns ≠ adjectives in French
Where do you come from? Prepositions of place
PAUSE. REPEAT. Check your pronunciation, do additional exercises etc…
5 – The next topic to study when you start learning French: describing what you have, asking for things
Making a verb negative. Why can’t I hear this “ne”?
What happens when 2 verbs follow each other ? The infinitive construction and lack of “to”.
Unspecific quantities – du, de la, des and how to use them – why you can’t say ‘je voudrais une eau”
Specific quantities – why you say “je ne veux pas d’eau”
The verb avoir – affirmative, negative… A verb you need to really know by heart and why
The verb pouvoir – how to extend an invitation in French
PAUSE. REPEAT. Check your pronunciation, do additional exercises etc…
6 – The next logical French topics are numbers and telling the time
Numbers 1-29 – pronunciation alone and with liaison
Numbers 30-100 – don’t learn them as a logical deduction: learn them as one sound
The many ways to tell the time – understand them all. Pick one to use yourself.
PAUSE. REPEAT. Check your pronunciation, do additional exercises etc…
7 – Finally, the next step to begin learning French will be describing things and practicing asking questions
Il y a ≠ il n’y a pas and their modern spoken pronunciation (ya, yapa)
Asking questions – detailed explanation
à + le & de + le = the mutant forms and how to use them
PAUSE. REPEAT. Check your pronunciation, do additional exercises etc…
6 – Starting French – What to Study Next
Now that you have a solid organization and understanding of the basis of the language, you can start filling up the filing cabinet that’s your brain.
Load up words of vocabulary, verb conjugations (in the present tense only, hein! You don’t know the rules which govern the other tenses yet!) Learn idioms too, they are fun.
Watch out: your French pronunciation is still fresh… you need to know how to pronounce a word before you memorize it. So learning everything, including verbs, with audio is a must.
Check out the next level of my French learning method. “À Moi Paris level 2, Meet the Gang” features a longer story (still in the present tense), lots of vocabulary and idiom lists, verb conjugations and a Q&A sections so you can practice out-loud.
And if you are learning French to communicate, then you need to practice. There is a huge psychological fear to get over when you start speaking a language. You won’t be able to present the real you: you can’t yet be smart, you can’t yet be funny. You will make mistakes. Sometimes, people may laugh at them… These are things you want to get used to: they are part of your French journey. So, I recommend you find a tutor to practice with.
Here again, choosing a professional who can guide you, check your pronunciation, encourage you without pressuring you is the key. There are many ways to do lessons exchanges or conversations with a native, but I believe they can be more harmful than anything else for a beginner.
You need your emerging self-confidence in French cherished, not crushed by someone who will correct all your mistakes (without offering any explanations for them…) mock you or be impatient.
Go for a professional French teacher by Skype, ask for a trial lesson before committing to more to see if you like the teacher.
There is a right and a wrong way to start French. If you start French the right way, the smart way, I promise you will feel empowered and start speaking French in no time.
Pendant nos vacances en octobre à Paris, mon mari Tom et moi avons décidé de faire un petit détour à Fontainebleau. Pourquoi pas ? Notre hôtel à Paris était complet ce samedi soir, donc nous avions besoin de dormir quelque part ! Fontainebleau est tout près de Paris, et les trains partent toutes les 50 minutes. Et, chose plus importante, nous savions qu’il y avait à Fontainebleau un château vraiment magnifique de la Renaissance et de l’ère de François Ier.
During our vacation this October in Paris, my husband Tom and I decided to make a little detour to Fontainebleau. Why not? Our Paris hotel was full on that Saturday night, so we needed to sleep somewhere! Fontainebleau is very close to Paris, and the trains leave every 50 minutes. And, most important, we knew there was in Fontainebleau a magnificent Renaissance palace from the time of Francis I.
2 – Buying a Train Ticket to Fontainebleau
Une fois arrivés à la gare de Lyon, Tom et moi avons cherché à acheter les billets. Évidemment, il n’y avait personne au guichet de la gare, et il fallait utiliser les machines automatiques. Nous en avons trouvé une, et avons commencé à taper notre destination sur le clavier. Horreur ! Un message nous a avertis qu’il n’y avait pas de départs pour Fontainebleau. Nous avions pensé que ce serait facile, mais maintenant, nous n’étions plus si sûrs.
When we got to the station, Tom and I looked for a place to buy tickets. Evidently there was no ticket booth, and so we had to use automatic machines. We found one and started to type in our destination. Oh no! A message told us there were no departures for Fontainebleau. We thought it would be easy, but now, we weren’t so sure.
Un peu désespérés, nous avons cherché un employé qui pourrait nous aider. Heureusement, il y avait un petit bureau d’information où un gentil monsieur nous a expliqué qu’il existe deux espèces de machines automatiques :
– « transilien » pour les voyages courts : c’est ce que nous devions prendre.
– « grandes lignes » pour les voyages plus longs.
Ce monsieur n’a pu ni nous vendre des tickets, ni nous montrer les machines, mais au moins nous savions que nous étions à la bonne gare.
A little desperate, we looked for an employee who could help us. Fortunately there was a small information office where a nice man explained to us that there are two kinds of automatic machines:
– “transilien” for short trips : that’s what we needed.
– “grandes lignes” for longer trips.
This man couldn’t sell us tickets or show us the machines, but at least we knew we were at the right station.
Armés de ces renseignements, nous avons trouvé les machines dont nous avions besoin, et nous avons recommencé le processus. Bravo ! La destination de Fontainebleau était reconnue, et il y avait un train qui partait dans 20 minutes. Nous étions en route !
Armed with this information, we found the machines we needed, and started the process again. Hurray! The machine recognized the destination of Fontainebleau, and there was a train leaving in 20 minutes. We were on our way!
Mais, attendez un moment : ce n’était pas si simple ! Un nouveau défi nous a arrêtés. La machine n’acceptait pas notre carte de crédit, et elle n’acceptait pas les billets, seulement la monnaie. Ça nous a rendu dingues ! Nous n’avions pas 18 euros en pièces !
But wait a minute – it wasn’t so simple! A new challenge stopped us in our tracks. The machine rejected our credit card, and it wouldn’t take bills, only coins. That made us crazy! We didn’t have 18 euros in coins!
Nous avons recommencé l’achat, mais sans succès. Pendant nos efforts, une queue se formait derrière nous, chacun attendant son propre tour. Du coup, nous avons cédé notre place pour faire la queue à une deuxième machine. Cette queue procédait lentement, et j’ai réalisé que tout le monde, même les francophones, avait du mal à faire leurs achats. Je me suis décontractée. Ce n’était pas seulement moi, c’était juste comme ça. Si tout le monde rencontrait les mêmes difficultés, alors on allait y arriver. Et oui, enfin je suis arrivée à faire mon achat, et on était même encore à temps pour attraper le prochain train.
We restarted the purchase, but without success. As we were trying, a line formed behind us, each one waiting a turn to buy. So we gave up our place to join the line at a second machine. That line moved slowly, and I realized that everyone, even the native French speakers, was having trouble buying their tickets. I relaxed. It wasn’t just me, it was just this way. If everyone had the same problems, then we’d all succeed in the end. And yes, I finally managed to make my purchase, and we were even still in time to catch the next train.
3 – Panic in the Train
Bientôt nous nous sommes installés dans le train. Enfin on pouvait respirer. Quand même j’étais crevée.
Soon we were settled in the train. Finally we could take a deep breath. But all the same I was beat.
Tout d’un coup j’ai remarqué une annonce électronique qui apparaissait toutes les trois minutes sur un écran. « Attention ! Les stations entre Melun et Montargis seront desservies par ce train. » Je connaissais le verbe « servir », mais pas le verbe « desservir ». J’ai donc conclu qu’avec le prefixe « de » devant le verbe, cela voulait dire « pas » comme beaucoup d’autres verbes français, par exemple « obéir / désobéir – habiller / déshabiller »… Quoi ? Ce train n’allait donc pas à Fontainebleau ?
Suddenly I noticed an electronic announcement that displayed every few minutes. “Attention! The stations between Melun and Montargis will not be serviced by this train.” I knew the verb “servir” (to serve) but no the verb “desservir”. I therefore conclude that with the prefix “de” in front of the verb, it meant “not” like many other French verbs, for example “obey / disobey, dess / undress”… What? After all, this train was not going to Fontainebleau ?
Il y avait beaucoup de personnes dans le train. Personne ne regardait l’annonce qui m’inquiétait, et tout le monde restait calme. Enfin je me suis approchée d’une jeune femme.
– « Pardonnez-moi, Madame, mais est-ce que ce train s’arrête à Fontainebleau ? »
– « Mais oui, Madame, il y aura deux arrêts avant le vôtre. »
There were many people on the train. No one paid attention to the announcement that worried me, and everyone stayed calm. Finally I went up to a young woman.
– “Excuse me, ma’am, but does this train stop at Fontainebleau?”
– “Oh yes, ma’am, there will be two stops before yours.”
L’annonce continuait à s’afficher. Je m’inquiétais toujours. Enfin je me suis approchée d’une deuxième femme.
– « Pardonnez-moi, Madame, mais croyez-vous à cette annonce ? »
– « Oh Madame, il n’y a pas de problème ! Ne vous inquiétez vous pas ! »
The announcement continued to display. I was still worried. Finally I approached a second woman.
– “Excuse me, ma’am, but do you believe this announcement?”
– « Oh ma’am, there is no problem ! You don’t need to worry ! »
Je n’ai réalisé que beaucoup plus tard que j’étais victime d’un gros malentendu. Le mot « desservir » est ce qu’on appelle un faux ami. En cas de transport, « desservir » veut dire « servir » – le train ira donc dans ces gares. L’annonce n’était pas la mise en garde que je craignait.
I only realized much later that I fell victim to a major misunderstanding. The word “desservir” is what’s called a false friend. When used for transportation, it means “to serve” – the train will indeed go to these stations. The announcement was not the warning that I feared.
4 – No Taxi
Et en fait nous sommes arrivés à la gare à l’heure. Ouf!
Alors nous avons été confrontés à un dernier défi : c’était une gare sans un seul taxi à l’horizon ! Un bus est arrivé.
– « Bonjour Monsieur. Est-ce que vous pouvez nous conduire à l’Hôtel de Londres au centre-ville ? »
– « Bien sûr, Madame, montez ! »
And in fact we arrived at the station on time. What a relief!
Then we were confronted with a final challenge: it was a station without a single taxi in sight! A bus arrived.
– “Morning Sir. Can you take us to the Hotel de Londres in the center of town?”
– “Certainly, ma’am! Come on board ! »
Le bus était gratuit, mais il ne nous a pas conduits au centre-ville. Nous nous trouvions dans une gare routière, sans taxis et avec un bureau fermé pour le week-end. Mais voilà, nous avons vu un numéro de téléphone pour les taxis. Tom a appelé. Bravo, Tom ! Il a fait sa demande en français, et il a été rassuré qu’un taxi allait arriver d’un instant à l’autre.
The bus was free, but it didn’t take us to the center of town. We found ourselves in a bus station, without a taxi, and with the office closed for the weekend. But look, we found a telephone number for a taxi service. Tom called. Bravo, Tom! He asked for a taxi in French, and was assured that one would arrive right away.
Après 15 minutes, rien n’est apparu sauf un bus.
– « Bonjour Monsieur, est-ce que vous pouvez nous conduire à l’Hôtel de Londres ? »
– « Bien sûr, madame ! Ça fera deux euros chacun. »
– « Merci, monsieur. Voilà un billet dix. »
– « Je n’ai aucune monnaie, madame. Je ne peux pas accepter votre billet. »
After 15 minutes, nothing appeared but a bus.
– “Hello Sir, can you take us to the Hotel de Londres?”
– “Certainly, ma’am! That’s two euros apiece.”
– “Thank you, sir. Here’s a ten euro note.”
– “I have no change, ma’am. I can’t accept your money.”
Que faire ? Tandis que nous pensions à l’idée de surpayer la route, notre taxi est enfin arrivé. Pour les mêmes dix euros, nous avons été transportés directement à notre hôtel, et le conducteur nous a aidés avec nos bagages.
What should we do? While we thought about overpaying for the bus ride, our taxi finally arrived. For the same ten euros, we were taken directly to our hotel, and the driver helped us with our baggage.
Tout est bien qui fini bien. Enfin le séjour pouvait commencer.
Everything worked out well. Finally our visit was beginning.
5 – Fontainebleau Castle = Well Worth It!
Notre chambre donnait sur le château. Quelle vue magique ! Après une sieste bien méritée, nous avons fait un tour. Tout était absolument magnifique ! Nous avons commencé par une promenade dans les jardins, où nous étions presque seuls dans un lieu beau et tranquille. Nous nous sentions bien.
Our room looked out on the chateau. What a magical view! After a well-deserved rest, we took a tour. Everything was simply magnificent! We began with a walk in the gardens, where we were almost alone in a beautiful and peaceful place. We felt good
Après une heure, nous nous sommes inscrits dans un tour guidé du château. Nous avons profité de la connaissance de la guide, qui a raconté (en français) l’histoire du bâtiment et des événements qui s’y sont passés.
After an hour we enrolled in a guided tour of the chateau. We learned from the knowledgeable guide, who told us (in French) the history of the building and events that took place there.
Nous avons vraiment apprécié Fontainebleau, qui est plus simple et serein que Versailles. C’était une visite bien choisie.
We truly appreciated Fontainebleau, which is simpler and more serene than Versailles. It was a well-chosen visit.
Alors, après tout, nous avons profité d’un bon séjour qui valait absolument la peine.
So, in the end, we enjoyed a good outing that was absolutely worth the trouble.
Of course, it’s not Sting or Clooney but it’s our biggest (old and new) French stars and it’s a huge event in France.
About 40 or so artists/singers/actors get together and sing a collection of new and classic French songs with some English pop songs thrown in.
The key rule is that even if the artist is present on stage, he/she will NEVER sing their own songs.
Most songs are interpreted by 4 people taking turns or singing harmonies and some numbers are sung by all 40 artists present. There are choreographies, costumes, elaborate scenes all interspersed with little comic interludes (while the stage gets reset and the artists change into their costumes).
The seven concerts take place in a different city in France every year around the end of January. The first few shows are actually live rehearsals in front of an audience then the last 3 shows are filmed and a CD/DVD of the show is made.
During the TV event (on March 11th in 2016), the artists push the sale of the DVD and CD that can be found everywhere in France the next morning. The 3-hour show gathers a huge TV audience, in 2013, more than 12.7 Million watched the TV event which represents a 53% audience share!
DVDs and CDs of the show sell for ~ €18 a piece which goes entirely back to the charity and pays for ~18 full meals.
Les Enfoirés = Le Show
The concert is a lot of fun both the audience but also for the performers. All these 40 artists don’t necessarily have time to learn all the choreographies and stage directions so there can sometimes be some fun moments… It’s obvious that these artists are having a lot of fun and some of them have been there for 15-20 years.
Every year, a few ‘new’ faces are added and it’s actually considered an honor to be picked to participate in the show (most of these artists also donate lots of their time to the charity during the rest of the year).
To the non-French person who has not had a chance to grow up with all these artists and songs, it can also sound really cheesy. Not only because some of these songs date back from the 80s and should most likely be filed in the “youthful mistake” drawer but also because some of these performers are not professional singers but actors, comedians and sports personalities… If you have perfect pitch, then some songs might make you cringe.
It can be an acquired taste indeed but trust me, for the people who know all these songs, it’s one of the most fun 3 hours you will ever have!
When we lived in the US, we ordered the DVD from Amazon France and had a yearly Enfoirés viewing parties with French expats (and their sometimes puzzled wifes/husbands ;-)
We continue the tradition in France when all my family gets together the day of the broadcast for finger food, drinks, and sing-alongs… To our family that does not watch much sports, it’s our equivalent to a SuperBowl party ;-)
We own every single DVD of the show since the early 90s and watch them often. It has actually helped grow our daughter’s French musical culture tremendously. Leyla actually knows the words of classic French songs dating back to the 50s and 60s…
Les Restos du Coeur
“C’est pas de ma faute si y’en a qui ont faim, mais ça le deviendrait, si on n’y change rien…”
‘It’s not my fault if some people are hungry, but it would be if we did not do anything about it‘Coluche
The charity for which “Les Enfoirés” perform is called “Les Restaurants Du Coeur” (“the restaurants of the heart”) often shortened to “Les Restos du Coeur”.
This charity has been around since 1985 and was the brainchild of one of France’s most famous comedians: Coluche. The charity initially started to provide meals and groceries for the less fortunate but has now evolved into a 66000 people association providing not only meals but job training, housing, micro-loans and many other helpful services.
In 2013, Les Restos served more than 130 Million meals and helped almost a million people. By buying a DVD or CD of the show, people sponsor 18 meals…
Unfortunately, Coluche died in a motorbike crash the year after the creation of the charity and never got a chance to see how influential and how helpful it has become in nowadays France.
Beware of the Word: “Enfoiré”
The name given to the performers actually used to be an insult.
The closest English translation would be ‘The Bastards’ or ‘The Tossers’ and apparently, it came to when the founder Coluche (known for his crass humor and language) called upon his artist friends to join him and called them by one of his favorite catchword, “enfoirés”.
Nowadays, that word is still considered vulgar outside of this specific context but what is interesting is that you now have newsmen and kids in playgrounds use that word all the time around this time of the year…
I’m sure that Coluche, wherever he is, is having a laugh seeing that!
A Who’s Who of French Celebrities
In the last few years, here’s a list of some of the folks that participated in these concerts, if you keep up at all with French celebrities, you’ll recognize many of these names:
Music Sh’ym, Matt Pokora, Patrick Bruel, Pascal Obispo, Garou, MC Solaar, Jenifer, Christophe Maé…
Cinéma Dany Boon, Gérard Jugnot, Kad Merad, Fabrice Luchini, Patrick Timsit, Claire Keim, Gérard Darmon
Note, these links above are links to Amazon France. It’s almost impossible to find the DVDs or CDs on the US or UK stores but Amazon France will ship them internationally. We also get a tiny commission on these sales but the price remains the same for you.
Note: Due to some regional restrictions imposed by the Record Labels, the videos we originally linked to were not visible outside of French speaking territories.. We changed the links and the videos below should be visible to all…
Les Enfoirés - Liberté (Clip officiel) - YouTube
“Encore un autre hiver”
Les Enfoirés - Encore un autre hiver (Clip Officiel) - YouTube
“Un jour de plus au paradis”
French adaptation of Phil Collins “Another Day in Paradise”
LES ENFOIRÉS - Un jour de plus au paradis - YouTube
Finally, in Quimper, another place in Brittany, one of the many specialties is “des crêpes dentelles”: a dried crêpes with sugar folded up and sold like crispy and delicate cookies.
Quite confusing indeed!!
3 – The Ingredients Necessary to Make French Crêpes
It’s pretty basic batter, for a ‘universal’ crêpe that you can eat both in a savory and sweet variation use these:
2 cups flour
2 ¼ cups of milk
2 tablespoons of melted butter
pinch of salt
If you are only making dessert crêpes, then feel free to add one (or more) of the following:
2 tablespoon of sugar
some orange blossom water (“fleur d’oranger”)
any booze (rum works very well)
4 – Making the French Pancake Batter (“la Pâte à Crêpes”)
Put all the ingredients except the butter in a large bowl and using a hand mixer, mix everything until smooth. The consistency of the batter should be like that of a thick syrup. Ideally, you should let the batter rest for 30 minutes or so but if you are in a hurry or if it’s Sunday morning and the whole family is starving, then it’s ok to start them right away.
This is the perfect recipe to make with your kids, here’s Leyla “la main à la pâte” (literally the “hand to the batter” which is very appropriate for this recipe)
5 – The French Crêpes Setup
Unless you are by yourself or have plenty of time to spare, it’s much easier to have 2 or 3 (or 4!!) pans going on although start with one pan at a time until you are comfortable with all the “moves”. Your pan HAS to be a non-stick pan, don’t even bother with any other kind. You’ll also need to turn on you oven to the lowest setting and get a flat heat resistant plate or pan with a clean kitchen towel ready. Last but not least, you’ll need:
a ladle (“une louche”) or a large measuring spoon
some melted butter in a small container
either a brush (“un pinceau”) or a fork tightly wrapped with some kitchen paper/paper towels
6 – How To Cook The Crêpes?
Put the pan on a medium heat.
Brush your pan with a little bit of the melted butter (you’ll only need to do this once every 5-6 crêpes depending on your pan)
Using the ladle, pour enough batter into your pan while turning your wrist so that the batter flows & covers the whole surface of the pan.
Take care to not make it too thick, these are not pancakes!
Watch the video for the swirling wrist action, it’s a lot easier to see than to explain :)
Once the edges of the batter start lifting and the crêpe does not stick to the pan anymore, it’s probably time to flip it.
The dreaded crêpe flip feared by all and the basis of SO many jokes and ruined ceilings… Don’t worry, most French people just use a spatula to do it, just slide it under the crêpes, lift and in one swoop motion, turn the crêpe (again, watch the video for the precise motion and to see me showing off with my pan flip mastery ;)
Of course, like sabering a bottle of champagne, the real crêpe flip is a very good tool in the impress-your-partner/date arsenal
Let the crêpe cook for a minute more, then slide it to your warm plate/pan.
Cover it with the kitchen towel and put the pan back in the oven to keep the crêpes warm (I also tend to sprinkle some water on the bottom of my oven to reduce the dryness of the heat).
7 – Savory French Crêpes
Usually, you make crêpes a whole meal starting with 1 or 2 savory crêpes and then the rest as dessert crêpes…
To make it easier on you, first, finish all your crêpes and keep them warm.
Then you can get started on the savory preparation, the most famous and basic being the “œuf, jambon, fromage”.
Crack some eggs and make some lightly cooked sunny side up eggs in a pan (are you counting the number of pans!?)
Take one of the cooked crêpe and put it in a pan on low heat
Put the shredded cheese first
then put the slice of ham on top
let the cheese melt for a minute or so
take one sunny side egg, put it delicately on the ham
close two of the crêpes flaps to make a nicer presentation
(By the way, do you know why the French only use 1 egg per crêpe? Because one egg is un oeuf… get it? (sounds like ‘enough’) ;–)
8 – Sweet French Crêpes
Usually, a French family will set up their whole sweet pantry on the table and let everyone make their own preparations.
Popular ingredients are of course jams, butter, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce (or the famous Nutella), fruits, nuts, and booze “flambé”…
My favorite is sprinkling some powdered sugar, a little rum, flambé it and then a squeeze of lemon juice. YUM!
9 – Olivier’s Five Rules About French Crêpes
DO NOT make crêpes for more than 5-6 people!
Trust me, I once invited 12 hungry people for a crêpe dinner and I almost had a heart attack.
The savory crêpes are usually made one at a time and the logistics do not follow.
Throw away the first crêpe from each pan (or at least eat it).
The first one is what I call the “Chef’s Crêpe” because it will look terrible and not be any good.
After 20+ years of making crêpes, it’s always the case.
Count about 2 savory crêpes per person.
Depending on the number of people at the table, cook the last x number of crêpes less because they’ll have to go back into the pan.
This way, you can avoid them being overcooked or dry.
Make sure everyone at the table knows NOT to wait for the cook before they eat (against proper French table etiquette).
Savory crêpes are ‘made to order’ and they will get cold by the time you are done serving everyone.
10 – French Pancake Techniques Video
La chandeleur - Crêpes Techniques | French Today - YouTube
The typical translation for “I love you” is “je t’aime”.
It’s not false, but it’s far from being complete.
I love you In English
In English, the verb “to love” is confusing because it expresses a variety of feelings. You can say “I love you” to someone you are in love with, but also to your parents, or even to a friend.
I love you in French
In French, “je t’aime” is ” I love you” when you say it to only one person (the “t'” stands for the direct object “te” which refers to the “tu” – you, familiar form).
When talking to several persons (like your parents), or someone you are being formal with, you need to use the “vous” form: “je vous aime”.
Furthermore, in French, it is not possible to say “je t’aime” to a friend. You could say “je t’aime” to a member of your very close family, such as your child, a sibling, or your parents, but usually, “je t’aime” translates as “I am in love with you”, not just “I love you”.
So let’s take a closer look to the French verbs “aimer” and how to express different kinds of love in French.
1 – To Say to Like or Enjoy, use the Verb Aimer With an Adverb.
Let’s see how to talk about feelings in French, from total dislike to great friendship, keeping it all on a friendship level.
Let’s be clear: we are talking about friendship here, not romantic love, not being in love!
Je déteste Paul – I hate Paul
Je n’aime pas Paul – I don’t like Paul
Je n’aime pas beaucoup Paul – I don’t like Paul much
J’aime assez Paul – I kind of like Paul – he is Ok with me – it’s rather positive
J’aime bien Paul – I like Paul – this is the one you need to memorize to say “like” for friendship
J’aime beaucoup Paul – I really like Paul, I’m fond of him – as a friend.
J’adore Paul – I loooooove Paul (but still as a friend)
2 – How to Say “to be in Love” in French?
To express the notion of “to be in love” in French, so romantic love, we use a precise construction:
Aimer + person’s name, without any adverb.
As stated above, the typical way to say “I love you” in French is:
Je t’aime (when you are saying “tu” – informal)
Je vous aime (when using “vous” – formal) – a bit old-fashioned to use “vous” with someone you are in love with, but not impossible… More about tu versus vous in this article on French Today.
Now let’s compare romantic love and friendship:
J’aime Paul – I am in love with Paul (love)
J’aime beaucoup Paul – I like Paul a lot (friendhip)
So I know this is a bit weird: no adverb at all will end up being a stronger feeling, being in love, than a construction with “beaucoup” which stays on a friendship level….
Many French love songs and movies have a dialogue along these lines:
Est-ce que tu m’aimes ? Are you in love with me ?
Euh…. je t’aime beaucoup… Well…I like you a lot…
Or to quote the song from Zazie, “Chanson d’ami” from the album “Made in Love”:
“Je ne t’aime pas: je t’aime bien”- “I am not in love with you: I like you”
3 – Exceptions About the Verb Aimer:
You can use aimer without an adverb with your immediate family (parents, siblings, children, pets) to say that you love them (not that you are in love with them), but NEVER with your friends.
People would understand if you said “j’aime mon frère” that you love your brother, but are not in love with him. However, if you said of your friend Paul “j’aime Paul”, they would think that you are in love with him. Use “j’adore Paul, j’aime beaucoup Paul”.
Note that if you really wanted to be clear, you could use the expression “être amoureux/amoureuse de” (careful, not “être en amour” which they use in Canada, but not in France).
“J’aime beaucoup Paul, mais je ne suis pas amoureuse de lui.”
I like Paul a lot, but I’m not in love with him.
It’s a bit redundant, but it’s very clear :-)
4 – J’aime ça ≠ Je l’aime
If someone asks “est-ce que vous aimez le vin?” (do you like wine in general), you cannot answer “oui je l’aime”.
You have to say “oui, j’aime ça”.
When talking about things in general, either repeat the thing in your answer, or use “ça”.
You may use an adverb to modify your verb, it’s more eloquent.
Est-ce que tu aimes le vin ? (wine in general)
Oui, j’aime beaucoup le vin.
Or oui, j’aime beaucoup ça.
But you cannot replace “le vin” in its general value by a direct object pronoun like le or les. I don’t know why…
When talking about a precise thing, it’s OK to use a direct object pronoun.
And much more common to answer with an adverb to modify aimer.
Est-ce que tu aimes ce vin rouge ? (this red wine = a particular one)
Oui, je l’aime beaucoup.
I would not say “oui, je l’aime”. Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t sound good to my ear. I would use an adverb in my answer.
I am sorry I cannot be more clear about a rule… but I don’t think there is a rule! I believe this is just an evolution of the language and falls under expressions more than grammatical rules.
5 – Use French Adverbs to Nuance “Aimer”:
When someone asks you if you like something/someone, it’s customary to offer a nuance in your answer and use an adverb.
Est-ce que tu aimes le vin ?
Oui, j’aime le vin… Is a little flat… childish almost.
We’d use “bien, beaucoup…” to nuance the answer:
Oui, j’aime bien/ beaucoup le vin (or ça).
Except when you are talking about being in love with someone, as discussed above… Then you need to use “aimer” by itself, without any adverb.
6 – The French Word for Love
Is l’amour. But what is so weird about it is that it is masculine in the singular, and feminine in the plural !!!
Un grand amour = a big love
Des amours tumultueuses = difficult love
7 – Love – Avoid an Embarrassing Mistake
You need to watch your pronunciation for “l’amour”, love in French. French students often mistake:
L’amour = la moor = love
La mort = la mor = death
L’humour = lu moor = humor
L’humeur = lu meur = mood
Quite a trap!
8 – How To Say “Would you Like” in French
Finally, to ask the question “would you like to…” we don’t use the verb “aimer”, but the verb “vouloir – to want“.
It’s yet another example of why translating doesn’t work.
Note that most of these French love nicknames can be modified by “petit(e)”, making it even more sweet…
1 – French Love Nicknames Used to Speak to Men and Women:
Mon amour – my love
Mon ange – my angel
Mon trésor – my treasure
Mon coeur – my heart
Mon canard – my duck – yes, I know… wait, it gets worse…
Mon chou – my sweet bun (un chou à la crème is a cream filled puff pastry) – “mon petit chou” is also quite common
Mon chouchou – comes from “mon chou”
Doudou – no literal translation – it sounds very bad in English but we use it a lot in French! The origine is Creole French and it means sweety, darling…
Mon lapin – my rabbit
Mon poussin – my chick
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2 – French Love Nicknames Used to Speak to Men
All these French terms of endearment mean my darling more or less…
Mon chat – my cat (do not say the final t)
Mon chéri – my darling
Mon beau – my beautiful one
Mon choupinet – no translation – but comes from “mon chou”
Mon gros – my fat one
Loulou – no translation
Mon loup – my wolfe
Mon ours – my bear
Mon nounours – my teddy bear
Minou – kitty
Roudoudou – no translation although it was the name of a hard caramel candy…
3 – French Love Nicknames Used to Speak to Women
All these French terms of endearment mean my darling more or less…
Ma belle – my beautiful one
Ma beauté – my beauty
Ma biche, ma bichette – my doe
Mon biquet – my goat kid
Ma caille – my quail
Ma chatte – my cat (be careful with this one as well : it means pussy, with exactly the same double meanings as it has in English)
Ma chérie – my darling
Ma choute – no translation – again comes from “mon chou”
Choupinette – no translation – again comes from “mon chou”
Ma cocotte – no translation but it has to do with hen
Ma colombe – my dove
Ma crevette – my shrimp (no, not the worse one)
Ma gazelle – my gazelle
Lolotte – no translation
Ma mie (very old fashion)
Minette – kitty
Moumoune – no translation
Ma poule, ma poulette – my hen
Poupounette – no translation
Ma Puce – my flea (yes, I know, it’s embarrassing) – also “Pupuce”…
Ma sardine – my sardine (no comment)
Ma souris – my mouse
Mon sucre d’orge – my little candy
Now you are ready to surprise your loved one with some cute French love nicknames for “la Saint Valentin”. If you know more common French love names, please add them in the comments and I will add them to this list (they need to be PC though).
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