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18 May 2009

It's crossover time! I was even wondering if I should note this on my Finnish page; but this is to do with a French speaking occasion, so here we are. In lieu of any actual French course, I've started turning up to a local group calling itself the French Cercle. Sadly, there are often no French speakers there at all, but anyway, they try to keep it up. I figured it was better than nothing, if I wanted to keep any freshness in my French at all. Anyway, they've just finished for the year, with a Desert Island disks session. And I'd been mentioning my Finnish studies, not to boast so much as to provide an excuse for my French being so rusty. So I found myself committed to this. Talking in French about a Finnish song.Tuuliset tienoot by Indica

Which song? What a dilemma. It had to be Indica, and in the end I picked Rannalla from Tuuliset tienoot (Endroits Venteux) because it was what got me interested in Finnish in the first place. And also because it's 'Desert Island Disks' - the song title translates as Sur le Rivage ie. On the Shore. It did cross my mind I could say anything I liked, but unfortunately there was at least one person there who seemed to know a little about it, and at the end a bloke came up and asked me for two beers in good textbook Finnish (learnt while dealing with a Finnish paper mill - it's clearly one of the basic phrases you learn in any language). I realised I had an obligation to give them the lyrics in some form, and I made a very pretty handout, complete with lyrics in Finnish and French. And where did they come from? Well, I had some fun translating them, didn't I? I did make some effort to work from the Finnish, but inevitably I had to refer to an English translation. For the nuances. And yes, there was plenty of scope for Chinese Whispers :) I put up my work on the Indica forum, which produced interesting responses, especially since it turned out a French person had already translated most of the songs. But she didn't know Finnish, she'd worked entirely from English translations, so I ended up correcting her about a couple of things. Thanks to her I was able to offer the French Cercle a much more credible set of lyrics. The only drawback to this display of expertise was that they simply didn't believe me when I said that Mon français est exécrable, and threw me some questions to which I could only answer Er... oui! I have a feeling I'll be giving another short talk come the autumn.

31 July 2008

I could almost repeat what I said below, about my French class this last year. Same place, same teacher, much the same ground covered in grammar. Actually, not quite, I don't remember looking at the pluperfect and past conditional before. And we probably did a bit more on the past historic this time. It may sound a bit unimaginative to have done a virtual repeat, but part from enjoying the pleasant environment, there was a fair amount of new content, especially in the topics we looked at. I guess the main difference was the increased emphasis on presentations, which were hard work but which I enjoyed a lot. My pièce de resistance was a talk on Roland Garros - he was a pioneer flyer, one of 'those magnificent men in their flying machines', and very little to do with tennis, except for having that famous stadium named after him. And there were others - I remember preparing little pieces on Napoleon (I discovered that he wasn't a midget at all, that story was mostly British propaganda), and on the Val d'Aosta (in Italy: it's officially Francophone, though it turns out that the original language, not much spoken any more, was neither French nor Italian, but something called Arpitan). So, one way or another, we did do a little more speaking than before. But I didn't go to France this year; I have a plan for next year, but much depends on this and that. I won't do the course again. Apart from the fact that I'm sure the teacher would groan to see me turn up again, one clearly needs new kinds of experience so as not to get stale. And most importantly of all, the main lack has been of actual French people. We could talk French in the class all the time, but we still wouldn't sound like French people. I don't think I'm going to be able to do any course next year. But I am glad to have been able to keep it ticking over. If you threw some French at me this instant, I'd probably be stumped for a moment, but generally I'm probably as competent as I've ever been. I can follow a text with only occasional dips into the dictionary; and, after a while of getting my ear tuned, I can make a little sense of some broadcast French. 'Some', I said. Anyway, I hope I do get that French trip organised for next year. One of my intended people to visit used to be a French teacher, and it would be nice to show I was a little more competent(!).

 

13 July 2007

The course this last year was run as a sort of 'French AS-lite'. I enjoyed it, its mix of current affairs (we mainly seemed to speculate about the marital affairs of the French Presidential candidates), culture (some literature, Jacques Brel and Johnny Halliday!) and even the grammar. The subjunctive was new to me, for one thing. I don't know how impressed I was, because the French use of the subjunctive seemed a bit wimpy compared with the Italian, who have lots more tenses. There was also the ever present problem of the closeness of French to Italian. Not easy to explain - it's not exactly that words got mixed up very often; but the two languages seemed to occupy the same space in the brain, and it somehow slowed you down at times. Anyway, I hope to carry on next year, again on a non-exam basis. It does help to keep my French up, and it seems to be making me raise my standard a little. What most of us in the group have asked for, those who intend to return, is a bit more conversation.

 

15 October 2006

And now I'm not doing French AS Level this year. We had a couple of classes, but with only a few people, and they wouldn't let it run. But this is French!! And it's not as if there's anything else on offer locally. One huge foul-up was that when the booklet came out in the Summer, it wasn't listed. Really not fair. What's going to happen is that they'll organise a 'post GCSE' course for after half term. In a way it suits me, because the Italian AS course is going to get heavy as we move into next year, and I was already having difficulties between the two languages. So I can take it relatively easy and hopefully get stuck in to the AS course next September. So I have exam obsession? - no, they don't really matter; what does is that I've got something going on for a couple more years, and what I really value is keeping it fresh in my mind, and building on it. I fancy more trips to France.

 

25 August 2006

So, last night our evening class went out for a meal to celebrate our results. This year's GCSE results came out yesterday and as far as I know we got a mixture of As and A*s. Oh, and what did I get, you ask with impatience? Pause for effect... an A*, which gives me a strange but definite feeling of redemption about my sloppy efforts of all those years ago. This time, I made an effort and got a decent mark. Though I still bear one or two battle scars, in particular from the moment during the Listening exam when I lost all track of the bizarre accident some guy was going on about (I think it had to do with a dropped perfume bottle) and scored no marks. Our teacher was with us at the meal, and while I scoffed my mushroom soufflé starter (it was a classy establishment), she handed out information sheets for the French AS course they're doing this coming year. And she couldn't help herself telling me what I'd be choosing to do for my talk - it has to be a 12 minute one at AS level - yes, bandes desinées. Maybe I'll surprise her :) But will I do the course at all? It'll be a serious challenge doing it as well as the Italian... but it kinda looks as if I've talked my way into it.

 

8 August 2006

This goes back the longest way. At school, I don't know why I found it hard, but I did. My fault, for a negative attitude. I gained a meagre Grade 4 at 'O' Level, and that was why I made the mistake of not taking the subject for 'A' Level. Life would have been so much simpler if I had (but then I'd have never taken up Italian, so it worked out well in the end).

Real world French began a year or so later, when I joined my friend Tim on my first non-family trip, over the Channel with a bicycle, to Chartres and back. We lived in Kent then, so going to France was very feasible. Further cycling trips to French speaking places (I'm including Luxembourg and Belgium) followed in the next few years. Always with friends, so it never felt like I was practising much French to be honest. In fact, I think I must have, as I've found out since last September, when I embarked on a French evening class to 'brush up' for my trip earlier this year. It simply wasn't satisfying to me any more to travel without making an effort, and I knew I'd be by myself some of the time, since I was taking my car and driving some distance.

I can't say I engaged in much more than a few simple transactions, but I could tell that by some miracle of osmosis, something had stuck. Well, evening classes are exam courses these days, and in due course I took the GCSE French exam, this last June. This is basically the modern equivalent of that 'O' Level. It's a very different exam now, with more emphasis on speaking performance, which is good, but also a lot of multiple choice testing, which possibly isn't. The thing is, what will I feel if I don't improve on that Grade 4? I can hardly imagine I won't (I was amazed to find our teacher regarded me as one of her 'banker' students), but I won't find out until the 24th or 25th of this month.

What's more, I did make progress this year. More grammar and more vernacular fell into place. I'd tell you what it was except that it's been out of my head for a few weeks now, and I find that it takes a bit of time to bring it back out again. I have been wondering what makes for good progress, and as anyone really knows, you have to find your motivations. Obviously going on this year's holiday was a strong motivation, but as for past years, well my dirty little secret is that I love bandes desinées, French comic strips. I still can't easily read some of them, especially the ones full of slang (I'm thinking of the magnificent Titeuf), but my fascination has always been there ever since I discovered them on that first trip with Tim.

Purely on the basis of taking that French GCSE exam, the other day I was invited to join a get together with a French family who don't speak English at all. They were very tolerant and polite so it was hard to know if my gibbering made any sense at all. It's amazing how much one covers up with some smiles, shrugs and nodding!

 

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