The words you won’t learn in French Immersion

When attending a French Immersion or similar program for several years, you are bound to get teachers who speak various versions of the French language. Having grown up in France, I will share mostly words and expressions that come from what I know. However, I will also discuss what I have learned while talking to other francophones. Pretty much all of the language below will be considered slang, so informal, but none of it is rude. So go ahead, puzzle your teachers!


Emberlificoté: I just love that word. I hadn’t used it for a long time but it somehow came to my mind recently. I taught it to my daugthers who mentioned it to their respective French teachers, none of whom had heard of it before! It’s a cool sounding word but has a literal and a figurative meaning. Literally, it means tangled up, referring to something like your ipod earphones (!). Figuratively, it means confused.

“Ah la vache!“: that’s the French cousin of “Holy cow!”, it can be used instead of the iconic “Oh la la!”.

Carotter: une carotte means a carrot, that’s an easy one. However, carotter means to cheat. Don’t ask me why though…

Un pépin: every student will learn that the word refers to a seed found in fruit that you eat. That’s one meaning. I’m not sure that your teacher knows that it has two other meanings. It also means an incident of some kind, something not overly serious like a flat tire or a plan that fell through at the last minute. The third meaning is… an umbrella. I know, why?  There you are, learn one word, use it in three completely different context. That’s efficient!



13 brands that have become nouns in French.

Here’s a list of common items that are now referred to by the leading or original brand name. You will already be familiar with some I’m sure:

1.  Un BIC is a pen (from the brand BIC that also makes lighters and razors).

2. Un Caddie is a shopping cart.

3.  Un Chamallow is a Marshmallow from the name given by the company Haribo to the “guimauve”. In Quebec, the term “une guimauve” is used. They like to make fun of us Frenchies who use the term Chamallow 🙂

4. Une fermeture  Éclair is a zipper. Fermeture à glissière is a proper way to name a zipper but it just isn’t used very much at all.

5. Un frigo is a fridge from the brand Frigidaire.

6. Un Karcher is a pressure washer named after a company that makes them.

7. Un Kleenex, just as in English, is a tissue.

8. Une Mobylette is a moped. The name comes from the company that built a popular model many years ago.

9. Une Boule Quiès designates ear plugs.

10. Le Sopalin is the common name of paper towel. The name originated from the first company to ever produce them: Société du Papier Linge.

11. You can probably guess what un Tupperware is. It is any type of plastic container used in the kitchen.

12. Le Nutella is a staple of French breakfasts. The brand name is now used to designate any chocolate spread that tries to mimic the original.

13. Un Kway is a rain jacket, named after the company that sold many jackets in France a few decades ago.

While the above words are technically not the proper ways to designate the corresponding items, using them will make you or your French Immersion student sounds more like a native French speaker.



I wish I knew more French… 5 ways to do just that.

As a parent of a child in French Immersion, have you ever said that? I have personally heard it many times.  You might even have given your child the opportunity to learn a second language early because you wish you had benefited from that same opportunity. There is nothing you can do about your own education as a young child, but it’s never too late to learn at least some French.Wish I knew more French

When we say we “wish we knew how to do something”, what we really want is being able to take a pill or get a shot which would literally give us  the ability to do something without putting in the time of the effort. I have seen no such pill or shot so if you are sincere about “wishing you knew more French”, then get to it! If you actually have a child in French Immersion, it’s a golden opportunity to learn, which, be honest, you thought you would when you registered your little one. I am a big advocate of parents learning French alongside their child, it’s much more motivating for him or her and it’s a great opportunity for you as well.  Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Get yourself a travel book.

Those little language travel books are usually well made and categorize entire phrases that you can learn little by little. You can start by learning greetings. That’s always useful and easy to practice every day. You can move on to daily activities: make your bed, eat your supper, etc.  Don’t be afraid to incorporate only bits of French in your sentences, you don’t have to know the whole thing, your young francophile might help you translate it, if not, at least there is some French in there.

2. Attend a French event.

Language isn’t much more than sound unless it is used to communicate.  Participating in a French-related event is an excellent opportunity for a real-life lesson where you can practice your “bonjour” and “merci”. It will also help your son or daughter appreciate that French is actually used outside the classroom.

3. Get your child to teach you!

You signed up your child in French Immersion, you might as well take advantage of it. Sure, kids learn languages more easily than us but it’s no reason not to make an effort. Be flexible, an easy way to incorporate some French in your daily life is to replace some of your usual English words with French ones. Meals are a great opportunity to learn from your youngsters. They will be proud to teach you and happy to make fun of your accent!

4. Follow a board on Pinterest.

Of course you should follow our Immersion Help Pinterest board, that goes without saying :). There are many other great ones that feature vocabulary, facts or simply pictures.

5. Read both sides of the cereal box.

That really only works when you live in Canada… We are lucky here to enjoy both English and French text on food packaging.  I always enjoy reading both versions, and I am particularly interested in how slogans and tag lines are translated (a little nerdy some of you might say). Many such phrases use rhymes or play on words that cannot be translated word for word so it’s cool to see how they chose to relay the same message in a different language. Apart from the marketing message, the text is essentially faithfully translated so it can a good source of quick, easy breakfast knowledge.

What better way to start your day than with a few new French words?

French Immersion Help Website

5 French slang words to designate a shoe.


Today I thought I’d share various words used instead of the word “shoe”.  While the English and French languages both have lots of ways to identify different types of shoes, I would venture a guess that in French, we have more ways to name the general type of footwear. The correct words being “une chaussure” or “un soulier”, the following are also used very frequently:

1. une gaudassechaussures

2. une pompe

3. une godillot

4. une grolle

5. une claque (not used as commonly as the other words)


While these are not slang words, it’s good to know that sneakers are often referred to as des tennis or des espadrilles in Quebec. Espadrilles in France are casual shoes with fabric tops and rope and rubber soles like in the picture on the right.




14 French expressions involving animals

Animals have always been an inspiration for human communication. French is of course no exception. Below are some common expressions and phrases. It’s interesting to compare similar expressions in different languages. Here are some examples:


Un froid de canard: litterally duck cold. Yeah, doesn’t make much sense at first glance… It just means very cold.

Un temps de chien: lit. dog’s weather. I’m not sure whether dogs love bad weather but that’s what it means.

Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter: while you’re busy frying bigger fish, we’re busy whipping (fouetter) other cats. Not PC but the expression wasn’t my idea, don’t whip the messenger. We might eat frogs legs(well some people do!)  but we don’t whip cats. It’s actually a popular phrase.

Comme un poisson dans l’eau: you have like a fish out of water, we have like a fish IN water, meaning being comfortable in a particular situation.

Un chat dans la gorge: the frog in your throat is a cat in ours.

Quand les poules auront des dents: when your pigs fly, our hens (poules) will have teeth (dents).

Avoir la chair de poule: your goose bumps are our hen’s flesh.

Une poule mouillée: a wet hen, means a person who is easily afraid, like your chicken.

Les chiens ne font pas des chats: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in English. In French, we say dogs don’t have kittens.

Avoir des yeux de merlan frit: after a rough night or if you have a cold, your eyes (yeux) might look like those of a merlan (type of white fish) frit (fried). Go ahead, picture it, it’s pretty accurate.

Avoir une force de cheval: to be strong like a horse (pretty boring).

Une queue de cheval: your poney tail  gets an upgrade and  becomes a horse tail. Note that pig tails lose their animal reference, being referred simply as couettes (f).

Etre tetu comme un âne: being stubborn like a donkey.

Appeler un chat un chat: you call a spade a spade, fair enough, then we will call a cat a… cat.

Being able to use the correct expression in the right context is a difficult thing to do but it puts the speaker in a higher category. Communicating in a foreign language is not just about translating words but also trying to seize and use the subleties of how meaning is conveyed beyond calling a spade a cat spade. Go ahead, try it, don’t be a poule mouillée!