The French habit of “backwards” talking

“Speaking backwards” would translate in French as “parler à l’envers”. The phrase “à l’envers” has been turned, well, backwards and became many years ago “verlan”, a new way of talking. Some backwards words have since been used so frequently that they are now an integral part of the spoken French language. Speaking verlan is mostly done by young people but many words are now used by all generations. Wikipedia has a good article on verlan so check it out if you want to know more about it. The purpose of this post is to present some of the most common examples of words that are now very commonly used.

un keuf: verlan for flic (cop)

une meuf: verlan for femme (woman)

beur: verlan for arabe (generally refers to people of North African descent). Interestingly, the verlan word has itself been “verlanised” into reubeu. Note that those terms are not racist in any way.

 

Same word, different meaning: les faux amis en Français

Through the evolution of the world’s languages, there have been many cross overs, words that have been adopted from one language to another. They can be identical or very similar. In either case, our natural tendency is to aplly the meaning that our own language lends that word. Sometimes, those familiar words are true “amis” (friends) but many times they end up being faux-amis. Here are some examples:

#1 chat: (shah) means cat, nothing to do with talking.
#2 éventuellement: means possible, not eventually.

Grammar check-up: decoding some common pitfalls

As of this year, I have had a daughter in French Immersion for five years. During that time, I have heard and read many grammatical errors. Some from my kids and even some from teachers. French is a super tricky language and no one is immune to falling prey to some obscure exception in a sea or grammatical rules, most of them very dry and confusing.

That being said, as a big French Immersion fan and avid supporter of proper language skills, I shall make a humble attempt at addressing the most common of those pitfalls and hopefully provide some clarification or some tricks to help both students and FSL French teachers.  I will be adding to this list over time

1.   “J’ai allé”: ask any Early French Immersion teacher and they will likely tell you that they’ve heard that a thousand times. Literally, it means “I have gone” and is used to say “I went”. The correct phrase is “je SUIS allé” or “je suis allée” when the speaker is female.

2. é or er?  é indicates a participe passé et er indicates the “infinitif”, the un-conjugated form of a verb. Many learners struggle when deciding whether their should end a verb with é or er. The problem that we face is that both choices would generate the same sound so knowing what the word should sound like does not help. Here’s an example:

– le cahier que je vais montrer – le cahier que j’ai montré.  (the notebook that I am going to show – the notebook that I have shown).  Here’s the trick that works every time: replace the verb in question with one that sounds different in each form: verbs like prendre (pris) or faire (fait) work great. If you can replace the verb by prendre or faire, then the infinitif form is the right one (er). If that doesn’t sound right, then it’s é.

Example: le cahier que je vais pris or le cahier que je vais prendre. In this case, “prendre” works so we will use ‘er’. Le cahier que j’ai pris or le cahier que j’ai prendre. In this case, “pris” makes sense so we will use ‘é’. Note that the sentence might not make sense but that’s not the point.

3.  “C’est qu’est ce que je fais”. Ouch, that one hurts my ears. If my own children are any indication, it’s a tough one to eradicate! Basically, after “c’est”, you can never say “qu’est ce que”. That’s it. Instead, say “c’est CE que je fais”. If you have found a way to teach this one, please share, I’d love to know it!

Treacherous “liaisons”

I’m afraid this is not as exciting a topic as what you might have expected.  My apologies. The French word “liaison” conveys the meaning of connection between two things, two people or, as is the subject of this post, two words. Sorry Mesdames et Messieurs.

Try to stay with me for a minute. The subject is quite a snoozer but the rules are pretty simple and it’s something that is super common so your French Immersion little champion should become familiar with how that works.

In French, unlike in English, the last letter of a word is often muted: dit, as in (il dit = he says) is pronounced “dee” and not “deet”. The t is silent. That is until it is a consonant and the next word starts with a vowel.  In “Il dit à haute voix” (he says out loud): dit à is pronounced “deetah” which sounds better to us than “deeah”.

The s at the end of a word “liaises” to the next word (provided it start with a vowel) as a z sound, as does x: dix amis (10 friends) becomes “deezahmee”.

An n at the end of a word gets verbally attached  to the next word if it starts with a vowel, even if that n is part of a composite sound in the first word (what??). An example should clarify: mon ami (my friend), verbally becomes mon nami. Get it? simple, right?

French wouldn’t be French without exceptions of course. We won’t get into details. It’s a small miracle that you made it this far down the page, I don’t want to lose you now! Let’s keep it to one common situation. After “tu” (you), a verb ends with an s but a word coming after starting with a vowel wouldn’t be “liaised”. It makes sense since it wouldn’t flow well. Just trust me on that.

Now why “treacherous” you’ve been wondering? Even though most people spell most words right, oral French tricks us into making some liaisons that are not correct. Here are a couple of common ones. Keep in mind that while they are obvious when you write them, they are sometimes not when you hear them:

– Cent ans (one hundred years) is mispronounced cen -z-ans). Same thing with “huit ans” (8 years).

– quatre écoles: liaised with a z sound as well. Not good.

Now when your language prodigy reads you a French story tonight, keep an eye out for liaison possibilities. It will take his or her verbal skills to the new level.

 

A bientôt!

 

What we’re learning in November on Immersion Help

 

Below is a sample of the November section of the program. For the full stories and full audio, see our French Immersion Help program.

Le Jour du Souvenir

Un coquelicot: a poppy    Une couronne: a crown   Un soldat: a soldier   etc.

Le Singe et les Fruits

Une pomme: an apple     Une poire: a pear    Un raisin: a grape    etc.

 Les Insectes

Un papillon: a butterfly     Une abeille: a bee     Une coccinelle: a ladybug   etc.

 

Les Vêtements

Vocabulary related to basic clothes:Une chemise: a shirt    Un chandail: a sweater   Une chaussette: a sock  etc.

Une Main

Vocabulary related to the human body:

Une main: a hand    Un bras: an arm   Une jambe: a leg   etc.