Visiting the town in Switzerland where I spent several years working in my first job, reminded me of my French language learning days. Fribourg or in German Freiburg (im Üchtland) is a bilingual city, and not to be confused with “Freiburg im Breisgau,” which lies in the Black Forest.
Pure immersion aficionados may well scoff at this: But working and learning French in a town where my native language German was well understood, had many advantages for me.
For one, I could always revert to German when my French instructions to the draftsmen in the structural engineering firm where I worked, were met with a doubtful stare.
Also, when the rapid French in a shop or restaurant was still beyond my listening skills, I could typically get a German, or Swiss-German translation, thereby generating “comprehensible input.”
CANTON FRIBOURG'S ROAD TO OFFICAL BILINGUALISM
The canton of Fribourg is one of three Swiss cantons that are officially bilingual. The other two are the cantons of Bern and of Wallis/Valais.
Fribourg entered the Swiss Confederation in 1481. Throughout the centuries both French and German were spoken in the region. For the canton of Fribourg the road to official bilingualism was a complicated one, with plenty of detours.
Since the early days, there have been various shifts. At first, German was the language used by the government (1483-1798). Then between 1798 and 1856, French and German alternated.
From 1857 on, both languages have had official status in Fribourg, but until 1990 only French was legally binding. Since 1991 both languages can be used for a binding contract.
Only the two north/northeast districts of the canton (of a total of seven), are predominantly German- speaking. It's more likely that residents of those districts learn and speak French, than residents of French-speaking districts learn German. (A possible reason? Many French speakers may be reluctant to learn Swiss-German.)
At this time, around 63% of the about 300,000 people in the canton of Fribourg speak French, 21% speak German, and close to 4 % speak Italian (which is not an official language in the canton).
A few years ago, the “Day of Bilingualism” (Journée du bilinguisme/Tag der Zweisprachigkeit) was set for September 26 and coincides with the European Day of Languages to foster language learning and bilingualism.
In the public schools of the canton of Fribourg, students learn a second language from grade three on. In communities where German is spoken, students are encouraged to learn French as the second language, and vice versa.
Nevertheless, in spite of such efforts and policies to foster bilingualism, language differences remain a point of discussion and sometimes also of controversy.
THE CITY OF FRIBOURG
The city of Fribourg is right on the language border between French and German. About 40,000 inhabitants live within the city proper. This number increases to 60,000, if adjacent suburbs are included and to nearly 100,000 for the larger metropolitan area.
A few years ago, the completion of a new suspension bridge and the closing of the arched Zähringer Bridge diverted traffic from the neighborhood near the Cathedral and created another Fribourg landmark. (see picture)
Official city statistics mirror the language distribution of the canton as a whole. Still, it seems that there is a greater concentration of bilinguals living in the city, which may be in part because of the university.
The University of Fribourg (created in 1889) is Switzerland's only bilingual university. Both French and German are used as languages for teaching and for the administration.
In 2009, the Institute of Multilingualism was founded, which conducts research of how multilingualism affects education, the workplace, and migration.
Because the two languages intersect throughout the city, you'll find interesting signage in French, German, and also in Swiss-German dialect (which has no standard written form).
During a visit a couple of years ago, Ulrike had a tiny cameo role in a YouTube clip "We are Happy from Fribourg" by a Fribourg film maker. He used the Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" from the movie "Despicable Me 2", similar to what other Swiss cities have done. Maybe you can spot her at ~2.36 minutes into the clip, which also shows many images of Fribourg.
In fact, she was walking through the Farmer's Market where you can always find many delightful language tidbits. This time as well.
On Saturday morning, Fribourg has a farmer's market that stretches from the City Hall Plaza down the Grand Rue. Vendors from the region as far as (French-speaking) Lausanne come to sell their wares. When I'm around, I spend an hour or so poking around and I always find some language learning opportunities.
Interestingly, the vegetable and fruit stands seem mostly set up by farmers that speak Swiss German.
For the first time in all the years, I saw a stand that sells snails. The “Schneckenpark” translates into French as “Élevages d'Escargots.” The above picture on the front of the stand explains both expressions: the raised, slanted boards of the snails' park.
Another stand advertises in typical German compound-word fashion: “HOLZBACKOFENBROT AUS BIO GETREIDE” and with the wordier French: “PAIN FAIT AU FOURNEAU DE BOIS & CEREALES BIO.” Both translate to something like “bread made with organic flour in wood-burning oven.”
Not all stands advertise bilingually. Some have signs that are only in French or only in German. When it's Swiss German, even I sometimes need the help of a local person.
Take this sign of a Swiss-German butcher: The word “Metzger” (butcher) abbreviated to “Metzg” presents no problem. But hey, how about “gglùschtig's ù säüber gmacht's”? To decode that, I had to dig deep into my Swiss-German language memory.
The word “gglùschtig's” means “tasty, a pleasure to eat” - not to be confused with the German word “lustig” (funny). I'm not sure about the double “g” and the grave accent on the “u.” Probably, it's a way to represent Swiss-German pronunciation.
The word “säüber” is as tricky as “gglùschtig's.” One could easily confuse it with the German word “sauber” (clean). But the letter combination “äü” suggests the sound of a word closer to the German “selber” (self).
The word “gmacht's” is easy and just means “made.” The suffix “-'s” (for “Gemachtes”) adds the idea of a “made” product.
So “gglùschtig's ù säüber gmacht's” would best be translated as: “tasty and homemade (or self-made) products.”
LANGUAGE LEARNING WITH FRENCH & GERMAN SIGNS
With its medieval town center and old ramparts, the city of Fribourg is a great place to walk around and explore. When you pay attention to street signs or signs on shops and restaurants, you'll see some interesting words and language combinations.
French sign in a restaurant window: Les croûtes au fromage
These are bread slices dipped in white wine, topped with cheese, (often also with cornichons and tomatoes) and grilled in the oven. The advertised prices and types of preparation indicate a substantial meal.
la croûte – the rind
le fromage – the cheese
Street signs combining French and German.
One of the quarters of Fribourg is called “Schoenberg,” a German word meaning “beautiful mountain.” (Note that in the French spelling, the German umlaut is replaced by an “oe.”)
One of the roads leading up to the quarter is called “Chemin du Schoenberg” (chemin – the French word for way, path.)
Not everybody loves this French specialty: Beef Tongue
German/French sign in a restaurant window: Rindszunge/Langue de Boeuf
la langue, die Zunge - the tongue
le boeuf, das Rind - the beef
les capres/die Kapern - the capers
German speakers may notice a spelling error on the German sign: It should say "Rindszunge IN Kapernsauce"
Strolling through the city streets you'll see many signs that make you smile.
A favorite of mine is the one above the Rue des Epouses, which I described in a previous post 11 Language Clues from German and Swiss Signs. Look for item#11, if you need a translation of the French or the German, which is on the other side of the sign.
If you ever visit Fribourg and the Cathedral, or are looking for the above sign, you'll also pass by the bookshop Librairie "Bien-être" on one side, and the modern furniture store "Forme + Confort" on the other side of la Rue des Epouses.
In "Bien-être" you'll find all kinds of books (in French) about well-being, alternative medicine, etc. And - you can say hello to my sister Ingrid.
Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.
The French Travel Memories expand on our GamesforLanguage travel-story based courses, which use the cities' real street names, places, restaurants, hotels, etc. We visited many of them ourselves and tell you a little more about each French city.
In future blog posts, we'll provide additional details for each of the cities our young travelers visit in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. (You'll find our first German post by clicking on: German Travel Memories 1 – Michael in Frankfurt)
Daniel's first stop is in Paris, France's cosmopolitan capital, and where his travel memories begin.
We'll follow Daniel's discoveries in Paris. For those of you who have done or are doing our French 1 course: Daniel en France, this post provides some local color. Others may discover some new things about Paris and perhaps get inspired to dig deeper.
In our travel-story course, you learn daily conversational language. The vocabulary listed here is a combination of some words taught in the course as well as other useful terms.
Visiting Paris? To many of you, Paris doesn't need much of an introduction. Besides, there are plenty of sites that can fill in any gaps. We'll just mention a few quick facts and list some basic terms in French that will help you in your travels.
A FEW QUICK FACTS ABOUT PARIS
Paris was founded in the 3rd century BC by a Celtic people called the Parisii, who gave the city its name. They settled on Île de la Cité (see photo), an island in the middle of the Seine river and located on an important north-south trade axis.
(The well-known Cathédrale Notre-Dame, seen on the photo was later located there.)
In 52 BC, the Romans set up camp on the Île de la Cité and (temporarily) renamed the city Lutetia.
By the end of the 12th century, Paris had become the largest city in the western world, and the political and economic capital of France.
By the 17th century, Paris was an important center of finance, commerce, science, fashion, and the arts in Europe. It continues to play that role today.
It was interesting to read why Paris is called “The City of Light” (La Ville Lumière).
For one, Paris played an important role during the Age of Enlightenment, a philosophical movement that championed the concepts of reason, liberty, and the scientific method, seeking to illuminate man’s intellect.
For another, Paris and London were two of the early cities to adopt gas street lighting.
Since the late 19th century, Paris has also been known as Panam(e) (pronounced: [panam]) in French slang.
The city of Paris (also called the Commune or Department of Paris) now has a population of over 2.2 million people. The urban area of Paris is estimated to have a population of 10.5 million.
Île-de-France, also called “région parisienne” is one of the 18 regions of France. It includes Paris as well as 7 other administrative departments. The Île-de-France region has a population of over 12 million inhabitants.
la capitale - the capital la ville - the city, town la lumière – the light Île de la Cité – an island in the Seine, within the city of Paris la commune - the town, municipality l'arrondissement – city district le fleuve – the river (flows into the sea) la rivière - the river (flows into a lake or another river) l'aire urbaine (f) - the urban area la banlieue – the suburbs (autonomous administrative entities outside of the city of Paris) Île-de-France – one of the 18 regions of France
PARIS CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT
Daniel is a young student who learned some French at home and later studied it in school. However, this will be his first visit to France.
On his flight to Paris, Michael chats in French with the flight attendant and with the woman who's on the seat next to him.
He arrives at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, which is Europe's 2nd busiest airport in Europe, after London.
As Daniel goes through Passport Control, he continues to speak French. Responding to the standard questions, he has to explain why he is traveling to France and how long he will stay.
le vol - the flight l'hôtesse de l'air/le steward - the flight attendant f/m l'aéroport (m) - the airport le contrôle des passeports - the Passport Control Êtes-vous ici pour affaires? - Are you here on business? “affaires” has multiple meaning: affairs, matters, business Combien de temps? - How long? un bon séjour - a good stay
Paris is divided into 20“arrondissements,” or administrative districts, arranged in the form of a clockwise spiral (snail shell) starting from the middle of the city, the first being on the Right bank (north bank) of the Seine, the 20th being on the outer edge. (Plan by ThePromenaderhttp://www.paris-promenades.com with numbers in map.)
Most of the districts have their particular brand of Parisian identity and atmosphere. A brief description of each arrondissement can be found HERE. You can click on the number of a particular district to see the streets, metro stops, monuments, etc.
RUE LA FAYETTE
Daniel's aunt and uncle live in the 9tharrondissement, on Rue La Fayette (which also continues through the 10th district). Rue La Fayette is two miles long and an important axis on Paris' Right Bank.
The 9th district is a lively and diverse residential area, with many boutiques, restaurants, and bars. Historically, the fashionable, the moneyed, and the artistic mingled there.
In the 9th you'll find the Paris Opera and the neighborhood of Pigalle, home of the cabaret Moulin Rouge. The painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec had his studio there, and Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh lived near Place Pigalle.
You'll also find the famous department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette in the 9th.
The Galeries Lafayette are a chain of upscale department stores. The famous flagship store on 40 Boulevard Haussmann had its early beginnings in 1893 with a small fashion shop located at the corner of rue La Fayette and rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin. The shop founders were two cousins from Alsace, Théophile Bader and Alphonse Kahn.
In the next couple of decades, Bader and Kahn added adjacent buildings, with the goal to transform the whole complex into something of a luxury bazaar.
The architect Ferdinand Chanut “called upon great artists from the École de Nancy to decorate this magnificent building in the style of Paris Art Nouveau. ... The dome, rising to a height of 43 metres, soon became the iconic symbol of Galeries Lafayette. Master glass-maker Jacques Gruber was responsible for designing the Neo-byzantine style stained glass windows.”
The store was inaugurated in 1912. You can read more HERE.
Saint-Germain-des-Prés is an administrative quarter in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. This quarter has a large number of bookstores and publishing houses, and several famous cafés including Les Deux Magots (where Daniel has “un verre” with his aunt when he returns to Paris.)
As you can see on the image on the right, the number of the arrondissement is shown on all signs of streets and squares.
In the middle of the Twentieth century, the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter was the center of the Paris Existentialist movement (associated especially with the writers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir).
The church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is one of the oldest churches in Paris. Originally a Benedictine Abbey, it was founded in the 6th century AD.
Historically, Saint-Germain-des-Prés square was an important marketplace thanks to its annual fair.
The Foire Saint-Germain, which dates back to 1176, attracted merchants from all over Europe throughout the centuries. It lasted generally three to five weeks around Easter.
Today, there's a covered market on the square.
la place – the square le marché – the market la librairie – the bookstore l'éditeur – the publisher la maison d'édition – the publishing house la foire – the fair, trade fair un verre - the glass prendre l'apéritif – to have an aperitif (pre-dinner drink)
RUE DE GRENELLE
Daniel returns to Paris at the end of his trip and stays for a few days with his aunt Juliette, who lives on Rue de Grennelle, in the 6th arrondissement.
On his way to Rue de Grenelle, Daniel passes Hôtel Lutetia, located at 45 Boulevard Raspail (see picture). It was built in 1910 in the Art Nouveau style and was named after the early Roman town Lutetia.
The interiors of the hotel are in the somewhat later Art Deco style. During Nazi occupation of France, the hotel played an important role as a shelter for refugees.
Over the years, the hotel was visited by guests such as Picasso, Charles de Gaulle, James Joyce (who wrote part of his novel Ulysses here), Peggy Guggenheim, and Josefine Baker.
Rue de Grenelle is a funky street lined with stunning 17th and 18th century mansions, charming bars and restaurants, and interesting shops. Somewhat off the tourist route, rue de Grenelle is a great place for a stroll.
Nearby, on Boulevard de Grenelle, you'll find one of Paris' best street markets (Wednesdays and Sundays). The Eiffel Tower is just a short walk away, and will certainly appear in any visitor's travel memories - whether you survey the city from above or admire it from the Trocadero as on the picture below.
LE TROCADÉRO and LA TOUR EIFFEL
After dinner, Daniel and his aunt Juliette take an evening stroll to the Trocadéro, a 20-minute walk away, and located in the 16th arrondissement.
A hill and esplanade with a magnificent view over the Seine to the Eiffel Tower, it's the site of Palais Chaillot, built for the 1937 Paris Expo. (For more info click HERE.)
Sloping down towards the Eiffel Tower are the Gardens of the Trocadéro, also built for the 1937 Paris Expo. The gardens are a beautiful open space with a large water basin called the Fountain of Warsaw, and lined with numerous statues and smaller fountains.
The Eiffel Tower (7th arr., on the Champ de Mars) was erected for the 1889 World's Fair on the centennial of the French Revolution.
The tower was named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower (and also created, among other monuments, the metal structure of the Statue of Liberty). The Eiffel Tower continues to be the tallest structure in Paris at 324 meters (1,063 ft.). To get to the top, a visitor can take one of the 5 elevators, or walk up 1665 steps.
Every evening since 1985, the Eiffel Tower is lit up, and sparkles for five minutes at the beginning of each hour.
QUARTIER LATIN and DEUX MAGOTS
After visiting the Eiffel Tower, Daniel and his aunt Juliette walk over to the Latin Quarter (6th & 7th arr.) known for the Sorbonne and other educational institutions and lively student atmosphere.
Called “Latin” quarter because Latin was the language of learning in the Middle Ages, its winding streets are the home of quirky second-hand bookshops, and hip cafés and bars.
At the café Les Deux Magots, Daniel and his aunt enjoy a glass of wine to finish the evening. Located in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, the café was a popular meeting place for intellectuals, writers, and artists.
Besides Beauvoir and Sartre, its patrons have included Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Albert Camus, Bertolt Brecht, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Julia Child, and others.
Since 1933, the Deux Magots literary prize has been awarded every year to a new French novel that is a little off-beat and non-conventional. The writer who received the prize in 2016 was Pierre Adrian for his novel La Piste Pasolini (published by Les Équateurs).
TRAVEL MEMORIES WITH A BOAT TOUR ON THE SEINE
Near the end of his visit, Daniel and his aunt take a river cruise on the Seine. It's his chance to see many of Paris' monuments one last time.
A boat tour on the Seine during a sunny day with the “Bateaux Parisiens,” “Bateaux Mouches,” or “Vedettes de Pont Neuf” is indeed a great way to enjoy many of the Paris sights and add to your travel memories. You'll glide under quite a few of the 37 bridges and learn about the Paris history.
(Click on the image of our Facebook page for our French Quick Game: Paris Quiz!)
A boat tour on the Seine also passes by the new buildings of the National Library.
France's national library dates back to the 14th century. First located at the Louvre Palace, the collection of book grew dramatically over the centuries and was moved again and again into more spacious housing.
The latest expansion, which included new construction, was initiated by President François Mitterrand. The 4 angular towers of the Mitterrand Library - which suggest four open books - were built on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 13th district and opened in 1996.
A dinner cruise at night may not be the gourmet highlight of a Paris visit, but lets you experience why Paris is “la Ville Lumière.”
Daniel's travels in France take him also to Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. You'll read about these two cities in a future blog post.
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her travel memories on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.
Are you thinking “I love Paris in the springtime...” as in one of Frank Sinatra's wonderful songs?Maybe you are traveling to France or even to Paris soon? (Picture left: Place de Vosges in spring 2008)
Then you should also know some French phrases and try theses French language games.
We won't promise you that you'll speak French fluently after reading this post and playing the four games. We are convinced, however, that you'll remember some of the phrases and will be able to use and pronounce them.
A good way to learn phrases and expressions is to practice them as "chunks," not as a series of individual words.
As we know, some phrases are idiomatic and have a meaning that's quite different from the meaning of the words in it.
Always say phrases aloud, or if you're on a bus or in a line, mouth them to yourself, silently. Then when the coast is clear, say them OUT LOUD from memory.
Lots of repetition is essential. We rarely learn something just by hearing and saying it once.
Our mouth has to learn what muscles to use to make the right sounds. The particular combination of sounds that makes up a phrase has to get lodged in our brain. And, our brain has to connect sound to meaning.
1. Everyday phrases
No matter what your approach is to learning French, knowing a few conversational phrases is always useful.
Here's a game (or, just click on the picture!) to playfully learn and practice 8 conversational phrases that you're guaranteed to use often when talking in French - online, on Skype, or directly with someone at a party, at a store, on a ski-lift, in a café, etc.
2. The Verb "être" (to be)
The verb "être" is useful in many contexts. Whether you're talking about yourself, asking for information or directions, sharing stories, etc., some form of "to be" is bound to come up.
With this game you'll do a quick review of "être" as a full verb in the present, future, and conditional tenses.
(In a future game, you'll learn and review "être" as an "auxiliary" or, "helping" verb. As such, "être" is used to make compound tenses for certain verbs.)
Mastering the numbers in a language can be quite empowering, especially when you travel to a foreign country. But you need to be able to understand them as well as say them.
Numbers come in handy for buying at a market, paying the bill in a restaurant, buying tickets, making reservations, arranging a time to meet someone, exchanging phone numbers, giving your address, etc.
In general, knowing the numbers 1-100 will suffice. Still, French numbers from 70 to 99 are tricky and need extra attention.
When speaking English, you move your lips or tongue a certain way, for example to say "the," "he," or "rob." These are hard to pronounce for French speaker because the words contain sounds that French does not have: "th" "h" or our "r."
Similarly, French has sounds that are hard for English speakers. To produce them, you need to move your lips or tongue differently. In other words, you need to use different "mouth mechanics."
One difficulty may be that you can't really hear sounds that are not in the English language, because, like most people, you've gradually lost that ability in the course of growing into an adult.
However, with practice and application, you can recapture your ability to hear and say non-English sounds, such as the French "u," French nasal vowels, and the French "r." And even if your French pronunciation won't get to perfection, it will get much better in time.
So play our games to practice the French "r" or "vowels and accents." You'll be amazed how a little practice will let you get the hang of it and become more comfortable in speaking.
And if you're having fun with our approach and these games, you'll find additional Quick Games for French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Inglés on our site.
Or why not try our FREE French Story: “Daniel en France”. With its 36 fifteen-minute Scenes you'll learn over 600 new words. But, even more importantly, you'll practice the phrases and sentences of a travel story – useful, real life language that you'll be able to put to use when visiting Paris or traveling around France.
And just maybe you'll also get enchanted by French songs such as Edith Piaf's “No, je ne regrette rien”or Joe Dassin's“Si tu n'existais pas...”. Both songs are topics of earlier posts for “learning French with a song”...
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She has been a life-long language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
We're always looking for multiple resources for learning and practicing a foreign language. Different programs teach you different things and will often complement each other.
GamesforLanguage's mission is to find ways of making language learning both fun and effective. We've seen that games and a story will make learners come back again and again. Nothing against traditional methods. It's just that adding fun elements - and context - to language practice makes learning so much more engaging and motivating.
We've been on the lookout for other online programs with some of the above characteristics. In addition, motivated learners - perhaps after completing our free GamesforLanguage's French 1 course - may be ready for a next step: individualized lessons, more explanations, more grammar exercises, and other ways to test their language level.
From that point of view, Frantastique is definitely a winner in our eyes. Here's why this program could lift your French to another plateau.
The idea is unique: The program consists of a regular email (5 times a week), a (somewhat) crazy story or text used as a frame, a number of exercises, detailed explanations, and an immediate email back with corrections.
Frantastique provided my husband Peter and me with a free 4-month Basic subscription.
Lessons are personalized right from the beginning. After seven lessons, Frantastique assigned us a skill level. Frantastique uses the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages:
Mine started at 4.2-4.4 (B1-B2). After 24 lessons, I am now pegged at a straight 4.5 (B2). Peter, who speaks French more fluently than I, but is weaker in spelling and grammar, started with a 3.4 (B1) level. Now (after lesson 24), he has moved up to 3.7 (B1).
The Setup: an Email, a Brief Review, an Ongoing Story, Exercises, Correction
Five times a week early in the morning, you receive an email with your 15-minute lesson. It sits in your inbox, waiting.
Obviously, you can do it any time that's convenient for you. If you skip your lesson, you'll get a reminder after three days.
Your lesson starts with a review. If you made any mistakes in your previous lesson, the Review will cover them again with detailed explanations. To see if you've understood, you'll be asked to do another couple of related questions.
You'll then find a brief review of some grammar points or expressions for which you can get a translation.
After each of these, you have a number of options: You can click on "inutile to reviser" (don't need to review) or “je savais” (I knew), etc. When you do, these particular grammar questions won't be included in a future review. Or if you don't know or are not sure, you'll see them again. This is also a way your lessons become personalized.
The Ongoing Story
Each lesson gives you a small piece of the story, either related to the Extraterrestrials and Victor Hugo or a humorous, made-up story in the form of a newspaper article. (Clicking on the image left will let you play the beginning of the Victor Hugo story.)
The story chunk you get consists of a short article, video, cartoon, or just audio. Typically, you'll see the written dialogue of the audio or video clip when you receive your corrections.
The story itself is a little crazy: A naked, fully-bearded Victor Hugo traipses around Paris together with a couple of aliens from outer space. Hard to believe, but their conversations are eminently practical and fun.
These come in the form of questions about an idiom, expression, grammar point, or cultural topic.
You answer these by typing fill-ins, choosing pull-downs, or writing what you hear. Most of the questions have a small audio with it. This way you can hear French spoken at normal speed by native speakers throughout the lesson.
When you're done, you send off the email with your answers.
Before you can say “Victor Hugo,” your corrected lesson will be in your inbox. If you look at the corrections right away, everything you just wrote will still be fresh in your mind.
For each question you answered, there's a brief explanation of the rule. This is especially helpful for understanding why a guess was correct. If you've made a mistake, you'll also see why your answer is wrong. How better to learn and remember an expression, a way of spelling, or a grammar point.
There are advantages to not receiving corrections the same moment that you write them (as you do with many language programs and apps, including GamesforLanguage). By getting the corrections AFTER completing a lesson, there is no trial-and-error guessing. Also, with the accompanying explanation, you'll better remember both the correct answers as well as the corrected mistakes.
With potentially 340 lessons (at 5 lessons a week), you'll have over 1.5 years of study.
There are a number of settings you can chose in your account tab:
Reception Days: You can only select 5 days, which is ok if you don't want to learn during the weekend.
Vacation Days: Each subscription allows for a certain number of “vacation days” during which you postpone your lessons. (For example, a 6-month subscription allows for 4 weeks of vacation.) These days will be added automatically to the end of your subscription.
Lesson Length: Five (5) Options range from “minimum” (no story) to “maximum.” We have “standard,” which is the default.
Spicy Mode: You can opt out of receiving “spicy” content.
Low Level mode: Activating the “mode bas niveau” will give you the same modules, but they are less difficult.
Pedagogy: The Pedagogy tab lets you view your latest lessons, vocabulary, and grammar to review. It also provides various progress statistics.
Ipad & Android Apps: The iPad and Android apps are well integrated with the online version, but obviously need WiFi access to the email account.
Frantastique has 3 different fee categories: Basic and Premium (for individuals) and Pro (for companies and institutions). Prices for individuals range from $49 - $69 for Basic, and $77 - $111 for Pro subscriptions. For further information: link to the online shop
What We Like
The lessons are fun and immensely enjoyable because of the humorous context of the Victor Hugo story or the funny, made-up newspaper articles as this one on your right.
The expressions and grammar points you learn or review are all practical.
Corrections arrive seconds after you've finished the lesson and reinforce your learning.
The lessons arrive five days a week, which helps you to build a learning habit.
The course lessons are indeed tailored to your skill level. Peter's are different from mine.
There are multiple short audios in the lesson.
You'll hear various voices and different accents, besides standard French.
In your “Account” you'll see all your episodes and corrections in the “cahier de cours.”
The vocab audios have Parisian French and Canadian French versions and let you hear the differences in pronunciation
Other Points to Consider
The lessons are not for complete beginners (although you can opt for the “low level mode”).
The playful mode disguises the fact that Frantastique is a serious and effective course.
To practice your pronunciation you should repeat everything you hear and read.
The standard lessons are short – it takes me about 15 minutes for each lesson
In addition to English, Frantastique is currently fully available also for German, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese, with Chinese to be added soon. Other languages are being developed.
By trying out Frantastique for FREE for a week (or during special promotions even for a month), you can determine whether it works for you.
If you already have same basic knowledge of French, but want to get to a next level and improve your listening, reading, and writing skills, and do so with a fun and engaging course that prompts you with lessons 5 days a week – then Frantastique is your ticket.
The extra video and audio clips of “Le dessert du jour” (as this Jean Belmondo clip on the left) that accompany each lesson often make you smile. And when you are looking forward to the next lesson, it'll motivate you to learn and practice even dry French grammar points.
Frantastique's sister site Gymglish uses a very similar approach for teaching English (e.g to Spanish speakers) with a story set in San Francisco
French is the second most widespread language worldwide after English, as only these two languages are spoken on all five continents. French is an official language in 29 countries, most of which form la francophonie (in French), the community of French-speaking countries.
While particular end-of-year traditions exist in most of these countries, we'll just focus here on France.
In France, huge municipal firework displays were not the customary way to usher in the New Year. This has changed however in recent years, and the Eiffel Tower fireworks and light shows in Paris have become quite spectacular.
Nevertheless, French people tend to take things more quietly and celebrate with friends at home or in a restaurant. These New Year's Eve celebrations - le réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre - traditionally are a feast that includes plenty of champagne and foie gras or oysters, symbols of prosperity and good fortune.
As in many other countries, the last day of the year in France is named after the fourth-century Catholic pope and saint. This was after the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year became December 31, the day of Saint Sylvestre's death in 335.
[You say "la" Saint-Sylvestre because it's short for "la fête de Saint-Sylvestre."]
In Paris, the city of lights, New Year's Eve becomes a visual feast: from many vantage points in the city you can see the iconic, illuminated Eiffel Tower.
And, you'll find the biggest New Year's party on the Avenue de Champs Elysées, where hundreds of thousands of people gather to celebrate, wish each other "Bonne année" (Good year), and exchange "bises" (kisses on the cheeks) at the stroke of midnight.
In 2014, Paris added a first-time spectacle before the final countdown: a 20-minute video show projected on the Arc de Triomphe, highlighting the Parisian "art of living." This RTL clip lets you practice your French listening skills and you'll learn that not everybody was happy with the show.
If you click on the image on the left you can watch a YouTube clip of the 2014 light show and fireworks.
Due to the recent terror attacks, there is some question about the extent of the official New Year's celebrations in Paris this year.
A Less Joyous New Year Tradition...
Even in previous years there were some clouds on the New Year horizon:
"The infamous custom can be traced to the northeastern city of Strasbourg that straddles France’s border with Germany. Strasbourg, which hosts thousands of tourists who flock to the city for its renowned Christmas market, first began to be blighted by holiday season vehicle arson in the late 1980s. But the phenomenon exploded to alarming levels during the 1990s."
Le Réveillon du Nouvel An
Nevertheless, in spite of such statistics and recent events, I'd be very surprised if the French were not on the streets and celebratingle réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre.
Update: This France24 article of December 28, 2015 confirms that the celebrations will indeed take place in Paris, although under heightened security. The Arc de triomphe light show will be reduced to 10 minutes.
On New Year's Day, it's the tradition to have a large family dinner and to give presents to the children as a way to celebrate the arrival of the new year.
The King's Cake
The New Year holiday season comes to an official end on January 5th, Epiphany, the day when it is believed that three wise men presented their gifts to the baby Jesus.
The French celebrate by making a unique kind of cake, the "Galette des rois." In many regions the "galette des rois" is a flat layer of puff pastry filled with almond cream, in other communities, e.g. in the south of France, the "gâteau des rois" is a round brioche with candied fruits and sugar, shaped like a crown.
Common to all versions of the King's Cake, is a small trinket, a plastic or porcelain figurine of the baby Jesus hidden in the cake. The one who finds it (watch out to not swallow or bite on it!) is the king for the the day (and can wear the paper crown, often sold with the cakes).
Young kids obviously love this tradition and families use various rules to ensure a fair distribution of the cake to all. (Wikipedia)
With Black Friday, the Christmas Shopping season starts in the U.S. Many companies, including language learning sites, are offering great deals.
GamesforLanguage is a completely free site already, so we can't offer any special deals!
Over the last year, we have been making a few bucks (really few!!) with Google Ads. However, the Google ads that you see on our site pages are typically not related to language learning (unless YOU searched for them).
We therefore have decided to limit Google Ads to our dictionary pages.
We plan to partner with language learning companies we like and whose approaches and philosophy are similar to ours.
These may be companies and sites that offer free and/or fee-based services or products.
When we mention, review, or recommend such a company or site, we will always let you know whether we have a financial relationship with them. Look for our disclosure at the bottom of any of our posts.
Past Reviews and Relationships
We noted in our past reviews or mentions of Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Duolingo, Linguaville, Lingua.Ly, LingQ, Digital Dialects, Quizlet, Eduxeso, Speaklikethem, etc. when we either used free or purchased/subscribed courses.
And, we are currently working with a free 3-month subscription of LearnwithOliver.com's Dutch course, as well as a free 3-month subscription of Lingualia's Spanish course for future reviews of these sites.
We will continue to mention and comment on courses, apps, and sites as we learn about them and try them out ourselves.
As you've seen over the past months, we have not only mentioned some companies in posts, but also in some of our Quick Games.
French: We are adding links to our French Quick Games for Frantastique, a fun and very effective site for French non-Beginners. They offer a free 1-week try-out.
Spanish: We have added links to our Spanish Quick Games for Lingualia, a site which we are currently using ourselves to improve our Spanish. Try it out for free and see whether you like it as much as we do.
German: There are links in some of our German Quick Games for Freelanguage.org and its free Language Learning Magazine.
Italian: In addition to Freelanguage.org, we also have links in our Italian Quick Games for Luana's free Italian Video Lessons Learnitalianwithme.it
Inglés: We will be adding links to our Inglés Quick Games for Gymglish (a sister company of Frantastique), as well as Lingualia, both of whom provide excellent English courses for Spanish speakers.
Lingohut - With Lingohut, also a free language learning site, that offers brief lessons for 10 languages, and ESL (English as a Second Language) courses, we have been in a partnership for several months. We exchange guest blogs, information etc.
Fluent in 3 Months - We recently joined the affiliate program of Benny Lewis (whom we met during the Polyglot Conference in New York in October). His Fluent in 3 Months Premiumprogram is being offered at a 51% discount until Monday 11/30/2015. We admire his enthusiasm and dedication to language. We believe that anybody who wants to boost his or her motivation and language learning will greatly benefit from his method and many practical tips!
More Changes to GamesforLanguage
We continue to work on improving our courses. Starting with German, we have been streamlining the “Memory Games” and “Snap Cloud” sequencing, adjusted the Word Hero's speed, and added more Vocabulary Quizzes and Quick Games.
We also continue to publish blog posts weekly on one of our three topics: Language Learning Culture and Travel.
Disclosure: Certain links above are to partners' programs with revenue sharing, should you decide to subscribe or purchase.
From my school days, I remember French numbers with horror: the many nasal sounds and especially the numbers from 70 to 99.
But while traveling in French-speaking countries, I also realized how important it is to both understand and pronounce the numbers, such as when flight numbers are announced in French (see picture, above) and you, maybe, missed the English.
And, adding French numbers to your bag of basic words and expressions, such as bonjour, au revoir, s'il vous plaît, merci, etc., will make shopping in small stores or local markets both more pleasant and effective.
If we are traveling to a country whose language we don't speak, we now make it a habit to study at least its numbering system and memorize the basic numbers of 1 to 100.
We clearly benefitted from knowing the numbers when we arrived for a stay in Italy (See our previous post) and then again on trips to China and Japan. Of all the words we had learned to prepare ourselves - the numbers proved to be the most useful.
Most numbers that you see and write are in the form of digits. You rarely need to spell them.
But you do need to understand them when they're spoken. So to learn them, it helps to see them written out.
French Numbers 1 to 20
For most English speakers, French numbers from 1 to 9 are not that difficult to learn and remember.
Most of the French 1 to 9 numbers show some similarity to English, though the pronunciation may be quite different: “zéro” (zero), “un” (one), “deux” (two), “trois” (three), “six” (six), “sept” (seven), “huit” (eight), and “neuf” (nine).
Only “quatre” (four) and “cinq” (five) are totally different.
The French number ten (10) is “dix.”
The numbers 11 to 16 have their own pattern. They combine a form of the prime numbers with the suffix “-ze”: “onze” (eleven), “douze” (twelve), “treize” (thirteen), “quatorze” (fourteen), “quinze” (fifteen), “seize” (sixteen).
The numbers 17, 18, and 19 use the combination “dix-sept” (as in “ten-seven”), “dix-huit” (as in “ten-eight”), and “dix-neuf” (as in “ten-nine”).
The numbers from 30 to 60 that end in a zero add the nasal ending “-e/ ante” to a form of the numbers 3 to 6: “trente” (30), “quarante” (40), “cinquante” (50), “soixante” (60).
French Numbers 21 to 69
The numbers 21, 31, 41, 51, and 61 are like English, except that the word “et" (and) is inserted. According to the spelling reform 1990, they can be spelled without a hyphen “vingt et un” (twenty-one), “trente et un” (thirty-one), etc., or with a hyphen, “vingt-et-un” (twenty-one), “trente-et-un” (thirty-one), etc.
With those exceptions, all the numbers from 22 to 69 follow the English model: “vingt-deux” (twenty-two), all the way up to “soixante-neuf” (sixty-nine).
French Numbers 70 to 79 Get Tricky
Here the fun begins:
70 is 60+10: “soixante-dix” (as in “sixty-ten”);
71 is 60 and 11 (as in “soixante et onze” or“soixante-et-onze”);
72 is 60+12 (as in “soixante-douze”);
73 is 60+13 (as in “soixante-treize”), etc.
up to 79, which is 60+19 (as in “soixante-dix-neuf”).
French Numbers 80 to 99: A Challenge for Some
The French number 80 is 4x20: “quatre-vingts” (four twenties). This provides the basis for the numbers 81 to 99 (except that you write “quatre-vingt-xx” without the “-s” when another number follows).
Once you've understood that the numbers from 81 to 99 all start with “quatre-vingt- xx”, all you need to do is add the appropriate number from “un” (one) to “dix-neuf” (nineteen). It's a fun way to give your math mind a little workout!
So, from “quatre-vingt-un” (81), over “quatre-vingt-dix” (90), to “quatre-vingt-dix-neuf” (99), the numbers are all consistent.
Mastering numbers well enough so that you can easily pay at a market, understand an address, or take down a telephone number can indeed be a challenge.
In France, telephone numbers are normally given as a series of two-digit numbers.
For the number 05 32 77 42 98, you'll hear: zéro cinq, trente-deux, soixante-dix-sept, quarante-deux, quatre-vingt-dix-huit.
To avoid confusion you may need to ask for each digit separately. Or at least, read the numbers back to the other person to make sure they are right.
French Numbers from 100 to 10,000 (10.000 in french)
For the numbers from 101 to 1999, simply add the hundreds to the numbers you already know. (Seeing these numbers written out is pretty rare. But, according to the 1990 spelling reform, the numbers are all connected with a hyphen, as we've written them here. You may also see them without a hyphen.)
Thus, 101 is “cent-un,” 125 is “cent-vingt-cinq,” and 175 is “cent-soixante-quinze.”
The number 200 is “deux-cents,” with a silent “-s” for plural agreement. In writing, the “-s” is dropped when another number follows. So, 201, is “deux-cent-un,” 238 is “deux-cent-trente-huit,” and 296 is “deux-cent-quatre-vingt-seize.”
French Historical Dates
You rarely see historical dates written out, but there are conventions on how to say them.
In French, you start with “mille” (thousand) to say a specific year between 1101 and 1999.
So, 1323 (thirteen hundred twenty-three) would be “mille-trois-cent-vingt-trois” in French, and 1889 (eighteen hundred eighty-nine) would be “mille-huit-cent-quatre-vingt-neuf.”
You do the same for the current century. (Note that “mille” is invariable.)
The year 2000 is “deux-mille”; 2015 is “deux-mille-quinze.”
With this Quick French Game, you can practice some of the French numbers between 21 and 100 and beyond.
Millions, Billions, Trillions, etc.
A point of frequent confusion for English speakers may be the high numbers that are often quoted in news reports about global finances.
French and English agree on 1,000,000 - “un million” (one million).
But, for the US number “billion,” (thousand million), the French say “milliard,” and for the US number “trillion,” the French say “billion.” You can see the problem.
Swiss French (and Belgian French)
In Swiss French (“suisse romand”), a different and simpler form is used for the numbers from 70 to 99. The number 70 is “septante,” 80 is “huitante” or “octante” (depending on the canton), and 90 is “nonante.” It goes without saying, that it's a breeze to combine these round numbers with the single digits: for example, 74 is “septante-quatre,” 86 is “huitante-six,” and 98 is “nonante-huit.”
Belgians will also count with “septante” and “nonante,” but still use the French “quatre-vingts” and the combinations up to “quatre-vingt-neuf.”
Practicing the French numbers gives you a great opportunity to work on your pronunciation. As in any language, getting the mouth mechanicsright is also important in French.
You can practice the French “r” by clicking on this Quick Game or on the screenshot.
Many of the French numbers have a nasal ending with silent letters, depending on whether another vowel follows. In “vingt,” the “g” is silent and the “t” is spoken; in “cent,” the “t” is silent; but in “trente,” the “t” is spoken because of the silent “-e” at the end.
During the day, when you're commuting to work, noting how many email messages are in your inbox, reading the newspaper, doing exercises, etc., you'll always see or count numbers. Pronounce them silently, or out loud if you can, in French. And you'll be surprised how fast you'll know them!
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
What's so great about learning idioms in another language?
An idiom is a characteristic expression whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of the words in it.
So, here's what idioms can do for you:
They take you right into the foreign mindset and give you a different taste of a language and culture.
They make you sound like a native.
They help you fit in.
Knowing common idioms helps you to understand and participate in conversations.
you must also learn to pronounce an idiom correctly.
And, you have to use the idiom in the right context.
We were recently provided with a free copy of the eBook: “Other Cats to Whip - The Book of French Idioms” by its authors, Zubair Arshad and Graham Clark. For anyone striving beyond a basic knowledge of French, this book is an enjoyable resource.
Its French title “D'autres chats à fouetter” translates to “Other fish to fry,” but an embarrassing mispronunciation of the French title – can you guess? - lies at its core.
Graham Clark describes in the book's introduction how he tried to drop the French title phrase into a conversation with his boss in Marseille. Whoops ... The book's authors are therefore serious about their warning: “Enjoy these idioms, but just be careful how you use them!”
So, do you dare to learn these idioms?
The book gives you 40 common French idioms, each presented with a funny, memorable cartoon illustration.
Then, for each idiom, you see two essential vocabulary items, plus the literal and the idiomatic translation in English. And, for each idiom you get a sentence that uses it in a conversational context.
Here are four features of the book that are especially helpful for language learning:
LEARNING WITH IMAGES
Many idioms say something about human foibles or characteristic human behavior. Because of that, an idiom tends to evoke a vivid image. That in itself is fun, but the image also help you to remember the expression. Not surprisingly, many of the images in this book involve animals, 18 of the 40, to be exact. Animals are just wonderful dramatic subjects that hold a humorous mirror to ourselves.
But you'll also find idioms with food images (not a surprise either), and those that contain parts of the body or commonplace objects.
The clever and funny illustrations, created by Ruxandra, pick up the literal meaning of the images, and these truly will stay in your mind.
For example, the expression “décoiffer la giraffe” (literally, to mess up the giraffe's hair), means “to do something difficult.” Think about it, considering a giraffe's height and hairstyle, and keeping the cartoon in mind, will you ever forget this expression now?
For each of the idioms, you are given two basic items of vocabulary. So, as a minimum, you'll have 80 words, mostly nouns and verbs. You'll learn these naturally, as they show up in context, and not categorized as in a French grammar book.
You'll learn a wide range of common verbs, such as “s'occuper” (to mind, take care of), “tirer” (to pull), “craindre” (be afraid of), “sortir” (to go out), “tomber” (to fall), etc. and everyday nouns such as “échelle” (ladder), “haricot” (bean), “gueule” (slang for mouth, face), “huître” (oyster), “ours” (bear), etc.
Above all, you'll learn that the literal translation of an idiom may be potentially funny, but not especially helpful for the meaning. Sometimes guessing the meaning can really lead you astray.
Consider the expression “sortir de la gueule d'une vache” (literally, to come out of the mouth of a cow), which, for example when referring to a shirt, means “to be creased or wrinkled.” Would you have guessed that one if it came up in a conversation?
LEARNING IDIOMATIC GRAMMAR
In the collection of expressions and the sentences in which they are used, you'll see a variety of grammatical structures. Again, you'll learn these as they come up and not as part of a grammar paradigm.
The grammar in the English translation is often quite different from the grammar in the French original. Because of that, you'll tend to internalize the whole of the French idiom - grammar and all - as a chunk of vocabulary.
Just look at these sentences which use idioms in context: “L'appartement est trop cher, tu te fais prendre pour un pigeon.” (The apartment is too expensive, you're being taken for a ride.) Or: “Tu ne peux pas aller au travail comme ça mon chéri, ta chemise est sortie de la gueule d'une vache !” (You can't go to work like that darling, your shirt is all creased!)
Thus by acquiring the structures of a series of idioms, you're also learning essential conversational grammar.
LEARNING LANGUAGE IN CONTEXT
When using an idiom, you have to be absolutely sure that you understand what it means and that you're using it in the correct context. Some expressions are more informal or slangy than others, so be careful of that, too.
Different languages use different images for corresponding idioms. The image at the center of an idiom in one language may have different connotations in another language.
In other languages, for example, the informal French expression “ne pas avoir la lumière à tous les étages” (literally, not to have lights on every floor; meaning: to be stupid) translates into rather different images.
In English, you say “to have a screw loose.”
In Spanish, you might say “faltar un tornillo” (to be short of a screw).
In Italian, it's “mancare una rotella” (to be missing a small wheel).
In German, you would say “nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben” (not to have all cups in the cupboard). Would you have guessed that one right off the bat?
The paperback book is shipped from the UK. The most economical option (including shipping) for the US audience is to buy through the author's website. The paperback book is also available on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com. The eBook version is available on the author's website as well as on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.
A few years ago, my wife and I were staying in Ajaccio, Corsica. We had just arrived by ferry from Sardinia and on the drive from Bonifacio to Ajaccio noticed many road signs that did not look French. We had read up on the island by using the Lonely Planet's excellent guide Corsica and were aware of its colorful and dramatic history.
Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio in 1769, just a year after France had acquired the island from the Republic of Genoa. And although this eventually created a strong link to France, we had also heard from French friends that tensions with Paris still existed regarding autonomy, culture, language, economic development, etc. More about that and the Corsican language later.
During a late afternoon walk, while exploring the neighborhood around our hotel, we came by a movie theater and were intrigued by the title of the advertised movie.
Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis
The French movie playing there was “Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis.” We weren't familiar with the movie and didn't know what “les Ch'tis” meant.
At first blush, we thought it referred to a phrase in Corsican. I did, however, recognize the name of the actor, Dany Boon, who is also the director of the film.
On the spur of the moment, and although the movie had already started, we decided to purchase two tickets.
Groping for our seats in the dark in a nearly empty theater, we just arrived at the scene in which the new director of the local post office, played by Kad Merad, arrives in town during a rainy, miserable night. He almost runs over the other main character with his car, the local letter carrier, played by Dany Boon, who is to show the new boss his apartment.
The dialog that then develops had us soon laughing ourselves to tears: Boon's character tries to explain to his boss that there was no furniture in the apartment because it had all belonged to the former occupant: “c'était le sien” - it was his (furniture). However, in the dialect of the “Ch'tis,” it sounds like “c'était le chien.” (it was the dog)
Even if you don't understand much French yet, the followingYouTube outtakes(“le bêtisier”) video will also make you laugh with the actors who are clearly having a hilarious time with the language.
The video shows the “sien/chien” scene right at the beginning of the clip, and there are quite a few other scenes in which the actors get tangled up in speaking "ch'ti" and have to do the scene again.
And maybe you feel intrigued and want to watch the whole 2008 movie, as we did again a few days ago. The movie is not available on Netflix, but I discovered that you can get it onAmazoneither as an instant download or as DVDs in original French, with English subtitles.
How wrong we were...
It was a few years later that we saw the actual beginning of the movie with the set-up of the postal director's involuntary transfer. We had, of course, realized even in Ajaccio, that the movie isn't set in Corsica, but rather in the northern part of France.
When you watch the movie from the beginning, you learn right away how this region is perceived in the south, and why being sent there is seen as punishment. The region, especially the Nord-Pas-de-Calais - quite undeservedly - has a reputation of not only being cold and inhospitable, but really being “in the sticks.”
However, a little “googling” also educated us about the fact that the “chti” or “chtimi” languages are part of the “Picard” group of languages, spoken in the far north of France and parts of Belgium.
A Language or a Dialect?
Picard, is one of the “langues d'oïl,” or “Old French” and belongs to the Gallo-Roman family of languages.
Interestingly, Belgium's French Community has recognized Picard as a regional language. France, insisting on the other hand on linguistic unity, only recognizes one official national language.
If you are interested to learn more about the Picard languages, the different spellings and pronunciations, consult this Wikipedia entry, which I also used for much of the “Picard” information.
You will also quickly see from the few examples below why the “ch” and “s” sounds can be confusing:
I am sorry
How much does it cost?
Combin qu'cha coûte?
Combien ça coute?
The Wikipedia article further notes:
“Today Picard is primarily a spoken language. This was not the case originally; indeed, from the medievalperiod there is a wealth of literary texts in Picard. However, Picard was not able to compete with the inter-regional literary language, which French became, and was slowly reduced to the status of a 'regional language.'
A more recent body of Picard literature, written during the last two centuries, also exists. Modern written Picard is generally a transcription of the spoken language. For that reason, words are often spelled in a variety of different ways (in the same way that English and French were before they were standardised). One system of spelling for Picard words is very similar to that of French. This is undoubtedly the easiest for French speakers to understand, but can also contribute to the stereotype that Picard is only a corruption of French rather than a language in its own right. Various spelling methods have been proposed since the 1960s to offset this disadvantage, and to give Picard a visual identity that is distinct from French. At the present time, there is a consensus, at least between universities, in favor of the written form known as Feller-Carton (based on the Walloonspelling system – which was developed by Jules Feller– and adapted for Picard by Prof. Fernand Carton).”
In the bookWhen Languages Collide,Brian D. Joseph et al. note on page 161: “In the French linguistic tradition Picard has been labeled a dialect.” But one of the editors then says: “Given that Picard is not a dialect of French, as it evolved side by side with French rather than out of French, I prefer to use the label language to refer to Picard.”
Linguists may argue whether Picard is a dialect or a language, but for those learning French, this distinction is irrelevant. If you're a learner, you're just trying to figure out the meaning of what you hear.
So, if you happen to be in a region where “old French” is spoken, familiarize yourself with some of the basic pronunciation differences to standard French, and you at least, will not confuse “sien” with “chien.”
The Corsican Language
During our stay in Corsica, we learned about Corsican history and culture: Its Italian heritage in medieval times, with Tuscany and then Pisa gaining control. In 1282, the island became part of Genoa until 1768, when it was sold to France. An Italo-Dalmatian Romance language, Corsican became “gallicised” after France's acquistion.
While the Corsican language appeared to be in serious decline for many years, in the 1980s the French government reversed its unsupportive stand and initiated some strong measures to save it.
Although Corsica is a small island, its geography may have encouraged the formation of different dialects: Supranacciu, spoken in Bastian and Corte and generally in the north; Suttanacciu, spoken in Sartène and Porto-Vecchio and generally in the south; the dialect spoken in Ajaccio; the dialects of Calvi and Bonifacio, which resemble the dialect of Genoa; the local dialect of the Maddalena archipelago. A Corsican dialect is also spoken in the norther part of Sardinia.
We found thiscorsica-isula web siteespecially helpful and interesting, as it not only provides an introduction to the Corsican language, but also links to other sites and Corsican dictionaries.
Corsican also has a rich tradition of writers and poets. To find out more, click here.
We have to confess that in spite of speaking French quite fluently and understanding Italian well, we were never able to understand Corsican conversations in bistros or cafes, maybe also because of the various dialects. We certainly felt that our Italian helped us more than French for picking up a word here or there.
However, the bilingualism of Corsicans is impressive, and we never had any trouble conversing in French.
One of the strong impressions of our 7-day drive through the island - from Bonifacio, to Adjacio, through the middle of the island, Corte, and on to Bastia and Calvi - was this: Corsicans are proud of their land and their language. Nearly all road signs we saw, either had the French name painted over and often, obliterated by bullet holes as in this left picture
While Corsicans are pleasant and accommodating to tourists like us, they don't particularly like foreigners buying land or even condominiums. While we were in Ajaccio, a small bomb exploded (nobody hurt) at the front door of a condominium, which had just been purchased by a German.
We heard stories about the ill-fated French government's efforts to re-settle people who were called “pieds noirs.” They were French citizens who had lived in Algeria, but fled after the country became independent in 1960. A good description of this period (and many other facts about Corsica) can be found on page 197 in the Lonely Planet's Corsica.
The unrest of the seventies and eighties seems to have abated (but, as the bombing incident mentioned above indicates, it's not quite finished).
We found Corsica a wonderful island to visit. We had lots of great experiences: our arrival in Bonifacio, a small town, perched on a limestone pedestal (see picture left); the capital of Ajaccio with its connection to Napoleon; the rugged landscape and the snow-covered mountain tops in April, while we were driving across to Corte on excellent roads (see picture above).
In a museum in Corte we discovered a hand-drawn language atlas which showed linguistic boundaries of individual words, tracing them from the island's south to the north.
And we did not even take advantage of the many great beaches, and the snorkeling and diving opportunities that fill the guidebooks.
Just watching “Bienvenue Chez le Ch'tis” again the other day brought back many memories from that trip and made us think again how powerful and ultimately wrong some misconceptions about people, their languages and pronunciations can be.
Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.