Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Learning French with a song: Si tu n'existais pas...

Joe DassinYou may have heard this French song: Et si tu n'existais pas before and always wondered what the lyrics really meant. Here is your chance to learn them and brush up on your French negations and conditionals!

For anyone who likes music, songs are a versatile and surprisingly effective tool for language learning. Songs support your language learning in many ways. They help you to:

• build your vocabulary and provide context for words and phrases
• improve pronunciation
• boost your memory
• internalize grammar structures
• distinguish word boundaries (see also our blog post Gibberish or language learning)

Si tu n'existais pas (If you didn't exist)

This 1976 song by the American born, French singer-songwriter Joe Dassin has become hugely popular and is one of my favorites. Dassin (1938 - 1980) was a talented polyglot and recorded songs in Spanish, Russian, German, Greek, Italian, as well as in French and English (many of which you can find on YouTube).

Below are the French lyrics, and you can find another English translation here.

The Lyrics of "Si tu n'existais pas"

Et si tu n'existais pas,
Dis-moi pourquoi j'existerais.
Pour traîner dans un monde sans toi,
Sans espoir et sans regrets.

Et si tu n'existais pas,
J'essaierais d'inventer l'amour,
Comme un peintre qui voit sous ses doigts
Naître les couleurs du jour.
Et qui n'en revient pas.

Et si tu n'existais pas,
Dis-moi pour qui j'existerais.
Des passantes endormies dans mes bras
Que je n'aimerais jamais.

Et si tu n'existais pas,
Je ne serais qu'un point de plus
Dans ce monde qui vient et qui va,
Je me sentirais perdu,
J'aurais besoin de toi.

Et si tu n'existais pas,
Dis-moi comment j'existerais.
Je pourrais faire semblant d'être moi,
Mais je ne serais pas vrai.

Et si tu n'existais pas,
Je crois que je l'aurais trouvé,
Le secret de la vie, le pourquoi,
Simplement pour te créer
Et pour te regarder.

French Nouns in the Song

In Dassin's song there are 14 nouns, here listed in the form they appear:

• un monde (a world)
• sans espoir (without hope)
• sans regrets (without regret)
• l'amour (love)
• un peintre (a painter)
• ses doigts (his fingers)
• les couleurs (the colors)
• du jour (of the day)
• des passantes (passers-by)
• mes bras (my arms)
• un point (a point, dot)
• le secret (the secret)
• de la vie (of life)
• le pourquoi (the why)

Negative Structures

It's well worth internalizing the various forms of French negation, three of which appear in the song:

• Si tu n'existais pas (ne ... pas - not)
• Que je n'aimerais jamais. (ne ... jamais - never)
• Je ne serais qu'un point de plus. (ne ... que - only)

The Conditional "if-then" Structure

This structure is the backbone of the song. Of the 20 different verbs, 8 are used in the conditional tense. Memorizing the lyrics and singing them is a great way to internalize one of the common "if-then" (conditional) structures:

The "if-clause" (which comes up 6 times) is in the imperfect tense:

• si tu n'existais pas - if you didn't exist

The "then-claus" is in the conditional tense:

• dis-moi pourquoi j'existerais (*exister) - tell me why would I exist
• j'essaierais d'inventer l'amour (*essayer) - I would try to invent love
• je ne serais qu'un point de plus (*être) - I would only be one more dot
• je me sentirais perdu (*se sentir) - I would feel lost
• j'aurais besoin de toi (*avoir besoin) - I would need you
• je pourrais faire semblant d'être moi (*pouvoir) - I could pretend to be me
• je crois que je l'aurais trouvé (*trouver) - I think I would have found it

Just imagine, when you are memorizing the lyrics and singing along, you're practicing the language. How much fun is that!

And why stop here? Edith Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien" (see our previous post) is another great French song to add to your language learning repertoire. 

I recently came across Sidney's post Learning through song made easy, which suggests four steps to improve both your listening and speaking (maybe even singing!) skills. It's fun AND effective and it not only works for Italian, but for French and other languages as well!