Examples of Authentic French: The Case of Ils

As a follow up to my post on Subject Pronouns in Textbooks: Written vs. Spoken French and how French textbooks do not include the spoken meanings of the pronouns, I came across a few examples of the use of ils in the indefinite sense while preparing transcripts to use in class.

Textbooks still teach that on is the indefinite pronoun that means one / they / the people in a general sense when not referring to anyone in specific; however, this is not actually the case. Just like in English, French uses ils to mean they in both a specific and indefinite sense while on, instead of nous, is used much more often to mean we - which most textbooks do acknowledge, though it is usually classified as only being used in “casual conversation.”

  • From the film L’auberge espagnole:

Moi, par exemple, je suis wallonne, je ne parle pas le flamand. Quand je vais en Flandre, je me fais passer pour une française. Alors, ils me parlent en français… S’ils comprennent que je suis wallonne…

  • From the series Bref on Canal+:

Sur la notice, ils indiquaient qu’il fallait être deux pour monter ce meuble.

 

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

 

For advanced levels, all of the episodes of Bref are available online for free – though many of them probably cannot be used in American classrooms. For self-study and learning slang vocabulary, they are extremely useful. There are no subtitles for the online videos, but the DVD does have closed captioning (of course, it is not the transcript but more of a summary.) The opening screen even includes more examples of using ils in the indefinite sense:

Ils m’expliquent que c’est pas bien de télécharger, mais comme ils me disent sur un DVD que je viens d’acheter, j’ai l’impression que je me fais engueuler à cause des autres.

Finally, Institut Français Deutschland has several great dossiers pédagogiques to use in class on many French films, including L’auberge espagnole, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, Astérix et Obélix : Mission Cléopâtre, Ma Vie en Rose, etc.

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  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Sorry, I just noticed you mentioned the movie L’auberge espagnole and I’ve been looking for someone who’s seen that movie for a couple weeks now because I wanted to ask: is most of it in French or Spanish?  I was thinking about using it to work on my Spanish, is why I ask.Thanks, and keep up the good work, I always enjoy reading your stuff ;)Cheers,Andrew

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    It’s mostly in French but there is a fair amount of Spanish and English, and some Catalan.

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

     Thanks Jennie!

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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