French Slang & Idiom Exercises

By   May 31, 2008

I love Hot Potatoes. I’ve been making some interactive matching, multiple choice, and gap-fill exercises to go with my Informal French & Slang page. Do you know what une tube is? How about potin? Pige? Toubib? Flotte?

Check out the exercises here!

Soccer and Geneva, you’re on my list.

By   May 30, 2008

I’m supposed to present at the European Writing Centers Association Conference at the University of Education in Freiburg, Germany, on June 21st. Two former colleagues from the University of Michigan-Flint Writing Center and I will be doing a 90 minute workshop titled “Tutors, Training and Border Crossings: Beyond the Textual Relationship.” I’ll be handling the ESL section on tutoring international students and tutor training.

Problem #1: The European Soccer Championship is being held in 8 cities in Switzerland and Austria during the month of June. This means almost all hotels are booked, even in Germany, because apparently Europeans think they are superior to the rest of the world in soccer and the World Cup just doesn’t matter because there are too many non-European teams mucking up the tournament. But I digress… Of course I still don’t have any hotel reservations anywhere, and it’s only like 3 weeks away! Starting to freak out a little…

Problem #2: I’m going to take a train because it will probably be the same price or cheaper than driving, but it’s shorter to go through Switzerland – which means an annoying change in Geneva. There are trains between Annecy and Geneva of course, but they arrive at the Eaux-Vives station. I will need to be at the Cornavin station for the train that goes to Freiburg. And for some strange reason, there is no train service connecting these two stations! Well, there will be in like 2010 or 2012 , but this “construction” rumor has been going around for the past century (I’m not even kidding). This is why so many people choose to drive to work in Geneva and why construction on a new highway between Annecy and Geneva is nearly finished. Whatever happened to the love of public transportation, France and Switzerland?

Problem #3: I have no money because I have no job. This conference is probably going to cost me more than 200 €, but I’m hoping to network a little and find a job in some academic setting. I miss the world of academia. Though French universities aren’t exactly known for being excellent and I’m not even sure if many of them have Writing Centers, and I’m sort of tied down to Annecy because of David’s job… so my hopes aren’t too high for finding a job. Which means I’ll still have no money because I’ll have no job. It’s a vicious circle.

But hey, I can add this to my resume, I get to visit Germany again (yay Black Forest!), AND I get to see friends from Michigan whom I miss dearly. So it’s totally worth the stress and debt. But it really does make me hate the soccer obsession in Europe even more…

Cultural Differences: Screens

By   May 29, 2008

So screens on windows just don’t exist in France. For someone who has an irrational fear of bugs that sting, this is a big problem. I don’t like to keep the windows open even when it’s warm outside because I hate how many bugs get in the apartment, and also because I’m afraid the cat will jump out and die (we live on the 4th floor / 3ème étage). So imagine my excitement when I found a moustiquaire at Gifi for only 4 €. However, the French definition of screen is this:

Cloth netting and velcro! woohoo!

You stick the velcro on the outside of the window frame, and attach the netting to it. Easy, right? Well, not so easy when you can’t go outside and push on the netting. I had to bunch it up and fold it over to get it to stick, so I hope that it holds. We can no longer close the shutters, but at least it’s keeping the bugs out!

I know it won’t hold if Canaille decides to jump since he’s kinda heavy (he’s not fat, he just has a big belly!) but at least it gives him something to watch at night when the bugs are clinging to the netting and trying to get in.

He doesn’t look too fat, does he?

Books for 2 €

By   May 28, 2008

For those who like to read, but are dirt poor like me, Librio publishes books for 1-3 € each. You can find several famous French works, as well as English works translated into French. (But check Project Gutenberg first if you want to download non-copyright protected works for free.) Their collections include literature, poetry, theatre, history, languages, travel guides, health, cooking, music, etc. You can buy Librio books at most book stores, or at, and

Nobody studies French Literature in High School

By   May 22, 2008

I recently found out that College Board is going to cancel the AP exam in French Literature as of 2009. Also gone are Latin Literature and Italian Language & Culture. German Literature has been gone for 10 years, so that leaves us with Chinese Language & Culture, French Language, German Language, Japanese Language & Culture, Latin: Vergil, Spanish Language and Spanish Literature. Seriously, more people study Latin literature than German literature or even Italian??

I have never been a big fan of standardized testing – especially not ones that claim taking one test can possibly equal an entire university course – but the fact that they are canceling these exams means that fewer students are interested in taking language classes. I never had the opportunity to take AP French at my high school (I think we only had AP English), but I wish I could have. I felt very behind when I began university because my high school French wasn’t advanced enough.

Here’s the list of required reading for the French Literature exam. (You can also download a sample test here.)


  • Marguerite Duras: Moderato cantabile
  • Maupassant: Pierre et Jean
  • Voltaire: Candide


  • Molière: L’Ecole des femmes
  • Corneille: Le Cid
  • Aimé Césaire: Une tempête


  • Apollinaire: “Le Pont Mirabeau,” “Les Colchiques,” “Mai,” “Automne”
  • Baudelaire: “Correspondances,” “Hymne à la Beauté,” “L’Invitation au voyage,” “Chant d’automne,” “Spleen” (“Quand le ciel. . .”), “Recueillement” (From Les Fleurs du mal)
  • Du Bellay: “Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage,” “Si notre vie est moins qu’une journée,”
  • Labé: Sonnets: “On voit mourir toute chose animée,” “Je vis, je meurs: je me brule et me noye,”
  • La Fontaine: “Les Animaux malades de la peste,” “Le Chêne et le Roseau,” “La Mort et le Bûcheron,” “Le Loup et l’Agneau”

I can honestly say I haven’t read and/or have forgotten many of these. But then again, the French program I did in college focused on linguistics instead of literature so I was only required to take one French literature course. I’ve always hated reading fiction in English, but when it’s in another language, it’s not so bad because at least I’m learning new words.

What I did on my 26th birthday

By   May 20, 2008

On Sunday, I went to bed at 2 am. Got up at 5:30 am. Took Jessica to the airport in Geneva (David drove). Came home and went back to bed. Got up again at 11 am. Headed to the medieval festival in Andilly with David and Lucy. Watched 1) the French beat the English during the 100 Years’ War, 2) falcons and eagles do neat tricks at the Fauconnerie, and 3) the jousting competition between the knights of Savoie and Bourgogne. (Guess who won?)

“English” Archers
Joan of Arc
Get it?
Anachronism of the day.
Italian Marching Band!
Geese herded by a dog. Adorable end to the parade.
The four knights. The evil Bourgogne knights are wearing the color black and horns, of course.
Apparently this weapon is called a fléau in French. Still don’t know what it’s called in English.

Annecy Events this Summer

By   May 16, 2008

May 17: Fête des Arts du Cirque, quartier du Parmelan, 2pm to midnight.

May 31: Nordic Walking Découverte, le Pâquier, 10am to 5pm.

June 9-14: International Animated Film Festival, everywhere.

June 15: Championnat Rhône-Alpes de VTT, les Puisots on the Massif du Semnoz.

June 21: Musical Festival, downtown.

June 21: Saint Jean bonfire, La Visitation, 9pm.

June 21 & 22: Coupe d’Europe des Nations d’Athlétisme, Parc du Sports

June 22 to September 14: P’Tit Bal Perdu, Les Jardins de l’Europe, every Sunday 6-10pm.

June 25: Les Soldes / Summer sales begin! (Will last for 6 weeks.)

July 6: Lake Annecy Triathlon, le Pâquier.

July 14: National Festival, le Pâquier, starts at 4pm; fireworks at 10:15pm.

July 16-19: Les Noctibules, in the streets of Annecy.

July 18-27: Hautes Vibrations (festival about people of the mountains), around the lake.

July 21 to August 2: Little Princes of Lake Annecy Tennis Tournament, courts at Marquisats, 13 years old or younger.

August 2: Lake Annecy Festival, le Pâquier.

August 15: Swim Across the Lake, baie d’Albigny, 1000m or 2400m.

August 16-23: Annecy Summer Festival for teachers and students of music, museum/castle and conservatory.

September 7: 10K run in Annecy, begin and finish at Parc des Sports. Cycling on Avenue de Genève / Place des Romains.

September 20: Free Sibra bus & bike day in Annecy, as part of European Mobility Week. [Date not yet confirmed.]

September 20-21: European Heritage Days / Journées Européennes du Patrimoine

September 21: Bike ride up the Semnoz, gather at le Pâquier to sign up and receive results.

September 30 to October 7: Italian Film Festival, Bonlieu.

October 10-13: Salon des Antiquaires, Parc des Expositions.

October 11: Retour des Alpages, Vielle Ville, parade of animals starts at 2:30pm.


By   May 15, 2008

Here are the translations from the real French post. I can honestly say I never learned these expressions from my high school or university books/classes. I only learned them when I moved to France.

Elle tire le diable par la queue. = She barely gets by (financially).

C’est pas vraiment le Pérou. = It’s nothing to write home about. / It’s not a great fortune.

Ça craint de plus en plus. = It keeps getting worse and worse.

…il y a des lustres. = …a long time ago.

Ça va être chaud ! = It’s going to be tough.

La note va être salée ! = The bill is going to be really expensive.

Ma sœur en a rien à foutre… = My sister doesn’t give a damn about it…

And a few more, in context, for you to figure out:

Rien ne fait radin quand c’est donné avec amour.

Mon frère ainé a des oursins dans ses poches, et aussi dans son coeur.

Elle veut pas aller voir les services sociaux quand elle est dans la panade.

L’Elysée n’avait pas souhaité divulguer le lieu de vacances de Nicolas Sarkozy, mais les médias américains ont finalement vendu la mèche.

Travailler, c’est trop dur ? Avez-vous un poil dans la main ?

Elle reste floue, vague, imprécise, et tourne autour du pot sans jamais en venir au fait

Ça fait un bail qu’on s’est pas parlé !

Real French.

By   May 11, 2008

If you only learned textbook French in school, could you understand these sentences? All of them are from one page of a thread that I found on a random forum. This is why idioms and slang are an essential part of any language course!

Elle tire le diable par la queue.

C’est pas vraiment le Pérou.

Ça craint de plus en plus.

…il y a des lustres.

Ça va être chaud !

La note va être salée !

Ma sœur en a rien à foutre…

Learning languages for free with the internet: Public Domain Materials

By   May 8, 2008

Tip of the day: Use the internet to take advantage of the public domain.

Foreign Service Institute Language Courses: Designed and written by the US government but with no copyright protection. You can download the texts (PDF format) and audio files (mp3s) for free. Not all languages are available for download as the site depends on user contributions and it takes a long time to scan the books and digitize the audio cassettes. Best for beginners because there is a lot of repetition and drills.

The following languages are available: Amharic, Arabic (Levantine & Saudi), Bulgarian (text only), Cambodian, Cantonese, Chinese, Chinyanja (link currently broken), Finnish (audio only), French, German, Greek, Hausa (text only, but see below), Hindi (text only), Hebrew, Hungarian, Igbo, Italian (text only), Kituba (text only), Korean, Lao, Luganda (text only), Moré, Portuguese, Romanian (text only), Russian (text only), Spanish, Sinhala (text only), Swahili, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Twi, Vietnamese, and Yoruba (text only).

If you plan on downloading several files, try the DownThemAll add-on with Firefox. Instead of right clicking and downloading each file individually, you can download them all (hence the name) in one click. Plus it makes downloading much, much faster.

Also check the Forum to see if more materials are available (such as .torrents), but have not been uploaded to the site yet. For example, Serbo-Croatian, Igbo and Hausa PDFs and mp3s can be downloaded as torrents.

Free Public Domain Materials for Language Learning
Project Gutenberg: Electronic version of books whose copyright have expired in the US (essentially all books published before 1923 and some published before 1964). Many classic books in several languages are available.

Children’s Library: Famous children’s stories in many languages (again, with expired copyrights), some with audio so you can listen while you read.

Thanks to the public domain, sometimes you don’t need to spend any money on language resources. If you do choose to buy language books, beware of certain publishers who copy the FSI courses and publish them for profit. For example, Barron’s Mastering Hebrew is the FSI course, which you can download for free!

P.S. The Defense Language Institute also produced language materials and they are available as micro-fiched PDF documents through the ERIC database. Unfortunately, there is no audio available and they’re a bit more cumbersome to download (you must do them one by one). The following languages can be found by searching for Defense Language Institute + the language + Full Text only: Albanian, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Czech, French, German, Haitian Creole, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean (advanced), Malay (intermediate advanced), Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Thai.

P.S.S Although is not technically in the public domain, all of the language learning resources are free.