Category Archives: Learning French

French Phonetics: Listening & Repetition Exercises

By   January 7, 2009

Have trouble hearing the difference between les and lait ? How about jeune and jeûne ? Um, yeah, me too. Still can’t say bûche correctly? How many silent letters are there in prompt ? Do you want to cry when you’re forced to pronounce serrurerie ?

Since I’m still on vacation, I’ve been working hard on making a pronunciation tutorial and exercises for French. Thanks to David, I’ve finally got the sound files recorded, edited, and uploaded to go along with the new French Phonetics page. I made two versions of the listening exercises – one in plain ol’ HTML and another with Hot Potatoes – and the repetition exercises have the transcripts available in case you can’t understand what the heck David is saying. (He talks fast sometimes.)

I hope to expand it in the future, but for now I’m already exhausted with just these hundred or so sound files. I love Audacity, but editing sound files is boring de chez boring.

So now, which one is it: les or lait ?

P.S. You can hear my lovely (ha!) Midwestern voice in the stress and intonation sections comparing English to French.

Christmas Vocabulary in French

By   December 14, 2008

Even Canaille gets into the Christmas spirit!

Christmas Vocabulary in French

Ok, he hated wearing the hat, but he still wants everyone to learn some Christmas Vocabulary in French. You can listen to David reading the list:

Merry Christmas!Joyeux Noël !
angell’ange (m)
bellla cloche / la clochette
bowle nœud
bulbla boule
candlela bougie / la chandelle
candy canela canne en bonbon
chimneyla cheminée
Christmas cardla carte de Noël
Christmas carolsles chansons de Noël
Christmas Evela veille de Noël
Christmas Eve dinnerle reveillon de Noël
Christmas marketle marché de Noël
Christmas treele sapin de Noël
decorationsles décorations
egg nogle lait de poule
elfle lutin
fake treele sapin artificiel
garlandla guirlande
hollyle houx
lightsla guirlande électrique / lumineuse
mistletoele gui
nativity scenela crèche
North Polele pôle nord
presentle cadeau
present name tagsles étiquettes
reindeerle renne
ribbonle bolduc / le ruban
Santa Clausle Père Noël
Santa’s hatle bonnet de Noël
Santa’s sackla hotte du Père Noël
Santa’s workshopl’atelier du Père Noël
sleighle traineau
sleigh bellle grelot
snowla neige
snowflakele flocon de neige
snowmanle bonhomme de neige
starl’étoile (f)
stockingla chaussette de Noël
toyle jouet
wrapping paperle papier d’emballage
wreathla couronne
Yule logla bûche de Noël

This vocabulary list is from the French Language Tutorial, available online and as an e-book.

English Ad Slogans in Non-Anglophone Countries

By   December 13, 2008

This Spiegel article is about German of course, but just replace “Germany” and “German” with “France” and “French” and the outcome is the same.

How Germans Really See English Ad Slogans: English is all the rage in Germany — the height of fashion, except that many people don’t understand it. Consumer groups would like to see the language banned from German ads altogether.

If you spend much time in Germany, it won’t take long before you notice that speaking the language really isn’t that difficult. Any time you’re at a loss for a German word, just throw in some English and move on. For one thing, it’s the height of coolness to sprinkle your German with English. And for another, even if your German friends don’t understand, they’ll smile and nod for fear of looking dumm.

Plus, they do it too. Words like “office” and “meeting” long ago entered the German vocabulary. “Babysitten” and “downloaden” have been adopted. Even the word “people” has been molded to suit the needs of the German language — the term has a negative connotation to indicate folks who are disagreeable and tiresome.

But when it comes to advertising slogans, the use of English is becoming passé. Some advertisers have realized that many Germans just don’t understand — or even worse, misunderstand — their hip slogans. […] The Vodafone slogan “Make the Most of Now” has weird associations with fruit juice (“Most”) for many Germans. “Welcome to the Beck’s Experience” didn’t work so well because many thought the last word meant “experiment.” The grand prize for slipshod slogans, though, goes to German television station Sat1, which used the catchphrase “Powered by Emotion.” This was taken by many to be a modern version of “Kraft durch Freude,” the Nazi party’s leisure organization, often translated into English as “strength through joy.”

[…] The German capital has just chosen a new — English language — slogan for the city: “Be Berlin.” But at least that catchphrase doesn’t exclude any part of the population. No one, after all, seems to have the slightest idea what it means.

More Free Language Resources Online

By   November 21, 2008

Publisher Websites. A lot of publishing companies have companion websites for their foreign language textbooks. Most offer extra exercises in grammar and vocabulary, while some even offer free downloads of  mp3s and a sample chapter.

Hot Potatoes fun! The following sites used Hot Potatoes software to create exercises for language learning. (I’ve already done the same for my French I, French Slang, and German I tutorials.)

  • From the Ashcombe School, MFL Video on Demand is a useful collection of native speakers talking about everyday things, such as family, education, holidays, etc. You can watch the video, and try a fill-in-the-blank exercise along with it to test your listening skills. Videos are available in French, German, Spanish and Italian.
  • Oefeningen voor de Franse les is a Dutch site for learning French, based on the Carte Orange and Libre Service textbooks. It’s not too hard to figure out if you don’t speak Dutch, and if you already know a little French, you can just use it to learn Dutch instead. (For anyone else who speaks Dutch, DigiSchool is also a cool site for learning almost anything, including several languages – but in Dutch, of course.)
  • Gramlink is a French site for learning German, English and Dutch grammar. There are exercises for almost all parts of speech, as well as grammar references for English and Dutch. [Some parts of this site do not work well in Firefox, so you may have to use Internet Explorer.]
  • includes exercises for English, French, Italian, Latin and Spanish, as well as other disciplines such as history, philosophy, sociology, etc.
  • Turkish Tutor is an interactive video program from UCLA for increasing your comprehension of spoken Turkish. is also a neat site, though it was not created with Hot Potatoes. It is a spelling and grammar checker for French. You simply type or copy & paste a few sentences or paragraphs of French in the box and it will help you correct your mistakes.

First Semester Language

By   November 2, 2008

We all laugh at these songs that make fun of beginning language classes and the somewhat useless words and phrases we learn. How many times in French have I ever said “Où est la bibliothèque ?” Um, probably never. But these videos also show the poor attempt at language teaching and/or the poor attempt at language learning that is so prevalent in English-speaking schools. Even though I’m laughing on the outside, I’m crying on the inside because I know there are so many students who finish years of study and retain nothing but these stock phrases.

Foo doo fa fa by the Flight of the Conchords

(Click here: Embedding disabled for this video)

First Semester of Spanish Love Song by RunawayBox

Second Semester of Spanish Love Song (with Erik Estrada!)

Anybody know of songs like these for other languages?

Everyone speaks Franglais.

By   October 23, 2008

Have I mentioned lately how annoying English words are in French? Just over the past few days, I’ve heard people speaking French say speed, soft, borderline, bad trip, VIP, people, and flashy when they could have just used French words in their sentences. And of course they pronounce these words with French accents, which is logical linguistically, but that makes understanding them almost impossible for an Anglophone. And it seems that these words are sometimes used in ways that we wouldn’t even use them in English.

I have nothing against borrowing words from other languages, but I never realized before how many English words are actually used in everyday French. Maybe some French people can shed some light on this, but is it considered cool to use English words all the time? I find it very annoying because I wonder why I was never taught these words in my French classes. And French people who don’t speak English really don’t understand why I can’t understand their use (ok, their pronunciation…) of English words. But what irritates me the most is that my students think they can use these words in the same way – grammatically or semantically – in English, but it just doesn’t work.

Even though I get what you mean by Last week was less speed than this week, it’s not a good sentence. My students get so frustrated when they discover that they don’t actually know how to use these English words that they thought they knew how to use all this time. Or when they discover that the definition of the word in English is something completely different than what they thought, i.e. they hear a string in English and automatically think of thong underwear, which is un string in French. Definitely not the same as une ficelle.

Words like pom-pom girl (cheerleader), relooking (makeover), zapping (channel surfing), hard discount (discount [store]), and bermuda (bermuda shorts) are easy enough for Anglophones to figure out. Even catch (pro/fake wrestling) makes sense if you think about it. But I really do wonder how in the world smoking got borrowed into French to mean a tuxedo. Who decided that and why?

Un smoking is a tuxedo

He is wearing a smoking!

More Language Learning Tips

By   September 25, 2008

Websites I found these past few weeks:

Dialang is a neat program that you can use to determine your European Level in a foreign language. There are 5 tests – reading, writing, listening, grammar and vocabulary – available for 14 languages – Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. It also gives you feedback, advice and an explanation of the European Levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2). You can download Dialang for free here.

Goethe-Verlag has two sections for learning languages at the A1 & A2 levels: book2 is a non-profit project that includes 100 lessons in 40 languages and mp3s for 11 of the languages. There are also free language tests in 25 languages, with about 200 fill-in-the-blank tests each.

Verbs: There are a few websites for looking up the conjugation of a verb in a certain language, such as Verbix, but these sites usually have no audio to help you with the pronunciation of the conjugated forms. However, there is LearnVerbs which provides the pronunciation of several verbs in Catalan, English, French, Galician, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. But this site does not give the conjugated form – only the name of the verb tense – so you need to keep one window open on Verbix and one window open on LearnVerbs if you want both the spelling and the pronunciation.

Activities: Quia has a collection of shared activities and games for learning languages, most submitted by teachers for use in their classes. Paying subscribers can create a variety of activities in 16 formats, but just doing the activities is completely free.

Radio: has a list of European radio stations that you can listen to online as live streams.

Links: Mahalo has some good tips for learning languages and links to many sites. I especially love their page on learning German with the music of David Hasselhoff.

Olympics Vocabulary in French

By   August 18, 2008

I’ve never been a big fan of the Olympics or of watching sports on TV, but I have caught a few events on French TV this week. If nothing else, it helps with learning sports vocabulary in French. [And why did I never notice before that the French use Pékin whereas we use Beijing? ]

I’m teaching Olympic vocabulary in English to my private student tonight, so I was searching for websites to help with lesson planning and I found some language resources on the Australian Olympics Committee’s site: Olympic Resource for Languages

In the International Year of Languages, the Modern Languages Teachers’ Association of Victoria (MLTAV) has developed the Olympic Resource for Languages.

The resource introduces students to the Olympics, uncovering the Olympic symbols whilst preparing them for a school-based Olympic celebration held in the language they are learning. The celebrations will take place on Olympic Day – Friday 20 June 2008.

The resource includes five LOTE (Languages Other Then English) lessons available in nine languages: Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.

Even though they’re designed for teachers of those languages to use in their classes, you can still learn some Olympic vocabulary from them. And here’s another site with French Olympics vocabulary: French Phrases: Talking about the Olympic Games in French

Foreign Service Institute French Basic Course

By   August 15, 2008

If you haven’t already checked out (and/or downloaded) the free Foreign Service Institute language courses at, you need to go there right now. The FSI courses were designed by the Department of State, mostly in the 1960’s, to teach languages to employees being sent overseas. They’re actually quite comprehensive, if a bit boring with all the repetition and drilling. They are also audio intensive, which is necessary for learning comprehension and pronunciation.

And the best part about the FSI courses is that they are in the public domain. There are no copyright protections, which is how the FSI site above can exist. And this is also how publishing companies can sell the FSI courses at a profit (literally hundreds and hundreds of dollars!!) to unsuspecting customers who don’t know they can download the courses for free or even borrow them from libraries and make copies of the books and cassettes. I’m talking about you, Audioforum, Multilingual Books, Barron’s and Platiquemos…

The FSI site only includes materials that volunteers have donated after spending many hours scanning the books and converting the cassettes to mp3s. Unfortunately, if a language course is not included on the site and it cannot be found in a library, the only option is to buy it from a company (who slapped their own ridiculous “copyright” on it) that charges way too much because the originals from the Department of State are obviously out of print. And this makes me very angry.

Anyway, the course books are available in PDF format, so I decided to start converting the PDFs to HTML. So far, I’ve only finished Unit 1 of the French Basic Course because I don’t have a good PDF to HTML converter. It takes forever to convert to text and then proofread everything with the OCR software that I have.

FSI French Basic Course HTML Version

Language learning should always be free!

Grammar Check – Subjunctive with espérer?

By   June 17, 2008

This was the top story on this afternoon:

Les Bleus à quitte ou double contre l’Italie

Pour éviter l’élimination, la France devra battre les Italiens, mardi soir, et espérer que la Roumanie ne fasse pas de même contre les Pays-Bas.

Years of French grammar classes have drilled into my head that you should never use the subjunctive after espérer. Can someone tell me why Figaro is doing so in this article? Is it a mistake? Or is there some exception to the rule that I’ve never heard of?

Edit: I give up, French. You win. I will never understand your grammar rules. Even though all of my grammar books tell me never to use the subjunctive after espérer unless espérer itself is negative or interrogative, the above sentence and all the native speakers that I’ve asked prove that is not the rule. The subjunctive mood and I were just never meant to be, I suppose.