Category Archives: Learning French

English and “Correct” Words in French

By   October 14, 2011

L’Académie française has once again called for more “defense” of the French language against incorrect use of the language, especially with regards to Anglicisms. I do not agree with l’Académie’s prescriptivist ideas on vocabulary use and trying to force the formal (often written) language onto the spoken form. It is one thing to determine if a sentence is grammatically correct concerning function words, verb conjugations, word order, etc. but it is completely different to proclaim that certain content words are incorrect since vocabulary choice is highly dependent on the topic, context, medium (speech/writing) and audience. As long as the meaning of the words are similar (such as formal vs. informal variants), there is no correct or incorrect use of a word over another. It is merely what is appropriate or not to that particular situation. Saying “Hey, what’s up?” to the president is not incorrect – because that would imply that it would never be used at all by native speakers, when in fact it is used quite often – but it is inappropriate to use an informal variant in a formal situation.

Telegraph has a recent article on L’Académie’s fight against English words in French. Their website includes a new page called “Dire, Ne pas dire” which includes les fautes, les tics de langage et les ridicules qui s’observent le plus fréquemment dans le français contemporain. Jean-Matthieu Pasqualini of the Académie said “We want to restore courage to all those in France and outside France who endeavour to defend and enrich the language. Let French remain a great language of communication and culture.” But what does he mean by enrich? Claiming that some words in contemporary French (that aren’t even Anglicisms) are absurd or wrong doesn’t exactly seem like a good start.

France’s culture ministry also has a new website for people to propose French words in place of the borrowed English words at which states “il ne s’agit nullement de déclarer la guerre aux mots étrangers, anglais en particulier, qui sont passés dans la langue courante – pas question de toucher au week-end et au sandwich – mais d’anticiper l’utilité d’un terme étranger qui pourrait s’installer en français.” (Telegraph’s translation: “This is in no way about declaring war on foreign terms, English in particular, that have entered into common usage like sandwich or weekend. It is about anticipating the usefulness of a foreign term that could be settling into the French language.”) While I’m happy to see that they acknowledge the natural state of constant evolution and change that occurs in all human languages, the fact that they are trying to propose French translations for Anglicisms that have yet to become so entrenched in the language seems a bit suspect. There is nothing wrong with wanting to use the French translations, of course, but why is it considered ok to use sandwich and week-end but not casting or email? Just because sandwich and week-end have been used in French for longer, that somehow makes them more acceptable?

I know I have expressed my annoyance at the use of English words in French in the past, but I am not frustrated because of the existence of the borrowings, which are natural and normal in any language. I am frustrated that language learning materials do not include the borrowings or other aspects of contemporary French vocabulary. They only tend to include the standardized form of the language, or what people should say (dictated by l’Académie) instead of what people actually say, which is not useful for students who need to comprehend the various dialects and styles and which leaves them with an inaccurate and stereotypical portrayal of the French language.

Another reason that resistance to borrowings is a bit unreasonable is that certain words in English are actually borrowings from old French, which then have later been re-borrowed back into French in the newer Anglicized form. Toast in English comes from old French toster, whereas modern French stopped using toster in favor of pain grillé, but has also borrowed toast from modern English. So is le toast really an Anglicism if it was originally French?

Are you French or English, Mr. Toast?

When it comes to Anglicisms, many people like to point out that Quebecois French has more English borrowings than French in France (which isn’t true) to justify their prejudiced view that Quebecois French isn’t “real” French. That’s just as ridiculous as saying American English isn’t real English or Mexican Spanish isn’t real Spanish simply because it is not spoken in the “mother country” where the language originated. I do not understand the colonialistic attitudes about language use, just as I do not understand why some people make a connection between the older form of a language and a supposed superiority of the variety that is closest to the old form. A dialect that is more conservative with change is somehow more desirable than the others, yet many people believe that the mother country dialect is also the most conservative which is not true. Quebecois French contains many aspects of Old French that speakers in France no longer use, which some wrongly assume are Anglicisms when in fact they are Old French.

In Quebecois, Belgian and Swiss French the three meals of the day are le déjeuner, le dîner, and le souper whereas most areas of France nowadays use le petit déjeuner, le déjeuner and le dîner.* Quebec French did not borrow le souper from English supper; English borrowed it from Old French soper which turned into souper in modern French. In France, le souper is another meal even later than dinner and is usually associated with rural areas or an older generation. The words dinner and supper in English have also changed meaning somewhat over time. In my dialect of English, dinner and supper are synonyms for the evening meal, but in other forms of English, dinner is the midday meal (instead of lunch) and supper is the evening meal (instead of dinner) so the older French, current Quebec and English meals were parallels at one time: déjeuner = breakfast (dé + jeûne: undo or break fast), dîner = dinner and souper = supper. has a thread on the names of the meals where native speakers contribute what they say in their region. Looking at posts #2 and #6, you can see how far the idea of bon usage and correct French (i.e. what l’Académie says is correct) has spread. I quote from the forum:

De manière correcte et quelles que soient les régions de France :
on déjeune à midi
on dîne ou on soupe le soir (plus utilisé en milieu rural)

and the post that made me nearly cry, which refers to the above post:

Tout-à-fait d’accord. Mais chez nous (sud-est), on continue à parler de “dîner” à midi. Chez moi, quand j’étais petite, on se simplifiait encore plus la vie : dîner, midi et soir . Le “déjeuner” c’était le petit déj’. Quand je suis sortie dans le monde, j’ai été très étonnée qu’on l’appelle “petit” !

Maintenant, grâce aux médias, la langue s’uniformise et on respecte de plus en plus le bon usage français.

I wonder if the millions of people in France who don’t use déjeuner and dîner in the same manner as the first poster know that they do not speak “correct” French. As for the second poster, I feel sorry that she thinks that her native dialect is not correct while at the same time praising the effects of standardization, which lead to her dialect being considered incorrect in the first place.

These are issues of geographic variation, but using one word instead of the other is not incorrect. Compare the use of pop vs. soda vs. coke in the US. I’m from Michigan so I say pop, but I don’t consider the use of soda or coke to be wrong or incorrect. They are simply different ways of saying the same thing depending on where you are from or where you are currently located. All dialects of a language should be seen as equals but the standardized form used in most writing, and which is generally based on the upper classes, is often considered the only correct variety. There is a place for the standardized form, especially for communication purposes and even teaching students how to produce language, but the other varieties are also just as valid as human languages and should not be reduced to incorrect deviations of the prestige form.

* Even more confusing is the spoken/informal use of déjeuner to mean “to eat breakfast” even in areas where the three meals are le petit déjeuner, le déjeuner and le dîner!

Say it in French Phrasebook and Swedish Listening Resources Now Available

By   October 1, 2011

My Say it in French phrasebook (Dover Publications) is now available through for $5.95!

I have recently updated the Listening Resources podcast to include Swedish mp3s. Transcripts, English translations, and an RSS feed are also available. Check out the Swedish Listening Resources page for the first eight mp3s. (The mp3 player is not Flash-based so you can listen to them on iPhones/iPods/iPads too.)

I plan on adding more languages and dialects so let me know if you’d like to contribute!

Most Studied Languages in Europe, Australia and the US

By   September 27, 2011

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the European Day of Languages and Eurostat has provided statistics about the most studied languages in the 27 member states of the European Union plus Iceland, Norway, Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey (though stats for Portugal are missing).

“In the EU27 in 2009, 82% of pupils at primary and lower secondary level and 95% of those in upper secondary level general programmes were studying English as a foreign language. The second most commonly studied foreign language at primary and lower secondary level was French (16% of pupils), followed by German (9%) and Spanish (6%), while at upper secondary level it was German (27%), followed by French (26%) and Spanish (19%).”

Take a look at the table in the PDF file. I was a bit surprised to see Spanish as the 2nd most studied language in Norway and Sweden, as well as Danish in Iceland, but the rest weren’t all that surprising (Russian in the Baltics and Bulgaria, German in Eastern Europe, French in Romania, etc.)

I’ve already posted about enrollment data for Australia, where Japanese and Italian take the lead (though Indonesian and French practically tie for third place). The ACTFL has a recent report for American public schools where Spanish, French and German are still the main three languages. The MLA has the same information available for universities and colleges, where Spanish, French and German are still the top three as well even with the large increase in Arabic and Chinese enrollments. American Sign Language and Italian are nearly tied for 4th place.

New French-Language Films: Omar m’a tuer and French Immersion

By   September 16, 2011

Even though I am living in an Anglophone country again, I still find ways to immerse myself in languages. Besides e-mail and Skype to keep in contact with friends, I am still using French quite a bit since my PhD research is on the teaching of variation in French. I’ve also been able to find other French-speaking expats in my area as well as find out about French Club activities through the local universities. I’ve subscribed to Quickflix for foreign DVD rentals (no streaming yet in Australia like with Netflix in the States), and SBS’s On Demand feature is quite handy for streaming foreign films that were recently broadcast. SBS is a free TV & radio channel so I don’t actually have to spend money to listen to languages even when I’m not connected to the internet.

One thing I do miss about living in a Francophone country are newly-released French-language films. If you remember the Omar m’a tuer case that I posted about earlier this year, the film about it was released in France this June.

Another film that I would love to see is French Immersion, by the creators of Bon Cop, Bad Cop. This is a Canadian film though, so it probably won’t even be released in France.

Any other new (i.e. not yet on DVD) French-language films that I’m missing out on?

Pronunciator: Free Vocabulary & Phrases in 60 Languages

By   September 3, 2011

Time flies when you’re having fun! It’s been nearly two weeks since I last posted and my only excuse is that I love working on my PhD so much that I spend all my time with my books and articles instead of my computer. I’m barely keeping up with updating the site and responding to e-mails, but I did receive a very nice e-mail yesterday that I wanted to share.

My review of some language learning websites that I posted 18 months ago in which I said “I just wanted to learn some vocabulary (and how to pronounce the words) online since my main focus on learning languages in the beginning stages is to simply understand what people are saying, and to be able to say a few phrases to get around while traveling. I don’t worry so much about forming grammatically correct sentences or having long conversations just yet.” inspired Robert to create a company and website to do just that.

Pronunciator launched on September 1st and it contains basic vocabulary, verbs, phrases, and conversation in 60 languages. There are 421 units of multiple lessons and 3 million pages for you to explore, all completely free. (Not all of the content is up yet, but it’s coming.) In addition to the audio flashcards, there are listening and reading exercises plus playback and vocal recognition modes where you can compare your pronunciation to the native speaker. Check out the site and thank Robert for putting so much work into it and helping others to learn languages for free!

Multicultural and Multilingual Australia

By   August 22, 2011

One of the many reasons why I love Australia: an official Multicultural Policy

Multicultural and Multilingual Australia

From the government’s Multicultural Policy released in February of this year:

“Australia is a multicultural nation. In all, since 1945, seven million people have migrated to Australia. Today, one in four of Australia’s 22 million people were born overseas, 44 per cent were born overseas or have a parent who was and four million speak a language other than English. We speak over 260 languages and identify with more than 270 ancestries. Australia is and will remain a multicultural society.”

Multiculturalism in Australia produced the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), which offers television and radio programs in 68 languages. Luckily they have a free to air channel (as well as an FM channel) so I don’t have to pay extra to watch France 2 news every morning. They also have several podcasts available through iTunes (which is how I discovered them while still living in France.)

Australia is also the most multilingual of the English-speaking countries, and was the first to create a multilingual language policy. The most commonly spoken foreign languages are Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Arabic, Mandarin and Vietnamese. Most bilinguals or multilinguals in Australia are either Aborigines or immigrants who speak English as a second language. The majority of native English speakers do not speak another language, similar to the situation in the US and UK.

Though some states and territories do require the study of a foreign language at primary/secondary level, by the final years of secondary school, only about 10% continue their studies (Years 6-8 have the highest percentage of students). The main languages studied are (followed by enrollment figures for 2006):

1. Japanese 332,943
2. Italian 322,023
3. Indonesian 209,939
4. French 207,235
5. German 126,920
6. Chinese (Mandarin) 81,358
7. Arabic 25,449
8. Spanish 20,518
9. Greek 18,584
10. Vietnamese 11,014
11. Other 45,567

The situation at the tertiary level is a bit sad. Unlike the US, no Australian university requires the study of a foreign language and many language departments have been incorporated into schools of other disciplines. For example, my particular school is called Communication, International Studies and Languages. Only 10% of first-year university students are taking a foreign language, and less than a quarter continue language studies through the third and final year of a Bachelor’s degree. Thirty-one languages are taught at universities, though 12 are taught in only one jurisdiction while 8 are taught in all states (Chinese, French, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin and Spanish).

For more information on languages in Australian schools, download the PDF of Second Languages and Australian Schooling from the Australian Council for Educational Research.

Multiculturalism Links:

Multicultural Australia (government site)

Australian Multicultural Foundation

Making Multicultural Australia

Free Two Week French Course + Accommodation in Brussels, Belgium: Giveaway from Easy Languages

By   August 15, 2011

Easy Languages is currently offering their first giveaway: two weeks of French courses in Brussels, Belgium, including accommodation in a residence, valued at €795.00 or approximately $1,100.00 (USD) / £700.00 (GBP). This prize does not include airfare or any ground transportation.

If you are a US or UK resident over the age of 18 who wants to learn French for free in the capital of the European Union, simply leave a comment on their Language Traveler blog post by 11:59pm EST, Monday August 29, 2011.

One winner will be chosen randomly on September 2, 2011, and announced via their Facebook and Twitter.

Good luck! Bonne chance !

Grand Place / Grote Markt

The Atomium

Manneken Pis

Take a day trip to Bruges / Brugge

View more photos of Belgium at the Gallery.

No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win giveaways. A purchase won’t improve an individual’s chance of winning. Please be sure to read eligibility and official rules.

Comparative Grammar of French, Italian, Spanish & Portuguese Available as PDF

By   June 22, 2011

I have finally finished scanning the 1868 book Comparative Grammar of French, Italian, Spanish & Portuguese Languages by Edwin A. Notley that I first mentioned in April. It is 412 pages total and available to download in PDF format.

The original 19 x 13 cm book is set up with two columns on the left page for French and Italian and two columns on the right page for Spanish and Portuguese. If you want to print a section, I would advise experimenting with multiple page or booklet printing first. I tried to clean up the pages the best that I could considering the age of the book, and some of the pages are not as straight as I would like them to be, but I wanted to share this book sooner rather than later.

You can download the file from one of the following links. The file size is about 69.1 MB, so please be patient.


UPDATE: @MmeCaspari has uploaded the PDF to FlipSnack if you’d like to flip through the book online before downloading. (Also works on iPad/iPhone/iPod.)


Disclaimer: This book is in the public domain in the US since it was published before 1922. Please check your country’s copyright laws before downloading if you are not in the US.

The French Language of the Pays de Savoie

By   June 15, 2011

The area where I live in France is called Savoy and it used to be a part of the Italian Kingdom of Sardinia. In 1860 it was annexed to France and split into two départements: Savoie and Haute-Savoie. Together they are known as the Pays de Savoie in French and they make up 2 of the 8 départements of the Rhône-Alpes region.

Chambéry is the capital of Savoie, which also includes Albertville, the site of the 1992 Winter Olympics. Annecy is the capital of Haute-Savoie, which includes Chamonix and Evian-les-Bains. I have spent nearly 5 years here even though I do not like mountains (I prefer flat land, lakes and forests – I’m from Michigan!) but I do like the close proximity to Switzerland and Italy, as well as Lyon.

I will be leaving France in less than three weeks and I realized that I had never posted about the variation of French spoken in this area. Here are a few features of the Savoie dialect of French, which shares some similarities with Swiss French. If you ever travel to/study in Savoie, you might hear:

Il faut y faire instead of Il faut le faire – y often replaces the direct object pronouns le, la, and les

ou bien is a common saying at the end of a sentence, similar to hein which is like a tag question in English, though used much more often in French

la panosse is used for mop instead of la serpillière

Since this is the French Alps, many other expressions are related to snow and cheese:

Most people already know about Tartiflette, the potato and cheese baked dish made with Reblochon. However, another cheese is very popular, Tomme, which has produced a pejorative expression for an apathetic woman: une grosse Tomme

la trafole and the adjective trafolée refer to fresh snow that already has ski tracks in it

terrainer means that the snow is melting and the ground is showing: Ça terraine.

For more vocabulary, check out the website (entirely in French) Termes régionaux de Suisse romande et de Savoie

In addition, the local minority language, which extends beyond Savoie to Neuchâtel, Mâcon and Grenoble, is called Arpitan and its official website is

Top 100 Language Lovers Blogs: Voting Starts Today at Lexiophiles

By   May 17, 2011

Lexiophiles’ Language Lovers 2011 competition is now open for voting. This year the four categories are:

– Language Learning Blogs

– Language Professionals Blogs

– Language Facebook Pages

– Language Twitterers

Since I won 3rd place overall last year (in the Top 100 Language Blogs) and 2nd place in the Top 100 Language Learning Blogs, my blog was automatically nominated again for this year’s competition. If you’d like to vote for me, click here and choose Jennie in France. Thank you!

Voting ends May 29th at 11:59 PM (French/German time) or 5:59 PM EST.

Sorry the blog/site hasn’t been updated much lately. I’ve been a little overwhelmed with the funeral, finishing my translation work before my upcoming annual trip, and the big move to Australia in a few months.