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Archive for the 'Tips & Techniques' Category

Top 5 Most Common French Phrases

Phrase One: Ça va? Ça va. (’How are you? I’m fine.’)

After greeting and saying hello to someone, you will need to ask how she or he is. It’s a matter of politeness.

The Question and Statement With ça and va:

While in France you’ll often hear these two sounds [sa-va], which are part of the phrase Ça va ?, meaning “How are you?”

Be aware though, these two tiny words can be either a question or a statement.

To differentiate between the two, you need to listen to the speaker’s intonation. When the intonation rises, it will be a question: Ça va ? (’How are you?̵ ;) When the intonation is slightly falling or constant, it will be a statement: ça va (’I'm fine’).

Phrase Two: S’il vous plaît. (’Please̵ ;)

This phrase is a must for anyone who has de la galanterie (’some courtesy’).

The original meaning of S’il vous plaît was not only to be polite but also to ask whomever you are speaking to whether he or she would be pleased to do a favor for you, such as answering a question or passing the salt at the table.

Formal “please”: S’íl vous plaît

You’ve guessed it: we use s’il vous plaît [see-voo-play] in French in formal situations or with people you are addressing using vous (the formal ‘you’). It simply means “please” in English.

Informal “please”: S’íl te plaît

If you’d like to say “please” with close friends, colleagues, in a relaxed context, or in short with people you talk to by using the informal personal pronoun tu, use s’íl te plaît [seel-tuh-play].

Exercise your way through French pronunciation!

You are learning French, but aside from grammar and vocabulary, you feel challenged by the pronunciation. what is the key to making all those uniquely French sounds?

There are different categories of French sounds, and these the most unique ones to the language, and therefore, challenging. They are the following:

Voyelles orales
(”oral vowels̶ ;)

  • Voyelles antérieures (”front vowels̶ ;)

You produce them by placing your tongue to the front of your mouth, as in the English word “feet” and “stylo” (pen) in French.

  • Voyelles centrales (”central vowels̶ ;) place the tongue in the middle of your mouth, as in “pure” and “lune”(moon) in French.
  • Voyelles postérieures (”back vowels̶ ;)

place your tongue in the back of your mouth, as in “tourist” and “goûter“(”to taste̶ ;) in French.

Voyelles nasales
(”nasal vowels̶ ;)
To make this sound, use the air passage through the nose and lower the soft palate while the air goes through the mouth; like in the French word “parfum” (perfume).

The Vibrante (”Vibrant̶ ;) “R”
This French sound is usually challenging. It is used for the letter “r” as in the French word “roue”(wheel), or butter in English. Remember that for this sound, To pronounce the letter -r in French, try to reproduce the sound of an angry growling dog. harden the rolling -gr sound to reproduce a nice French sound!
As you keep trying out, you will be discovering muscles you never knew you had! While learning French, you’re discovering your own anatomy!

Painless French Grammar!

Just as an engine helps a car move, mastering basic grammar helps you express yourself and communicate your ideas clearly. The more you know about the engine parts, the more you can improve your engine’s capacity. Similarly, the more youknow grammar, the better your French will be!

French grammar has the reputation of being boring and complicated, but it’s not so terrible. The main difficulties are the word genders and the conjugation system (shared by All romance languages). It is just a matter of remembering some basic rules that will reduce your chances of making the most common French grammar mistakes. The most common one is gender.

In French, all nouns have a gender, either masculine or feminine.
Here is a basic chart with noun endings for feminine and masculine nouns, but remember there are always exceptions!

Masculine Feminine
-age
-al
-ier
-isme
-ment
-oir
-ance, -ence
-ée
-eur
-ie
-ion, -sion, -tion,
-xion

-té
-ure

Noun genders, though a difficult concept, is unavoidable to learn! Getting the gender of a word wrong can lead to confusion or worse; completely give a different meaning to your sentence. Keep in mind that it is just a matter of learning and perseverance. Like a car engine, learn the parts and how to use them for a smooth side!

The French Writing System

You have been studying French for quite some time now…and you are doing such a fabulous job! However, if you are seated at the fancy French restaurant you have always wanted to try, and the waiter hands you a menu - completely in French - it could be quite confusing!

The French alphabet is pretty peculiar and a bit different from the English writing system. It includes some unfamiliar markings you may not recognize:

1) Diacritics, or accent marks that help denote the characteric French pronunciation and intonation of words. They include:

  • The acute accent (l’accent aigu)             ‹´›
  • The grave accent (l’accent grave)          ‹`›
  • The cedilla (la cédille)                               ‹¸›
  • The circumflex (l’accent circonflexe)     ‹ˆ›
  • The diaeresis (le tréma)                           ‹¨›

2) Ligatures (æ and œ), which are obligatory contractions of ae and oe in certain French words (as in sœur, meaning “sister̶ ;)

Now, you may ask yourself why the need for these markings ?

It was actually  during the 16th century that accents began to appear. With the invention of the printing press, printers looked for ways to eliminate ambiguity and redundant letters. The solution to these problems was the use of accents and other markings. For example,before the cedilla was introduced, the soft “c” was printed as -ce-, -ss-, -ch- or just -c-.

So, the point of these accents is to clarify pronunciation and reading. Although at first it may seem confusing, the French writing system is like a map, so if you think about it this way and understand these ‘directions’, you will keep on your journey through French learning without missing a turn!

What Would We Do Without Vowels in French? Part 2

Quick recap from last week:

What would we do without French vowel sounds?  Well, the obvious answer is that we’d say a lot of consonants!  We’d end up sounding like a lot of other Eastern European languages rather than the mellifluous French language.This lesson takes a look at the nineteen vowel sounds in detail with some examples and practice exercises.  French vowel sounds are divided into three groups; Voyelles orales (”oral vowels”), Voyelles nasales (”nasal vowels”), Semi-voyelles (”half vowels”).  Part 2 of this lesson summary will focus on the last two groups of French vowels; Voyelles nasales (”nasal vowels”), Semi-voyelles (”half vowels”).

  • Voyelles nasales (”nasal vowels”):These vowels are specific to French as the passage of the air goes mainly through the nose. For foreign ears, they may seem very strange at first, as the air vibrates mainly through the nose and produces a twangy sound.
    • Practice Exercise:Listen to the audio for the words pin, pan, and pont in the vocabulary section and repeat them several times.
  • Semi-voyelles (”half vowels”):Semi-voyelles are also called semi-consonnes (”half consonants”). They are unique sounds between vowels and consonants that occur when two vowels follow each other in one syllable of a word, such as in balayer, meaning “to sweep” (example of the phonetic sound symbol [J]). Another example is the pronunciation of the letters -oi, which are pronounced in English [woa], as in the French word poisson (”fish”).
    • Practice Exercise: Repeat and practice all the half vowels in this sentence; Le soleil luit pour Louis en juin.(The sun shines for Louis in June.) Can you recognize the three half-vowel sounds in this sentence?

What Would We Do Without Vowels in French? Part 1

What would we do without French vowel sounds?  Well, the obvious answer is that we’d say a lot of consonants!  We’d end up sounding like a lot of other Eastern European languages rather than the mellifluous French language.  This lesson takes a look at the nineteen vowel sounds in detail with some examples and practice exercises. French vowel sounds are divided into three groups; Voyelles orales (”oral vowels”), Voyelles nasales (”nasal vowels”), Semi-voyelles (”half vowels”).  Part 1 of this lesson summary will focus on the first group mentioned, voelles orales, and its subgroups.

Voyelles orales
(”oral vowels̶ ;) are vowels we pronounce by air going through the mouth area and where the tongue, uvula, and lips will have a certain position. There are twelve oral vowels, which we classify in three categories according to their pronunciation.

  • Voyelles antérieures (”front vowels”): Voyelles antérieures are characterized by the placement of the tongue toward the front of the mouth. For example, try to pronounce the letter as in prey, producing an anterior vowel, and the letter -o as in orange, producing a posterior vowel. Notice the placement of your tongue in your mouth.
    • Practice Exercise:  Pronounce these pairs and tell whether their sounds are identical or not; (met [may]/mais [meh]) (lait [lay]/ les [leh]) (trait [tray]/ très [tray])
  • Voyelles centrales (”central vowels”):To pronounce properly the voyelles centrales, place your tongue in the middle area of your mouth. These sounds are very similar to the ear and may be difficult to distinguish, even for a native speaker of French. Their main difference while pronouncing them is the opening gap of the mouth, creating a more or less open sound.
    • Practice Exercise: Practice the pronunciation of the following vowels;(refaire [r-uh-fer] / zèbre [zaybr] / crier [kri-ay])(clair [kler] / petit [puh-ti] / écoute [eh-ku-t]) (peine [pe-n] / debout [duh-bu] / liez [li-eh])
  • Voyelles postérieures (”back vowels”): To produce this type of sound, place your tongue in the back of your mouth. In other words, position the larger part of your tongue (the back part) toward the back of the mouth cavity.

Practice Exercise: Repeat these words several times: riz, pâte, rat.  What happens?

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year From FrenchPod101.com!

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And when the New Year comes around, be sure to make a resolution to study French with FrenchPod101.com!

Have a healthy and happy holiday season.

From Celine, Sam, Angele and the whole FrenchPod101.com Team!