Mevrouw T and I will be back in la belle France fairly soon. It’s high time I did something to improve my shamefully inadequate high school French.
Year after year I’ve been promising to do this; this year, I’m getting serious. But I’m finding brushing up my French isn’t all plain sailing. Apparently they’ve invented a lot of new words since last I struggled through Balzac and Flaubert at uni.
Many years ago, in Melbourne, Australie, our high school professeur Monsieur Provan opened each class with ‘Bonjour, mes eleves’ (‘Good morning my elves?’) and bid us open our Cours Pratique a la page…. I almost enjoyed it. I tried to be one of the better students and my final exam marks were encouraging enough for me to take French as a first year uni subject.
I emerged from this study with a respectable ‘PASS’, able to make reasonable sense of a classic novel, knowing the future perfect and subjunctive and how to conjugate some irregular verbs. Unfortunately I still couldn’t actually speak French confidently enough to order un café in Paris.
‘They love it when you make an effort in their language,’ I’d been told. Not in my experience, they don’t. French waiters couldn’t wait to humiliate me by suggesting I speak English so (1) they could understand me and (2) they could show off their own linguistic superiority.
My natural shyness would have me stuttering to a red-faced stop and pointing to a croissant instead.
This year, things will be different. I’ve downloaded some Teach Yourself Francais courses (Yes, I know that ‘c’ in the middle of Francais should have a cedilla but je ne sais pas how to add such things on my keyboard.) Online I can study and practice anonymously, in my own time. The programs congratulate me when I get things right and musical down notes on the computer signify erreurs.
The Babbel course is trying to be hip and up-to-date. Apparently the French don’t eat in a restaurant in the après-midi any more, they go to a ‘resto’ in the ‘aprem’. Babbel teaches us words like ‘nana’ (‘chick’) and ‘mec’ (‘guy’) as well as telling us that ‘so outmoded’ in French is now ‘si has been’.
The course also prepares me for the prevalence of ‘verlan’ these days – a sort of cool slang in which words are inverted. ‘L’invers’ (‘the inversion’) is phonetically switched to make ‘verlan’. Just when I had ‘merci’ mastered, it becomes ‘cimer’ to members of the hip set. ‘Totally crazy’ (‘completement fou’ as I learned it years ago) is now ‘completement ouf’ to anyone under fifty.
Despite the Academie Francaise’s efforts to hold back the tide, English words are flooding into modern French. ‘C’est cool fun’, and ‘faire le shopping pour un t-shirt cet week-end’ for instance. That should make it easy for me to ‘draguer une nana’ or ‘hit on a chick’ while wearing my ‘baskets’ (‘basketball sneakers’) at a ‘teuf’ (‘Fete’ or party.) I can’t wait to get there and start showing off my new proficiency!