#34 My frustration with post-B1 level French

Featured picture is a view of the Italian quartier and the Bastille Fort across the Isère river in Grenoble. Picture taken from inside the Grenoble Museum.

You may have heard that the French language is very similar to the English language. It’s true, I think it takes around 500 hours for an English speaker to reach an acceptable level of fluency in French, compared to 2000 hours to attain competency in Japanese. And I certainly made more rapid progress than my Chinese peers who don’t speak English back in French class.

For example:
English: Comprehension, energy, conquest, numerous
French: Compréhension, énergie, conquête, nombreux

See, easy! C’est totalement identique! (It’s totally identical!)

And if you were a Chinese speaker (with limited English ability), it would be:
English: Comprehension, energy, conquest, numerous
Chinese: 理解,活力,征服,許多

So that explains the extra 1500 hours lol.

But it would be the other way round if you were a Chinese speaker trying to learn Japanese. Because:
Chinese: 理解,活力,征服,許多
Japanese: 理解、活力、征服、多種

But a language is not just words. You need to learn grammar and understand the sentence structures and flows and all that shit and these are the things that take up the most time. Let’s return to my topic, i.e., how frustrated and betrayed I felt by the French language once I advanced into intermediate level, which is where I am at currently (but I should be in advanced level on paper, because I’m doing a Master’s course in French, lol. #phoney #sorrynotsorry)

When you first start learning French, you practise sentences like:

What is your name?
Quel est votre nom? / Quel est ton nom? / Comment tu t’appelles? (more common)

I eat an omelette.
Je mange une omelette.

Look at the pretty girl!
Regarde la jolie fille!

I start work at nine.
Je commence à travailler à neuf heures.  

And the French sentence structure appears to resemble the English structure a whole lot!:

What  |    is     |   your   |  name?
Quel    |  est    |  votre   |  nom? 

I    |   eat        |    an     |   omelette.
Je  |  mange  |   une   |    omelette.

Look at  |  the   |   pretty  |    girl!
Regarde  |   la    |     jolie   |      fille!

I      start               |        work          |        at nine o’clock.
Je commence à   |       travailler   |      à neuf heures.  

Hoorah!! But who speaks in present tense all the time right? Let’s see how past tense works in French:

J’ai bu un verre du vin. 
I drank a glass of wine.

L’oiseau a survolé la rivière.
The bird flew over the river.

Let’s break it down to the literal meaning of each French word in the sentence:

J’     |   ai          |     bu       |   un   |  verre     |du    |  vin. 
I      |  have     |   drunk  |    a     |  glass     | of    |  wine

L’    |     oiseau  |    a        |    survolé        |   la      |   rivière.
The |     bird       |    has    |   flown over   |   the    |    river.

Still not so bad. Now, let’s spice things up with negation.

Je n’ai pas fait mes devoirs.
I did not do my homework.

Elle n’a pas compris pourquoi il était en colère. 
She did not understand why he was angry.

Literally in English,

Je       |    n’             |   ai       |      pas          |   fait   |    mes   |    devoirs.
I         |   negation |  have  |  negation    |   did   |   my     |     homework.

Elle    |       n         |    ‘a        |     pas        |   compris          |   pourquoi |    il  |    était |   en | colère. 
She  |   negation |    has   |  negation  |    understood    |       why     |   he   |  was  |   in   | anger.

Now let’s add one pronoun. To make things less complicated, let’s go back to present tense, non-negation sentences.

Il l’invite à la soirée. 
He invites her to the party.

Il     |   l’     |   invite     |    à  |    la      |     soirée. 
He  |  her   |   invites   |  to  |    the    |     party.

Now it gets more confusing. What about having two pronouns and changing it to past tense?

Je te l’ai donné.
I gave it to you.

Je    |    te   |  l’  |    ai        |    donné.
I      |  you  |   it  |   have  |   given.

What about trying some negative, past tense sentences with pronouns now?

Tu ne me l’as pas dit.
You didn’t tell me that.

Tu      |        ne               |     me    |       l’     |    as            |           pas            |    dit.
YOU   |   NEGATION   |   ME     |   IT        |  HAVE       |    NEGATION  |    TELL.

So basically, when coming up with a French sentence, in my mind I gotta be like ” YOU NO ME IT HAVE NO TELL” when I mean “You didn’t tell me that.”

Let’s compare that with other languages:

Tu ne me l’as pas dit.
You didn’t tell me that.
你沒跟我說那件事。(Mandarin)
你冇同我講嗰樣嘢。(Cantonese)

あなたはそれを私に言っていなかったよ。(Japanese)
Kamu tak beritahu saya tentang ia. (Malay)

Tu      |        ne               |     me    |       l’     |    as            |           pas            |    dit.
YOU   |   NEGATION   |   ME     |   IT        |  HAVE       |    NEGATION  |    TELL.

Mandarin:
你       |    沒   |    跟      |  我        |  說    |   那        |      件事。 |
You  | no       | with    |   me    |  say  |   that    |    thing    |

 

Cantonese:
你       |    冇   |    同      |  我      |  講    |   嗰樣      |      嘢。 |

You     | no     | with  |   me    |  say  |   that    |    thing    |

Japanese:
あなたは  |    それを   |     私に    |     言っていなかったよ。|
You          |   it             |     me      |   didn’t say        |

Malay:
Kamu |   tak  |    beritahu   | saya    |    tentang     |  ia.  |

You     | no     |    tell             |   me    |     about         |  it   |

To sum it up:

For an English sentence “You didn’t tell me that”
French: You no me it have no told.
Mandarin: You no with me say that thing.
Cantonese: You no with me say that thing.
Japanese: You it me didn’t say.
Malay: You no tell me about it.

Surprise! The structure of the Malay sentence is the closest or at least most instinctively understandable order of words compared to English. Second place actually goes to Mandarin/Chinese, followed by Japanese, THEN only French! Don’t even get me started on the conjugations…

This proves my argument, when it comes to sentences with a combination of pronouns, tenses, and negation, French sentences are nothing like English. But I have to say, I get it though, somewhere deep in my brain I understand why the Latins decided to make their sentence order like this. In fact, the more I learn French, the more I feel that it’s actually quite an efficient language.

And the best thing about it is that it’s so different from Japanese, my other foreign language, in terms of precision. In Japanese I could be vague and beat around the bush yet have decent conversations in Japanese but in French you really got to find the most accurate word to describe what you’re saying what you’re saying to avoid a misunderstanding. I think that over time, when I continue to improve my French, it’s even possible that I will even enhance my critical thinking and assertiveness. And as a plus side, I’m also on my way to increasing my vocabulary in English because I’m coming across a lot of French words which have English translations that I’ve never even used or heard of, like “redact”, “injonction”, “attestations”, etc. etc. and these French people throw words like these around in daily conversations.

I always don’t know how to end my blog posts lol but I guess I’ll just say this, learning languages is wonderful! Till next time!

 

 

 

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