#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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#30 My first 3 weeks at a French university

I started my Master’s course 3 weeks ago here in Grenoble. The first two weeks were pretty intense because 1. I’ve basically been bumming for the past three months with no serious commitments and 2. Apparently in France, they like to make the first weeks of uni relatively busy to prevent students from slacking.

Also I started with a weird system, the first two weeks were fully assigned to Graphisme (or graphics / drawing) and I handed in my dossier (a folder with about 8 types of drawing assignments) at the end of the 2 weeks. After that, I was done with this subject and didn’t have to come back to Graphisme again. It’s a bit strange to me because in Waseda, we had 1.5 hours or 3 hours of class every week for each subject from the start till the end of that semester, which I thought was the norm for most universities, but I guess not.

THE CLASSMATES:

  • French girls are all skinny. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so I don’t wanna say they are all pretty objectively but to me holy shit most of them were all so above average. Lol check out my PC-ness. And yeah, no comment about the guys because we’re, I wanna say, 75% girls? And obachans like me no longer check out guys.
  • Speaking of the male:female ratio, many of my professors are women, too so that’s pretty refreshing to see. ALTHOUGH, all of them are white (and my class of 48 people are 80% white anyway). Well, when in Rome, Grenoble.
  • The same girl power is evident in the ratio of smokers. I wanna say at least 20% of the students smoke here. It’s their prerogative I guess, but sometimes it’s annoying to have to walk past a group of smokers just to get into my school building.

THE TEACHERS:

  • “Teachers” dress really casually. My photoshop professor was in shorts and a see through top, and another male professor was in a polo, shorts, and sneakers. Reminds me of my time teaching English in a Japanese primary school when I wore a slightly see through top with a camisole inside and comparatively short skirt and the headmaster told me to dress more decently in case I made the 11-12 year old kids “excited” -.- Apparently girls in high school in Japan MUST wear camisoles in case their bra straps / hooks are visible and “distracts” the male students. EYE ROLL

THE CULTURAL DIFFERENCES:

  • French classmates at AUTOCAD class were wondering why the decimal point on the software uses a PERIOD ( . ) instead of a comma ( , ) because they don’t realise it’s a universal thing. I.e. in France they write 99.9 as 99,9. And then I stumbled upon the list of countries using decimal commas instead of decimal points and I got a slap in my face because apparently more countries in the world use the decimal comma. But with China, India, and the USA on our side I can confidently say there’s more PEOPLE in the world who are more used to the decimal point.
  • Naked people in my professor’s slides. Naked people in the magazines we had to use to do our collage assignment. It’s not exactly a SUPER culture shock for me like すごい!!! (sugoi!!! or OMG awesome!!! ) but more like やっぱり (yappari, or “as expected, the French really do live up to their stereotypes”). Digression: This reminds me of my trip to Musee d’Orsay in Paris where I saw an explosive X-rated painting. It’s a realist painting by Gustave Courbet and totally NSFW so I’ve saved it for the very very bottom of this blog post. Check it out only when you’re sure no one can see your phone screen. After looking at the painting from up close and cheekily snapping a picture at the museum, I had to leave because I was joined by a Japanese old man who stood next to me and it quickly made me nervous.
  • It’s so weird to do the bise, or cheek-kisses every morning every day when you see friends for the first time. And it’s even weirder to do it with my ASIAN FRIENDS here. LIKE WTH HOW PHONY ARE WE?? STOP IT. (does it anyway, because I’m weak like that and when in Rome)

THE SUBJECT:

I’m still super super excited about being able to study urban planning again. Since last week we have been having lectures (2 frigging hours) and the workshops / practicals will finally kickoff next week. We’re going up north to Annemasse, a city right next to Geneva on the Swiss border for a field trip to the city hall!!! AND it’s going to be in ENGLISH!!! HALLELUJAH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

img_1357

L’origine du monde (“The Origin of the World”) by Gustave Courbet, 1866. Apparently when it was first revealed at a salon back in the day, they had to hide it behind a curtain and only sleazy rich men privy people were able to look at the painting.

 

 

#25 Peculiar and Multifunction French Words

*Featured Image Source

5.5 months in, and with my recent, dare I say, excellent results of the DELF B1 exam, I can safely say I’m starting to get the hang of the French language. I’ve also noticed some peculiar things about this language (as with any other language when you first get familiar with it) in comparison with the languages I already know, mainly English. Some of these discoveries are funny, some are confusing, and some are downright enlightening and immediately gives you a new perspective in life once you’ve grasped the meaning and context of it. The last is how learning a new language can, as cliche as it may sound, “broadens your horizons.”

①The word “baguette” means a myriad of things.

One time, I was talking to le bf and his mum about his sister’s stay in Japan and the following conversation  (in French) happened:

***

La maman: Yeah, when Camy was in Japan, she used to eat all her meals with baguette on the side.

Me: (Oh wow, I didn’t know Camy was so particular about eating with a side of bread all the time. Also, that must’ve been kinda disrespectful to the family, no?) Oh really? Wow, that must be really expensive

La maman: *Confused*

Me: *Confused*

La maman: *Disregards what I said* Even when she came home, she would also try to eat meals at home with baguette. It’s so funny, I mean it’s not that easy to eat for example a quiche with baguette.

Me: (Yeah, not that easy because that’s carbs on carbs, I guess?)

Le bf: Yeah, there’s a Thai food truck at work and when I order a rice dish, they would give me baguettes. But it’s always hard to eat Thai rice with baguette because the Thai rice isn’t like Japanese rice, it’s less sticky and not at all easy to pick up with a baguette. But in Japan it’s so easy because the rice is sticky and everybody eats rice on top of a piece of baguette.

Me: No, they don’t.

Le bf: … yes, they do?

Me: *Narrows my eyes interrogatively* Who?

Le bf: *Confused face* …Err… Everyone?

Me: *Confused*

Me: OHHHHHHHHH

***

THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT CHOPSTICKS. Because although the most well-known connotation of the word “baguette” is of course the long, narrow French loaf but the same word is used to refer to chopsticks and even a magic wand.

IMG_1677

②The French don’t have an equivalent for “I’m full.” Instead, they say “I’m not hungry anymore.”

Maybe that’s why they’re all so skinny!!! Holy shit paradigm shift.

Actually, French people are skinny because of a lot of other reasons, like always eating fresh and local food, long and hearty meals with no snacking in between, walking everywhere, etc. But you know, maybe because the concept of “I’m not hungry anymore” has instilled in them a way to judge the right amount of food they should eat. After “I’m not hungry anymore (Je n’ai plus faim)” the next on the scale of fullness would jump straight to “I ate too much (J’ai trop manger)” and “I’m going to explode! (Je vais éclater!”)

Reminds me of a saying in Japanese: 腹八分目に医者いらず (hara hachibunme ni isha shirazu) which means “Moderate eating keeps the doctor away.” Maybe this explains the Japanese’s skinniness, too! But coming from a person who used to regularly binge on cookies and kashipan till she got sick in her apartment in Tokyo, yeah, I can assert that having that in my vocabulary does not necessarily improve your eating habits.

③Droite means to make a right, and droit means to go straight

So the important thing when asking for directions in France, is to listen out for the strong “T” at the end of the word. If you’re told “DUAHT” it means to take a right, and “DUAH” means go straight. Although the easiest way would be to use hand gestures and point in the direction and ask for affirmation. And oh, incidentally, the French word for “finger” is also “doigt”, pronounced DUAH, the same as straight. -.-

④Tampons and Traiteurs

Although the French word “tampon” also means “tampon” like the thing you use during your period, it also means stamps (see featured pic) aka chops in Malaysia. Another signboard you see a lot in town is the word TRAITEUR. It doesn’t mean this guy:

s-l300Source

It’s actually means a catering service.

⑤French people have nice “hairs”

In French, hair, or cheveux is always plural. E.g. “I have many hairs on my head,” or “You have such nice hairs” or “I need to cut my hairs.” It’s really cute because every time I hear that I picture a party going on on the top of your head, and it sounds like each and every hair is appreciated for their individuality. By the way, they also say “your periods,” as in OMG it’s that time of the month again, all my periods are coming out from down there.

 

#9 What is infected?

This post is the first post under the category named ‘Things that happen in French class’. Because tons of funny shit happen in French class.

We were at French Vocab class and this time we’re discussing “les cinq sens” i.e. the five senses. As we’re in France, of course we need plenty of vocabulary to discuss the quality of our meals: Does it taste good? Does it taste bad? Then there was a small exercise for us to come up with dishes that make us go ‘C’est bon!’ or ‘C’est mal!’.

As one can imagine, recalling delicious dishes is easy (pizza, ramen, a banana, etc.). Then we came upon the phrase “C’est infecte” which literally looks like ‘It’s infected’ but actually means ‘It’s revolting’. After a minute of silence:

Prof: Nothing? You guys like everything?
Us: No……
Prof: Then what? What is ‘infecte’ for you?
Us: … hmm…
Prof: Let’s see, do you like eating fish’s head??
Chinese students / Japanese students: Yessssss (in reality, ‘WEEEEE’ as in ‘Oui’)
Prof: Do you eat like, the head of a pig??
Chinese students: WEEEE
Prof: Chicken head?
Chinese students: WEEEE
Prof: What about like the leg of a pig?? It’s so smelly!
Chinese students (and me): WEEEEE
Prof: What about the feet of a duck??
Chinese students: WEEEEE
A Chinese young man next to me: Yes! That’s totally the local delicacy of my hometown! Hawhawhaw

Which brings to mind a joke from le bf’s sister:
Q: What is something that has four legs but is not eaten by the Chinese?
A: A table.

Miam!