Jan 23, 2010

en français, s'il vous plaît

leaveleave, by me
A big part of my decision to do a PhD in Québec City was the fact that I'll ideally end up bilingual at the end. The only problem is the 2-3 years in between where I have to struggle through the painful process of learning an entirely new language. No big.

When we moved here in November, my attempt to learn French was limited to watching French TV. That didn't go over very well, since I pretty much couldn't recognize any words. In fact, spoken French just sounded like a continuous stream. So... things didn't start out too well.

Kyle found this sweet French Assistant website, where you're taught French in a somewhat logical order (i.e. it starts out with French words that are essentially the same as English words. I find this approach works for me). Additionally, we had been to one Christmas social event, and had been around people, so by the time we started school full-time, we were able to recognize a few phrases, and even *gasp* know how to say some ourselves (Thanks to Google Translate, we knew how to say "we're picking up a package" and "we have our own bags", although the grammar is not nearly that nice).

untitled, by me
I'm enrolled in two French classes this semester. One is for speaking and writing, and the second is just for speaking. Each class is 3 hours per week and we must speak French in the class (NO ENGLISH). The teachers even teach in French, which terrified me. Imagine my surprise when I started my first class and actually understood what the teacher was saying. Now... I don't know if it's because of all that failed TV watching, or whether she has a less-Quebecois accent (which is easier to understand for me, since apparently we learn "Parisian French" in Ontario schools), or whether she talks very slow and uses simple words, but I totally get about 80% of everything she says. Which is pretty cool.

So, I'm finding the classes helpful for getting the basic vocab and the grammar rules as well. Kyle is simultaneously working on the French Assistant website (he has field work this semester so no official classes for him), and each evening we review new phrases and words and rules we've learned. And the last source for learning new things is the fact that I'm surrounded by francophones, many from France, some from New Brunswick, and obviously many from Québec. While I don't understand everything I hear (in fact, I only understand about 10% or less, since people talk so frikken fast), I've gotten to the point that I can pick out common phrases. I find this extremely useful for imposing structure into the rest of their sentences. Also, each time I hear a common word or phrase, I go home and look up the meaning and add it to my repertoire of French vocab knowledge. This way, I'm slow building up what I know... and maybe eventually I'll actually have the guts to say something in French to a local. Hah.

revealed, by me
I've been meaning to record the phrases and words I've picked up, thinking maybe it'll be helpful to someone else who's trying to learn French. I think that I tend to pick out the most common phrases, but it could also be that they stand out because they're at the beginning or end of a sentence or phrase... either way, here they are. I should add a disclaimer that in some cases, I'm just inferring the meaning of these phrases and words from context, and I could be wrong. Also, my spelling could be off because I just write them how I think they're spelled.

Parce que --> Because
Really not sure on the spelling, there. Just a guess. It might actually be Par ce que, but it's pronounced sort of like parskuh, in normal every day conversation. Interesting tidbit: In my French Grammaire book, it uses the word "car" in the context that I would have expected the word "because" to be, so I asked a couple of people about the difference. The difference isn't super obvious, but essentially it seems that "parce que" is more often used in spoken language, while "car" is the written, or less slangy, form.

Mais --> But
This is probably one of those words that jumped out at me because of it's place in the structure of spoken French - it's almost always after a pause.

Je pense --> I think
Nearly always shows up at the beginning of a sentence. People use this a lot; it seems to be the most frequent way that people express their opinions. It's often combined with a "que" to become Je pense que..., which means "I think that..." or even Je pense que, oui, which means "I think so, yes" (I'm guessing).

Bon journée --> Have a good rest of the day
Really not sure on the spelling with this one, because it's only ever spoken, as far as I can tell. It's what cashiers say when you're leaving. Took us a couple awkward moments to realize they weren't saying "Bonjour", which obviously has a slightly different meaning (one is for greeting, the other is for saying goodbye).

Donc --> Therefore, so, then
Usually shows up after a pause in a sentence, or sometimes at the beginning. I don't see this one written, but I hear it a lot. One of the first words that jumped out at me. Took me a really long time to figure out what it meant.

J'espere --> I hope
Usually occurs at the beginning of a sentence.

Quelque --> Some
Very useful. It also gets combined, much like "some" does in English. So there's quelquefois (sometimes) and quelque chose (something).

Meme chose --> Same thing

Les deux --> Both
I hear it a lot in class, such as when someone asks which word or phrase is more common, and the teacher shrugs, nods, and says "Les deux", to indicate they're equally common.

C'est ce --> This is so
I think that the literal translation is "This is", but I often hear this phrase in isolation as a statement. From context, it seems to mean "That's so" or "this is so", to indicate affirmation of something's truth. I'm also not sure on the spelling. I definitely hear this one a lot, since I've started recognizing it.

Peut-etre --> Maybe, perhaps
Kyle informs me that the literal translation is "Can be". I hear this phrase in isolation, in which case it's often combined with a shrug. Or I hear it at the beginning or end of a sentence, when people are making some sort of suggestion.

Jamais --> Never
This is a recent recollection for me. I kept hearing it in conversation, and couldn't remember what it meant. Then out of no where the word "never" popped into my head, and I've since confirmed it on Google Translate. Awesome.

There's also a lot of basic terminology that's been useful. "Ce" and "cette" are "this", depending whether your noun is masculine or feminine. "Semaine" is week (and it's feminine). All the numbers tend to jump out at us, but I was never very good at remembering them all, so I have a bit of difficulty figure out exactly what the numbers are as they're saying them... But at least I can recognize them as numbers!

And one last useful tip, for anyone who's going to visit Quebec. It's about interactions with cashiers at grocery stores, Pharmaprix (i.e. Shoppers), and other stores. Kyle and I had been going to grocery stores for a while when this story happened, and we always managed to bungle through it, thanks to some very understanding and patient cashiers. We learned very quickly to say "Nous avons les sacs" before they could ask us any of their own questions about "sac" because we never know whether they're asking if we have our own or if we want to buy some! In any case, every once in a while a cashier says an extra word after we tell them we're paying with debit, and we're never quite able to catch what they're saying, so we usually just look confused and they make their own decision about whatever they've just asked us.

One time, I bought bus tickets (billets d'autobus) from a convenience store and the woman said something that sounded like "montant?" after I had given her my debit card. I gave her the appropriate confused look and said, somewhat sheepishly, "Je ne comprends pas". She then mimed for me, by gesturing at my money total and saying "Le meme?" and then pointing upwards and saying "ou plus?". Which I gathered to mean, do I want the same amount or more money. I just pointed at the total and grunted. She took that to mean "meme". ANYWAY... that was when I learned that whatever word they're saying, which sounds something like "montant", means cashback. But the story's not over...

Last week, Kyle and I went to this little farmers market type store (like a way more expensive Joseph's that really likes their styrofoam - in fact, all stores in Quebec really like their styrofoam but I'll leave that for another post), and tried to pay with debit. The woman then said her "montant" word, and Kyle looked at me for help. I said firmly "NO", and Kyle repeated it, and the woman gave us a look like we were absolutely crazy. I couldn't figure out what the problem was. Well... I emailed a fellow anglophone (from Michigan) who's been here for a few years, and he explained for me. Apparently the cashiers are saying "meme montant", which, if you read my notes above, means "SAME MONEY". i.e. where a cashier in Ontario asks "cash-back?" meaning "do you want more money", the cashiers in Quebec ask "same money?" meaning "do you want this amount, or do you want to add cash"... so the appropriate response is actually "Oui", or "meme montant"... If you say "Non", you have to supply an additional amount that they add to the total. Oops. Keep that in mind - super helpful.

too cold for chess, by me

I actually feel pretty ridiculous when listening to French conversation right now. Mostly I hear gibberish, especially if I'm not concentrating really hard, but then someone will say one of these phrases and it will totally just pop out at me. It would be like the written equivalent of typing in 12 pt font and then using 16 pt bold on certain common phrases. Has anyone else experienced something like that when learning a new language?


Ashley said...

I'm loving your Quebec adventures. Having grown up in the Ottawa valley, and consequently very near Quebec, french was everywhere. I used to understand french almost perfectly and speak it with some confidence. Unfortunately 6 years in southwestern Ontario has stripped me of both my skills and my confidence. I'm jealous of your french immersion experience and will read with great interest!

Also, I have to say that I have never ever heard the term "car" for because, so I learned something new from your blog!

Cuthbert said...

Haha okay... I feel like some of the things you mention need comment. :)
1. "Parce que" and "car" do both mean "because", but it's a heck of a lot easier to work the sound "car" into your conversation than saying "parce que". I prefer "car".
2. "Bon journée" is actually "bonne journée" because "journée" is feminine. "Jour" is masculine, hence "Bonjour". "Bon matin" = good morning. "Bonne nuit" = "good night". It's all in the gender of the noun.
3. "C'est ce" is actually "c'est ça", if I understand the context correctly. Like "that's it!"
4. "Nous avons les sacs" means "we have the bags". A better way would be to say "Nous avons des sacs" (we have bags).
5. "Montant"- that's weird about the "même montant" thing meaning cash back, I hadn't heard of that. But sometimes "montant" (or "combien") just means "how much/many?", so the bus ticket lady may have just been asking how many you wanted to buy.

Another useful one might be "Celui là" (that one there) when pointing at things you want/need. I found the Spanish equivalent useful in Costa Rica. :)

Oh, also don't make the mistake of saying "Je m'excuse" when you mean "I'm sorry". The polite way is to say "Excusez-moi", or "Pardon". It's the diffence between "I excuse myself" and "Please excuse me".

Good luck!!

Nicki said...

Ack Jess, I was going to make some corrections today but you caught them already!
Well actually just the "C'est ça" one.. I asked my teacher today, because I started listening more carefully and it didn't sound like "ce". She said it does translate to "that's it"... but from context, I would argue that there is not an exact English equivalent to the french phrase "C'est ca".

Some other replies :)
1. I never never ever hear the word "car" in spoken french here. ALWAYS parce que (it's not par-ce que??). Although... it's possible that it just doesn't stand out to me like "parce que" does.
2. Oooh good point about m vs. f with journée. I always screw up masculine and feminine!!!! Like "ce" vs "cette".
3. already covered that, above.
4. Oui oui... I have learned the difference between des and les... but it's so hard to REMEMBER THIS STUFF when I'm actually confronted with a situation and have to spit out some French!!!
5. Erm... Normally when people ask us how many bus tickets we want, they just use "combien?". I don't think I've heard "montant" in that context. I'm pretty sure we're just french-dumb and don't here the "meme". :D

Thanks for the corrections! Keep correcting me. It sure makes me feel dumb to put this up on the net and then find out that I've made mistakes, but I'm glad to be corrected because... I should know this stuff! :D

Cuthbert said...

Haha you're doing fine. I just think it's neat :)

I guess another way to interpret "C'est ça" would be like "Exactly!" in some contexts. Like if someone asks/tells you something and you're like "Yes, that's right" you could reply "C'est ça"