I recently discovered the bilingual magazine, France-Amérique. It’s perfect for someone like me who’s reading French at an intermediate level. The trendy magazine consists of articles about pop-culture and politics, each article or interview written en français on the left side of the page with an English translation on the right half of the page.
The March 2019 issue contains an interview with Pamela Druckerman, the expatriate who wrote the bestseller Bringing up Bébé. Druckerman recently released another light-hearted and fun book, There Are No Grownups. Within it she describes her life in Paris as she encounters mid-life and explores all that this social construct entails. It’s a great beach read and even better if you reading it while in the midst of les années quarantes like I am!
What is the DELF and what’s its significance?
DELF is shorthand for Diplôme d’Etude en Langue Française. The French Ministry of Education grants these diplomas to non-French speakers working toward proficiency in the language. The diplomas ultimately provide recognition of French language skills and can be listed on a resumé when applying for admittance to a French university or for French employment.
This week I took the A1 Exam at the l’Alliance Française in Midtown Atlanta. It was the first of six proficiency levels that I plan to achieve. Level A1 is called the “discovery” stage of language development. One needs to be able to demonstrate the ability to conduct simple conversation about himself and his environment in writing and speech. During the exam, the candidate first listens to a series of three recordings – phone messages or travel announcements and has to answer questions about them. Part two involves reading comprehension, filling in forms and writing letters or emails in order to convey plans or directions. Tomorrow I’ll return to the l’Alliance Française and take the conversation portion of the exam.
The A2 exam is still a basic application of the language, but B1 and B2 will require that I have the ability to express my opinion…à mon avis…
Bref, I’ll need to be able to make an argument for my viewpoint and defend my opinion. I can do that!
In July I toured an orchard near Rouen called Domaine Duclos Fougeray that produces cider, pommeau, and calvados. The calva, essentially apple brandy, was a little strong for my taste, but I loved the pommeau, a mistelle that’s a combination of apple juice and calvados. It’s served chilled as either an aperitif with a local cheese (camembert, livarot, Pont l’Evêque) or as a digestive.
The more familiar I become with the French language, the more I recognize certain similarities to English. However, there are certainly differences in sound and in syntax. One such example is pronoun placement. In French, the pronoun is placed before the verb that carries the meaning and in cases of past tense/perfect tense it goes before the auxiliary verb.
Je boit le pommeau becomes: Je le bois.
I drank the pommeau becomes: Je l’ai boit.
In French class this semester we’ve learned the phrase, “à quoi servir” and “à quoi ressemble”. In other words, “what purpose does it serve…” or “what resembles something or other…“. An example of this would be, ”à quoi ressemble ce nuage?“ (What does this cloud resemble?)
On my recent trip to Normandy, we spent a morning at Giverny, home to Claude Monet and his second wife Alice from the early 1890s until his death. I stood in his gardens behind the house and was amazed by how similar the pond and garden looked to his paintings that I’ve seen all my life. Here’s some photos from that morning.
Desservie par une mise en scène grotesque et une distribution approximative, la production de Calixto Bieito déçoit.
This week in French class we’re learning about the imperfect tense and it’s use in describing a situation or recounting a story. I decided to look for instances of the imperfect tense in a French publication called, Le Monde, and found a review of Bizet’s Carmen at the Palais Garnier.
French immersion is tricky when you live in a place where you must communicate en anglais. I began by listening to a free podcast called, “Coffee Break French” whenever I was alone in the car or taking a walk and moved through over sixty episodes, I think. Recently I began listening to some podcasts produced by Michel Thomas that I purchased on iTunes.
The goal is to incrementally increase the time that you hear spoken French. Use media to your advantage: TuneIn Radio is a great resource for French-language programming. Or try the French television series, “Call My Agent” on Netflix. It’s a fun show – now in it’s third season – about a top talent agency in Paris that works 24/7 for its celebrity clients.
Fauré set this Victor Hugo text around 1862 while he was still a student at l’Ecole Niedermeyer. “Mai” was new to me, and most likely not a song that I’ll revisit; the melody and voice leading are not as fetching as those in Fauré’s other songs. Pianist and author Graham Johnson (Gabriel Fauré: The Songs and their Poets) believes that the original key of A flat major is unflattering for most sopranos and I tend to agree. However, Dover has published “Mai” in the key of F for those who are seeking a more inviting tessitura.
“Mai” is rich in new vocabulary pertaining to nature: la campagne (country), la terre (earth/ground), les bois (the woods), le rayonnement (the radiance) and épanouir (to blossom).
Puis-que mai tout en fleurs dans les prés nous réclame,
Viens! ne te lasse pas de mêler a ton âme.
La campagne, les bois, les ombrages charmants,
Les larges clairs de lune au bord des flots dormants,
Le sentier qui finit où le chemin commence,
Et l’air et le printemps et l’horizon immense,
L’horizon que ce monde attache humble et joyeux
Comme un lèvre au bas de la robe des cieux!
Viens! et que le regard de pudiques étoiles
Qui tombe sur la terre à travers tant de voiles,
Que l’arbre pénétré de parfums et de chants,
Que le souffle embrasé de midi dans les champs,
Et l’ombre et le soleil et l’onde et la verdure,
Et le rayonnement de toute la nature
Fassent épanouir, comme une double fleur,
La beauté sur ton front et l’amour dans ton coeur!
When I was young my dad gave me a small book with a black cover and rainbow-colored lettering called, If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going You’ll Probably End Up Somewhere Else.
I’m sure that I still have that book somewhere, within one of the many cardboard boxes of books that I refuse to throw way as I’ve moved from my childhood home to dorm to apartment after apartment to house, etc.
The title really says it all. In order to take ambition to the next level it’s important to set clear goals. It’s the same idea that Stephen Covey touted in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: beginning with the end in mind. The same holds true for language learning and I’ve found some fabulous blogs by fellow language learners that address the topic in various ways. (Check out www.thepolyglotdream.com) After goals are defined, a person should set out to establish consistent daily and weekly habits in order to learn content and practice his language of choice. (See Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before for ideas on what works for you.)
I’ve established some language goals for myself which include taking a DELF exam this spring – more about that in a later blog post – and finding ways to get out of my comfort zone so that I’m immersing myself in situations where I can converse and get feedback. And of course, singing French art song.
I’ve learned that speed of learning depends on an individual’s previous language learning experience, environment, time spent learning, and how close the new language is to my own.
French is straightforward in syntax, yes, but it’s a frontal, highly placed language which incorporates sounds not used in the English language, i.e. mixed vowels, nasal vowels, and the uvular r. It’s also a legato language in which all syllables are equally unaccented until the last syllable of a word or phrase. Consonants are unaspirated and smooth word connection is created with the help of liaison and elision. As a classical singer, I’ve already mastered the phonetic aspect of French, but these are with prepared texts. Speaking off the cuff is a different ballgame altogether.