• French

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E-reader for easy translations.

Preface

I started casually learning French in the summer of 2019. I became more dedicated to practice in January of 2020. Here I document the tools and resources I have used and use for learning, advice I would have given myself when starting, and a mixed set of notes I've taken down during my studies.

Current Tools

On Reading

For reading, I either get French books out of the library or I use an e-reader that can translate French > English by tapping on a word. This is very useful, although it can slow you down if you just want to practice trying to read uninterrupted, reading in your head in your target language.

On Vocabulary

Ankiº is a software program for helping with spaced repetition. It's most commonly described as a digital flashcard system. It's quite useful for learning new words and sentences. I generally use pre-created decks which can be found on AnkiWeb . I have had more luck learning from the decks that offer full sentences; it helps construct a context and is a good challenge when it comes time to translate from your native language to your target language.

Using an Assimilº book ("New French with Ease") has been useful. These books are expensive to buy, but I got a copy from my library with the audio files and a digital version of the book.

On Conversation

See Language Exchange Exercisesº.

On Listening

Improving listening can be intimidating. Podcasts are helpful. After a few months, the Inner French podcast was on regular rotation for me. I find the topics interesting and important, and it is motivating when you realize that you are starting to understand more than you miss.

If I was to advise myself in starting from scratch again, I would note that jumping between resources at the start is normal; you just want to find the fastest way to learn, and avoid the hard work that you inevitably have to do. Then, you find resources that work for you, and you stick with them, until they no longer work for you. Then you move on and repeat the process. I would also tell myself to start actually practicing with people / finding tutors online sooner (even though it is intimidating.)

Verbs / Tenses

Verbs is a large topic that can't be covered easily. Instead, This is a short section on the verb tenses, with a singular example for each.

Présent

Présent

Indicates present tense action. This tense corresponds to the following three English present tense forms: I buy; I am buying; I do buy. To say I watch and I am watching in English is to use two different present tenses. In French this is commonly represented in a single tense: Je regarde.

Le présent progressif ("in the middle")

Le présent progressif ("in the middle")

It is possible (albeit, more specific) to give extra weight to the "present" part of the verb using être en train de before an infinitive verb.

"I am in the middle of working" becomes "Je suis en train de travailler."

Le passé récent ("just happened")

Le passé récent ("just happened")

This tense is sometimes known as "The immediate past."

In English, the immediate past is constructed with the combination of have just + past participle: "I have just finished my work, why are you making me do more?"

In French, we operate similarly to the présent progressif (the use of en train de), to express something that has just happened in the present: by combining a conjugation of venir de + infinitive verb.

For example, we have just eaten becomes: Nous venons de manger.

Le passé simple

Le passé simple

Le passé simple, also known as le passé historique, is a French past tense that is only used in written language. It has the same meaning as the passé composé; it talks about a completed, one-time action in the past.

source: Le passé simple: the past historic in French

The Passé Composé (The "Composed Past")

The Passé Composé (The "Composed Past")

We use the passé composé to talk about one-time, completed actions that took place in the past.

The past tense is formed by using the present tense of avoir or etre (it becomes an "auxiliary") in combination with the the past participle of the verb in question. Passé Composé gets its name from the composition of auxiliary and infinitive verb.

Passé ComposéEnglish
Il a acheté un portable.He bought a phone (lit. he has bought a new phone).
Ne n'avons pas fini^we have not finished

As usual, there are exceptions. Use Être instead of Avoir with certain verbs (often those indicating movement): aller, sortir, venir, partir, descendre, tomber, naitre, devenir, arriver, monter, mourir, retourner:

  • Je suis allé = I went.

  • Nous sommes partis = we left.

As usual, there are many irregularities you just have to memorize. For example,I learned is j'ai appris.

L'imparfait (Imperfect)

L'imparfait (Imperfect)

The L'imparfait (see: Imperfective aspect) is used for describing states and continuous, ongoing or repeated events in the past. The L'imparfait is often used for telling stories. It is to the Future simple as The Passé Composé is to the *Future Proche*; in this case, verb endings are changing and we are not creating auxiliaries from avoir/etre.

Examples:

Quand il était petit, Lucas aimait beaucoup les gâteaux.

> When he was small, Lucas liked cake a lot.

Nous parlions au téléphone.

> We were talking on the phone.

L'imparfait:      We were talking on the phone -> nous parlions au téléphone
Passé Composé:    We talked on the phone       -> nous avons parlé au téléphone
Conditional Past: We would talk on the phone   -> nous parlerions au téléphone

The imperfect tense is conjugated by using the present-tense stem of a verb in the nous form (that is, in the first person plural form, we), and adding different endings depeneding on the pronoun:

Je, Tu, Il/Elle/On, Nous, Vous, Ils/Elles corresponds to: ais, ais, ait, ions, iez, aient.

Le Plus-que-parfait

Le Plus-que-parfait

Corresponds to the "past perfect tense" in English. Used to talk about an action or situation that took place before another past action, and so, this tense is often used in conjuction with another past tense to establish an order of events.

The Plus-que-parfait is constructed by combining the imperfect form of avoir and etre as the auxiliary verb, followed by the participe passé of the main verb:

Elle avait beaucoup travaillé avant de pouvoir jouer le morceau parfaitement.

It is quite similar to using the passé composé, except that the auxiliar is the past tense of avoir or etre.

L'imparfait vs Passé Composé

L'imparfait vs Passé Composé

I find it difficult remembering when to use which verb tense for the past. I think for now, I understand the following:

Use of "ed"

This is not a hard and fast rule so much as a useful pointer. In English, past tense verbs that end in ed likely correspond to Passé Composé. For example, you liked your room (tu as aimé ta chambre). In this example, we have a statement that describes a one time, completed action in the past as noted above in the section on the Passé Composé.

Sense of Narrative/Ongoing-ness

In contrast with the above, in a more narrative, continuous sort of conversation, one might say you were liking your room. (tu aimais ta chambre). Here, the example indicates that we are indeed "describing states and continuous, ongoing or repeated events in the past". The person was enjoying/liking the room they were staying in; it is a state of being that is continuous. Further, at least to me, this almost feels like a story or narrative, as if the account could go on ("you were really liking your room when all of a sudden you realized there was mould in the ceiling!")

...She was liking her room; she was reading in her favourite chair every night and was using the new bookshelf too.

(elle aimait sa chambre; elle lisait dans sa chaise préférée tous les soirs etutilisait aussi la bibliothèque.)

For me, Keywords like was, were, and used to are possible indicators that L'imparfait may need to be used. This is a loose rule, as it seems in general that English does not have an imperfective tense.

My hunch is relatively confirmed by page 303 of Assimilº:

French TenseEnglish TenseFrenchEnglish
Passé ComposéPast simpleJ'ai regardéI looked
Passé ComposéPresent perfectJ'ai regardéI have looked
L'imparfaitPast continuousJe regardaisI was looking
L'imparfaitPast frequentativeJe regardaisI used to look
Le futurFuture simpleJe regarderaiI will look
Le futurFuture continuousJe regarderaiI will be looking

Assimil also aims to point out that French reduces the number of tenses, combining two in english into one, as above.

Futur Proche ( Near Future | aux.)

Futur Proche (Near Future | aux.)

The Future Proche, also called The Future Composé, is used to describe actions in the near future. The construction of the future proche is similar to the passé composé, in that we are combining a conjugated auxiliary (Aller) with a verb infinitive.

EnglishFrench
I am going to walkJe vais marcher
We are going dancingNous allons danser
He will eatIl va manger
Futur Simple (Simple Future)

Futur Simple (Simple Future)

The futur simple corresponds to using "I will ---" in English. It allows one to say things in French such as "I will be able to..." or "I will walk".

This future tense is "created" by adding conjugations of the present tense suffixes of avoir (-ai, -as, -a, -ons, -ez, -ont) to the infinitive of a verb. In this way, it is called "Simple" in that there is no auxiliary.

Person-er verbs-ir verbs (finir)-re verbs (vendre)
1st person singular (I)j’aimeraije finiraije vendrai
2nd person singular (you)tu aimerastu finirastu vendras
3rd person singular (he/she/it)il/elle/on aimerail/elle/on finirail/elle/on vendra
1st person plural (we)nous aimeronsnous finironsnous vendrons
2nd person plural (you)vous aimerezvous finirezvous vendrez
3rd person plural (they)ils/elles aimerontils/elles finirontils/elles vendront

As usual, look out for exceptions such as:

PronounInfinitiveWith Avoir endingEnglish
IlsallerIls irontthey will go
NousavoirNous Auronsthey will have
NousfaireNous FaironsThey will do/make
TuetreSerasYou will be
IlpouvoirpourraHe will be able to

Verb Moods (unfinished)

The following sections describe verb moods.

Conditionnel

Conditionnel

The conditional tense 1 is largely analogous to the use of the English would.

The conditional is formed by adding the endings of the imperfect (L'imparfait) to the stem of a verb in the futur simpl form.

EnglishFrench
We would playNous jouerions
She would danceElle danserait
You would smileTu sourirais
You would goVous iriezi^
I would buy it..Je l'achèterais^ ...

^ Marks an irregular verb.

Subjonctif

Subjonctif

A verb form or mood.

The French subjunctive is a special verb form, called a mood, that is used in dependent clauses to indicate some sort of subjectivity, uncertainty, or unreality in the mind of the speaker. In French, feelings like doubt and desire require the subjunctive, as do expressions of necessity, possibility, and judgment. It can be helpful to consider them in themed groups:

EnglishFrench
We must have a good excuseIl faut que nous ayons une bonne excuse.

Idioms, Slang, and Expressions

Idioms

Idioms

The following are some French idioms I have come across. I have included a literal translation to English, which mostly demonstrates how difficult it is to derive the same meaning from literal translation (although, some idioms are shared across languagesº).

ExpressionIdomatic Meaning (English)Literal translation (approximate)
Où veux-tu en venirWhat are you getting at?Where do you want to come/be/reach?
faire des histoiresTo make a fussMake some stories
Fais d'une pierre deux coupsTo kill two birds with one stoneMake of one stone two blows
Je suis crevéI am worn outI am punctured (as in, a punctured tire)
Ça ne fait rienIt doense't matter / it's not importantIt makes nothing
Brûles les étapesJumping the gun / cutting cornersBurn the stages
Dans des beaux drapsTo be in a bad situation
Slang

Slang

WordMeaning
J'en ai marreI am fed up
Boire un potTo get a glass / drink
FricMoney
Truc/Machinthingamabob.
BoîtesA company (literally, a box)
Expressions

Expressions

I learned many of these expressions through the Assimil New French With Ease book.

  • Ben - A sound, not a noun. Generally means "well..." or "you know...".

  • Bof - "Meh, oof" etc.

  • Elle tient à le faire - "She insists on doing it". Tenir means to hold, but when combined with à, becomes a sort of "to insist" or "to hold onto".

  • Ne vous en faites pas / Ne t'en fais pas - a casual way of saying "don't worry."

  • On Quelque Sortes - "In a manner of speaking" ; "In a certain way."

  • Quel temps de chien - "What terrible weather!"

  • Tant Pis - "Hard Luck" (Bad luck; too bad)

  • Sur des charbons ardents - on the edge of your seat, in a state of suspense, lit: on burning coals.

  • Renvoyer l'ascenseur. - to return a favour - lit: to send the lift back up.

"False Friends"

Words in French that look like their English equivalent, but are not.

FrenchEnglish
ActuellementNow / At the moment
Assister àTo attend (not to help)
CautionBail / Deposit / Guarantee
CélibataireSingle / Unmarried
ChargerTo Load
CoinCorner
DélitCrime, Offence
DéfautFault, defect, flaw
DécevoirTo disappoint
DéceptionDisappointment
ExplicationExplanation
EventuellementPossibly
FameuxGreat / Fire
FormationTraining
IssueOutcome, way, exit, solution
LargeWide
ManifestationDemonstration, event
OccasionOpportunity (can also be "occasion")
ObscuritéA darkness
Prendre PlaceTo take a seat (not, "to take place")
ProfondDeep
PublicitéAdvertising (can also be "publicity")
RentableProfitable
RéussirTo Succeed
RudeRough, Crude, Hard, Tough
SensibleSensitive
ServietteTowel, Napkin, Briefcase
SupplierTo beg / plead
SociétéA company
SympathiquesNice, Kind
TentativeAttempt
Un librarieA book-shop owner
Une caveA cellar
Une déceptionA disappointment
Une librairieA bookshop

Footnotes

1

The conditional is often referred to as a "Mood", like the subjunctive, but has been grouped under tenses to simplify the organization of information.