45 Days of French – Day 1

Bonjour! Well, one must start somewhere.

Day 1 found me reading aloud to myself (my wife can attest to the fact) from the Introduction and from Chapter 1 of Essential French (EF). And grumbling a little over the way that Berlitz decided to demonstrate the sounds of French for the reader. Oh, I am glad I have studied a little French! I fear I might never pronounce it correctly otherwise…

Today’s material is actually quite brief, briefer by far than the other chapters – maybe a “warm up”, an introduction to how sounds work together within words and phrases.

The introduction begins by explaining how to use the book – its features and approach. This is very quick, and moves right on to the “Guide to Pronunciation”. Rather than a transliteration, EF has decided to provide “imitated equivalents” – which will be used from Lessons 1 through 4. Nasal vowels are described with little fanfare for a language so fundamentally nasal. All nasal sounds are to be marked with a N in the “imitated equivalents”.

The intention seems so far to be avoidance of linguistic terminology. Liaison is described with no mention of its designation, though the description is reasonable, and Chapter 1 gives ample illustration of how it works. Here is a summary of the sound system, with sounds presented by the author, but my own layout:

letter(s) sound, description
a, à, â ah; variable between short and long a in English
ai, aient, ais, ait, aî eh
ail, aille ie; as in the word “I”
b b; same as in English
c c; same as in English
ç s
cc ks; before e & i
k; otherwise
ch sh
d d; same as in English
e uh; sometimes
eh; other times
è, ê, ei eh
é, er, ez, ed ay
(e)au oh
eu, eû, oeu uh; like “fur” but really short or
aspiration, puff of air
euil, euille uhy; like uh followed by y
f f; same as in English
g zh; before e, i & y
g; hard, otherwise
h silent
i ee
letter(s) sound, description
ille eeyuh or
eel
j zh; same as g before e, i & y
k k; same as in English
l l; same as in English
m m; same as in English
n n; same as in English
o, ô oh; as in English “roll”
oi, oy wah
ou, oû oo
p p; same as in English
qu k
r a rolled sound from the back of the mouth
s s; same as in English
t t; same as in English
u ew
v v; same as in English
w v, usually
x x; same as in English
y this letter seems to have been overlooked, as I know it is used in French
z z; same as in English

I think there are both bad and good things that could be said about this chart. But lest I be seen as judge, rather than student here, I will just add that I haven’t studied French in a long while, and while I may articulate something just a little differently than suggested here, these are stated as approximations. Enough to likely get one understood, at the least.

Some niceties from Chapter 1

Bonjour. Hello.
Au revoir. Goodbye.
Ça va? How are you?
Comment allez-vous? How are you?
À bientôt. See you soon.
Merci. Thank you.

Ending up on the pronunciation guide, I jumped right into Chapter 1. Chapter 1 presents a few pleasantries, questions like “What is this?” and “Is this a…”,and then some positive and negative statements; “Yes, this is…” and “No, this is not…”

Then it moves on to a minimal discussion of grammatical gender and its connection to definite and indefinite articles. One particular sentence seemed almost mind-bogglingly backwards to me, though it makes sense from a certain angle:

There are two translations of the definite article “a” in French: un (for words which are masculine) and une (for words which are feminine).

“Translations”? I don’t know that this is the way to really look at it. No reason to set up some false sense that words and phrases need to translate 1:1 between languages. I guess if one is “translating” and came across the word “a” in English, they would have two  lexical possibilities (at a minimum) in French. But it is really just one indefinite article, with two forms.

By the end of Chapter 1, I had a fairly good grasp of the “point and shoot” question, and the responses to it; Qu’est-ce que c’est? “What is this?” Est-ce que c’est…? “Is this…?” Oui, c’est… “Yes, this is…” and Non, ce n’est pas… “No, this is not…” The routine carries on for a few pages, and seemed completely appropriate for the absolute beginner.

With a short vocabulary list, one can already begin to make out that adjectives will vary by gender (same word with different endings), and that the basic feminine ending is an “e”, which causes the consonant preceding it to be sounded. A short list of nouns will be readily recognized after reading through the examples a few times: un bureau “a desk”, un stylo “a pen”, un livre “a book”, une boîte “a box”, une chaise “a chair”, and une clé (a key). The remaining nouns in the list are more likely not to be easily remembered as there is little repetition during the lesson, like le vocabulaire “the vocabulary”, la grammaire “the grammar”, un monsieur “a [gentle]man”, une conversation “a conversation”, une question “a question”, and une réponse “an answer”.

The audio for the main conversation is good. Not very long, but good. Listening to it and reading it should make clear that words like bien “good” or “well”, mal, “bad” or “badly” and très “very” are well worth memorizing, and stringing together!

I was able to go over the entire lesson a couple times throughout the day. By that time, the three short exercises at the end were easy. Overall, lesson one I think is a wonderful starting point in this book. Not too heavy, and throwing out stepping stones that can be moved to in later chapters. À bientôt.

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About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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2 Responses to 45 Days of French – Day 1

  1. Pingback: 45 Days of French | σφόδρα – exceedingly

  2. Pingback: 45 Days of French – Day 3 | σφόδρα – exceedingly

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