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Thread: How much French do you need to know to live in France ?

  1. #1
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    Question How much French do you need to know to live in France ?



    I was reading this article on Expatica, and I felt the need to comment on it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Expatica
    If you can master this one expression in all its infinite variety of inflexion and intonation, (also innuendo and insinuation), then not only will you find most of your daily communication needs answered but you can actually convince people that you speak French much, much better than you really do.

    This is because French is a language where the less said the better. Social anthropologists call this an “implicit” culture where much of the information exchange is implied; it’s between the lines where all the communicating happens. Japan―where famously people go to great lengths to avoid saying no― is another example. This, as opposed to Anglo-Saxon cultures―most especially American culture―where information is communicated explicitly, in the form of words, and verbal subtlety can be considered morally suspect.

    You’ve read, I’m sure, where 60 percent of communication is body language? [I actually made that number up. But I know it’s supposed to be a big number.] Well, in French, it’s 60 percent body language, 15 percent what you’re wearing, and 20 percent “Ah, bon”. That means only five percent is actual words anyway, so spending a lot of time learning them is an exercise in diminishing returns.
    While I agree that mastering the use of "ah bon" might help non-native speakers, using it too often will make you look like a retard who can't say anything else.

    As for body language, I personally think that it conveys no more than 5% of the meaning in a conversation. What one wears is actually more important (maybe 10 to 20%). The occasional "ah bon" doesn't exceed 2 or 3% of the information exchanged in a conversation, which leaves over 70% for the actual words.

    French speakers are in fact very fussy about words and grammatical structures. It is very common (probably more than in any other culture) to be scolded in public, even by strangers, for not using a word, a tense, or an expression properly. That even happens in TV debates. The French will also fuss about the way you expressed an idea, and even if they understand what you mean, they will argue your point just on the way you explained it. This is certainly due to the rigid French education system regarding the teaching of French language (to native speakers).

    A famous joke about the French is that had Shakespeare been a Frenchman, he would have said "To be or not to be, this is the question, but the question is badly formulated."

    I mean, that's no wonder that the French are so intolerant about the mistakes and imperfections of non-native speakers. I confirm it as a native French speaker who has learnt many languages and lived in many countries. Nowhere else on earth have I seen people laughing at or discouraging people trying to speak the local language than in French-speaking Europe. Belgium is a good example. The country is about 2/3 Dutch speaking and 1/3 French speaking, but the French often make fun of Dutch speakers' accent or small mistakes, even when their French is almost perfect. And French speakers more often than not cannot speak Dutch. No wonder that the Flemings want their independence ! Yet I have found the French to be even more intolerant, justly because they were not educated in a bilingual country.

    So I am quite revolted when I read in this article that the author says :

    Quote Originally Posted by Expatica
    I would estimate that 98.276 percent of all French people I meet fall somewhere between "pleasantly surprised" and "actively encouraging and supportive" when they meet a French-speaking foreigner.
    It may seem true on a superficial level, because many French speakers are too hypocritical to just tell people to their face that their accent or grammar suck. But many of them will behind your back, and if they don't, most will still think it.

    It's fairly normal as the French government has tried hard to erradicate local accents in French so that everybody speaks perfect Parisian French everywhere in the country (at least in the northern half). Generations of French people were told that there was only ONE right pronuciation, and were made fun of at school if they spoke in a regional accent. This is less the case in Belgium though (only elitist school scorn regional accents), and the French often make fun of what they call the "Belgian accent" (in fact the Dutch accent in French, typical also among some native French speakers in Brussels). The Quebecois are always laughed at for their accent. If the French laugh even at other native French speakers, how could they not laugh at non native speakers with an even stronger accent ?


    But really, I can’t overemphasize the importance in French of saying as little as possible.
    I strongly disagree. The French, like other Latins, like to speak as much as possible and even parler pour ne rien dire ("speak to say nothing") as we say in French. Just listen a debate on French TV to be convinced that the French can stop talking, even when they should or are told to. The Japanese on the other do try hard to be as quiet and concise as possible.
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    I don't care if people laugh behind my back, as long as they understand what I'm saying. Although I agree it's not very nice to be like that.

    I think it's a common misconception that 'even native speakers don't use exactly correct grammar all the time!'... people just say it to encourage learners. It could be said about any language.

    When I use incorrect grammar in English, I just laugh at myself first before anyone else does.

    the French government has tried hard to erradicate local accents in French so that everybody speaks perfect Parisian French everywhere in the country (at least in the northern half). Generations of French people were told that there was only ONE right pronuciation, and were made fun of at school if they spoke in a regional accent.
    The boy next to me in class got an 'A' grade for his French oral exam, but he had a really southern accent. Not that it bothers me his accent at all, but I found it kind of inharmonious somehow, I was somehow surprised he got the top grade without having 'standard' accent, although as long as it is understandable... My mum's accent is good but sometimes a bit harsh and that makes some things a little bit difficult to understand (especially when vowel sounds get a bit 'English' ).

    I suppose the idea is for people to be understood by everyone but I still think it's a bad idea for regional accents to 'disappear'

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    Why did you delete my message?
    You write stupids clichés and i can't answer to your comments?

    Have you got examples? I never see a french laught at a foreigner who try to speak french, NEVER!!!
    And we love non native speakers accents, we love when a russian or an english speak french...

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    Maciamo, I find that quote quite insightful. And furthermore with your disagreement in interpretation. So in certain context the French find that it is better to say less. Some of this is put down to non-verbal communication cues. I often find this should be the case my self. I also think that Germanic people would find this frustrating since they of all people appear to struggle the most with human empathy. This may be why they are often seen as cold though some of it could also be down to their lowered use of non-verbal communication, it's interpretation and use. I certainly have found that with Germans they seem to require almost painstaking detail in order to understand what I thought was a simple concept. It's like, why cant you just hurry up and understand already man :)
    Last edited by Gusar; 12-07-11 at 16:49.

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    I acknowledge that I do not speak a word of French, but in the 3 trips I made to France I was always accompanied by a friend who is a professor of French, yet I think he made mistakes with french language, it's inevitable, because French is not his mother tongue. Well, no one laughed at us. Moreover, I found the Frenchs especially courteous and friendly with us. Instead, I observed mocking laughter in England when I was trying to speak English. This same thing happened to me in Sweden speaking English. Apparently the Swedes also boast of their good English.

    Of course, I love France, its people and culture.

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    Quote Originally Posted by VonRoust View Post
    Why did you delete my message?
    You write stupids clichés and i can't answer to your comments?

    Have you got examples? I never see a french laught at a foreigner who try to speak french, NEVER!!!
    And we love non native speakers accents, we love when a russian or an english speak french...
    Some accents may be seen as more charming than others, including the English, Italian and Russian accents. However the French constantly make fun of Dutch/Flemish and German accents, and quite often of Asian accents (Chinese, Japanese) too. Making fun of the German accent in French is almost a national sport in France. The French are shameless enough to ridicule the German pronunciation of their language in films (for example in the great classics like La Grande Vadrouille or La 7ème compagnie). I can't watch French TV for a week without finding a programme in which they make fun of the so-called "Belgian accent", which is actually the Flemish accent, not the one of native French-speakers. Don't even get me started on the African accents in French. How often haven't you heard French people referring to Black African person speaking French as "parler petit nègre" ("speaking a little negro") ? But of course you are French, VonRoust, so you know better than anyone else...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    The French are shameless enough to ridicule the German pronunciation of their language in films (for example in the great classics like La Grande Vadrouille or La 7ème compagnie).
    Then? In the Pink Panther there is also a fake French accent in English but it's a comedy, just for fun

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    Even people with german accent like Karl Lagarfeld counts among the most respected people in France

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    BTW French people make fun of their own accents, especially southern and ch'tis accents

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    I can't watch French TV for a week without finding a programme in which they make fun of the so-called "Belgian accent", which is actually the Flemish accent, not the one of native French-speakers.
    lol Belgian accent is not really considered a foreign accent. People make fun of this like they make fun of the ch'ti accent or Corsican accent, there is no harm in it. Famous Belgian actors like François Damien (Françios l'embrouille) are not expected to speak with a French Parisian accent in their films.
    French people make fun of the Belgian accent like English people would make fun of the Scottish accent.
    Then you talk as if every native French had the same accent. In Savoy and Franche Comté, the accent is almost that of the French Speaking swiss, In places such as South West France, Marseilles or Corsica, the accent is no way that of Paris (standard French).
    BTW when I meet Belgian in camping in Cavalaire (near Saint Tropez) they find that local people have a funny accent like local people find the Belgian accent (for those who have funny)

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    Quote Originally Posted by spongetaro View Post
    Even people with german accent like Karl Lagarfeld counts among the most respected people in France
    Were you also thinking of Helmut Fritz when you wrote this?
    Wow, maybe someone should give me a lot of money, then I'll start a new life in Paris, get annoyed and become a French pop idol...


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    Quote Originally Posted by Mzungu mchagga View Post
    Were you also thinking of Helmut Fritz when you wrote this?
    Actually his way of speaking is reproduced on that of Lagarsfeld. This was a big hit in France the year it was released I didn't know it was also heard on German radio

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    Nope, he and his song are completely unknown in Germany. I only know it through someone who did an exchange at a French university. Later I saw an interview with Helmut Fritz on youtube where he stated his accent is based on Karl Lagerfeld.

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    However the French constantly make fun of Dutch/Flemish and German accents, and quite often of Asian accents (Chinese, Japanese) too.
    Making fun of the German accent in French is almost a national sport in France.
    The French are shameless enough to ridicule the German pronunciation of their language in films (for example in the great classics like La Grande Vadrouille or La 7ème compagnie).
    Your examples are comedies filmed before 1980?
    Are you serious?
    I don't know when you have lived in France but it was before the XXI century...

    I can't watch French TV for a week without finding a programme in which they make fun of the so-called "Belgian accent", which is actually the Flemish accent, not the one of native French-speakers.
    Don't even get me started on the African accents in French. How often haven't you heard French people referring to Black African person speaking French as "parler petit nègre" ("speaking a little negro")?
    Very old stereotypes...

    But of course you are French, VonRoust, so you know better than anyone else...
    Not than "anyone else", but i'm sure, more than YOU...

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    Haha.. I am Dutch, and speak Dutch, English, French and German, but I never met a European that made fun of my accent.
    Germans even like a Dutch accent..
    An English colleague even told me and his colleague from the region of Blackburn, that I as a Dutchman spoke better English than the guy from Blackburn.

    And that's the point. On English television, I can't understand some English dialects.
    Belgian Walloon is complete darkness for me.
    Standard French I understand. I even understand the Langue d'Oc.

    I have been with my family in the South of France camping for many years, and my experience is that you need only a little knowledge of French to be understood. My children went shopping.. Un pain, et deux bagettes.
    Merci, bon jour.

    Well, I like southern France, the people are relaxed and friendly.

    My second home.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    the French government has tried hard to erradicate local accents in French so that everybody speaks perfect Parisian French everywhere in the country
    Definitely wrong. On the contrary, I think the French national TV channels (FR2, FR3) and radios should be a little more picky with the accent of their announcers. Not that I want the Southerners to be barred from announcing and commenting, they have a lovely accent but their pronounciation is faulty. IMHO a state run TV should promote a clean standard French, just like the BBC actively does in UK with the English language.

    When I watch Belgian RTBF I am painfully surprised that they're careful to offer the best possible French, unlike France's public televisions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    many French speakers are too hypocritical to just tell people to their face that their accent or grammar suck. But many of them will behind your back, and if they don't, most will still think it.
    Stereotyped bullcrap.

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