Since I started to teach French, I noticed that students know a lot of useless structures. I still don’t know why they are taught useless things. It makes the French language harder to remember and not practical. Fortunately, French is a living language, and it keeps evolving. The French language is not a monument, it’s alive. We are all lazy and language is our creation. I keep telling my students that we need to start simple and take a shortcut to fluency. Not make things complicated for people to give up.
Knowing that statistics are our best ally, I suggest to everyone to choose the most used structure instead of the most correct one. Yes, when 90% of people use an incorrect rule, it becomes the rule! You will find below a few examples.
Questions and interrogative patterns
1) Closed-ended questions:
You read maybe that French has three ways to ask a question. Stop losing time, French people only use two and don’t ever use the third one.
Formal sound weird if it’s an everyday situation. Most of my students learn in books and speak like books. It’s not wrong but I think you won’t meet anyone speaking like that. Speaking a too correct French will make you sound weird!
inversion: Habitez-vous à Paris?(not natural, because too formal)
- adding « est-ce que » : (Est-ce que) vous habitez à Paris?
- affirmative version + ? : Vous habitez à Paris?
2) Open-ended questions:
Formal: Où habitez-vous?NO. Normal: Vous habitez où? YES (just add the interrogative pronoun at the end of an affirmative sentence) Formal: Quel âge avez-vous?NO. Normal: Vous avez quel âge? YES Formal: Comment vous appelez-vous?NO. Normal: Vous vous appelez comment? YES Formal: Que faîtes-vous?NO. Normal: Qu’est ce que vous faîtes? YES Vous faîtes quoi? YES
“Il est” or “c’est” ?
- c’est/ce sont
C’est and ce sont are followed by: C’est + noun, including modified nouns: C’est un chien. C’est un français. Ce sont des chats. C’est + proper noun, pronoun: C’est Jean. C’est moi. C’est + dates: La fête nationale c’est le 14 juillet, c’est lundi prochain. C’est + adjective for non-specific referents: C’est super! C’est génial! C’est incroyable!
- il/elle est, ils/elles sont
Use il/elle est introduce the following: Il est + adjective alone: Il est gentil. Il est français. Il est + nationality, occupation, religion (used as adjectives in French): Elle est étudiante. Il est docteur.
Remember that il(s) and elle(s) refer to a specific person or thing. Ce doesn’t refer to a specific person or thing. It can be translated as that.
When do you use c’est and when do you use il est? Remember if you use c’est you will be right 95% of the time. If you use il est, you will be right 5% of the time. It is up to you which to gamble on!
You read maybe that French negation is NE…PAS. Stop losing time and stop using NE because French people only use the PAS.
Filler words that will make you sound French
Filler words are a useful tool to get closer to fluency. That’s something everybody uses, it’s like a signature, and we all know people using the same habit every time ‘you know’. Some of the common filler words in English are um, uh, er, ah, like, okay, right, you know, I mean, basically, well, so….You need to find yours in French and practice this as soon as possible along the swear words (seriously).
For example, you can learn to use a lot the “euh” (sounds really dumb and it’s a bit different than the English version, get the sound more in the front part in the mouth). Then, try “en fait”.
After practicing these a few times, you can continue with:
Bah, tu vois, enfin, donc, bon, quoi, en fait, euh…
I remember a nice student of mine, she was so focused on sounding more French that she added “quoi” after each sentence. It works fine, you can’t add them too much !
I can also hear these hard-wired words from my students, and it seems to be hard to get rid of them because they are not only words but almost part of the body and they come so naturally! Maybe you can start to replace them for the French version:
- Crap: zut, mince, merde
- let me see: attends
- wait, hold on: attends, 2 secondes, 1 minute
- you know: tu sais, tu vois
- for goodness sake/my goodness : purée, punaise
- how do you say: comment on dit (not « comment dit-on »)
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