Category Archives: Learning and Speaking French

French classes in Montreuil sur Mer

Hannah France writes to let us know she’ll be starting her French classes for adults (and children’s classes, too) again, soon.

“Some of you have heard of me, some of you not!  I’m Hannah and I live in Montreuil-sur-mer.  I run French and English lessons for children and adults.  This September I’ll be starting French lessons again having had six months off on maternity leave.

The classes mainly revolve around you and what you want to study.  Together we organise the programme and usually we work to a ten-week block.  My focus is to get you talking in a relaxed and friendly environment where everyone feels confident to have a go!

I try to keep class sizes to around 10 maximum.  The day and time is yet to be decided as this will mainly depend on your availability. This year I’m hoping to have two groups – one for beginners and one for the more advanced.

If you are interested, or maybe know someone else who might be, please get in touch”.

More details on Hannah’s website

or from Hannah at 03 21 06 44 43

  • French Language classes in Montreuil

    If you’re struggling to learn French , or just want to improve your conversational ability, don’t do it all on your own!

    Hannah France’s French classes in Montreuil will quickly get you up to speed – without too much focus on grammar and writing – and you’ll meet and learn with others just like you!

    Hannah says these mixed ability classes are all about speaking and communicating, “having a go” and gaining the confidence to get your message across.

    Classes are held every Monday morning from 9.30 – 11am, at 119 rue Pierre Ledent, Montreuil.  More details on Hannah’s website or from Hannah at 03 21 06 44 43


    I made two online discoveries today:
    1. The singer in the clip from Tirez sur le Pianiste in my last post was Boby Lapointe and a different version of the song Framboise, plus a (for me, at least) much-needed crib on the words, can be found at

    2. The title of the blog where this helpful exegesis appears shows that someone (a proper French prof, no less) had the “Music To Learn French By” idea long before I did. The database of songs is quite extensive, but not all of them are given a commentary. Worth a browse, though.

  • Help an Ex-pat!

    We hope a Frogsider reader can come to the rescue of this recent correspondent:

    Can any one tell me the French for a half-shaft?  One is worn on my car but as it’s internal I can’t point it out to the mechanic and I can’t find it in my dictionaries.

    One needs to avoid attempting constructions, eg,un demi-baiser which might result in violence!

    Unfortunately we at Frogsiders have been unable to come up with a definitive equivalent, in French, for the shaft on a rear-wheel-drive car which transmits the drive from the differential to the road wheel.


    It is getting harder to find sites where the remaining songs in my list can be heard in full, so I’m rounding off this series for now with the Brassens classic L\’Orage.

    The narrator can’t stand fine weather; he only likes bad weather and thunderstorms. Why? Because the greatest love of his life fell from a stormy sky when he gave shelter (and more) to his neighbour’s wife, left alone at home while her sad and mercenary husband, a traveller for a lightning-conductor firm, was out drumming up business. The storm abates and the lovers (for such they have become) make a date for the next bout of thundery weather. The narrator thenceforth lives with his head in the skies, peering at all the different kinds of cloud. Sadly the return match never happens as the husband, having done enough business (tant vendu ce soir-là de petits bouts de fer) to make his fortune, takes the wife away to a place where the sun always shines and it never rains. The narrator hopes that his beloved will know that a thunderbolt has imprinted on his heart a flower that looks like her.

    This is an impressive poem, densely metaphored and full of mysterious word-choices, with allusions such as to Jupiter (god of thunder) and Benjamin Franklin, who, as any fule kno, invented the lightning-conductor (paratonnerre) in 1749 and was the first United States Ambassador to France.

    The words can be found on the clip, but here are a few cribs:

    Tonnerre de Brest an expression, beloved of Captain Haddock in Tintin, used here to describe thunderclaps, derives from the morning and evening cannon-shot signalling the opening and closing of the arsenal at the Brest military seaport.

    Cris d’putois for a howling gale, comes from Crier comme un putois (“like a polecat”) for which the English equivalent is usually given as “squealing like a stuck pig”

    Vint cogner à mon huis “came knocking at my door”

    Toi qui sèmes des paratonnerres à foison
    Que n’en as-tu planté sur ta propre maison
    Erreur on ne peut plus funeste.

    I have never been able to follow grammatically the inverted verb in the middle line, but the gist is: “Big mistake, you who sow lightning-conductors in abundance, not to have planted one on your own house”. Like the editor of the standard English law textbook on probate who died intestate.

    Tambour battant to the beat of the drum.

    Coup de foudre literally “thunderbolt” but more often used as “love at first sight”.

    So that’s all, folks. The full list of songs will shortly will be saved as a playlist on Spotify, which I will be happy to share with any Frogsider who has a Spotify account.

    Avanie et Framboise sont les mamelles du Destin.

    I leave you with the above mysterious thought, which may be familiar to those who have seen Tirez sur le Pianiste


    Boris Vian (1920-1959) was a twentieth-century Renaissance man – Wikipedia lists his activities as “writer, poet, musician, singer, translator, critic, inventor and engineer.” He wrote strange crime fiction books under the pseudonym Vernon Sullivan. As a sample of his singer-songwriter output, try Je Suis Snob. Click on the text below the screen for the full version. Note that he is “snob” (adjective) rather than “a” snob. It has to do with dandyism rather than social attitude and it’s hard work. He’s pleased that he has an ulcer (less banal and more expensive) rather than liver trouble (one doesn’t do that any more) from his whisky à gogo. Named Patrick, but answers to Bob (doh?). Only a Jaguar will do to crash in. He finds the back of his TV (turned to face the wall) more exciting than the front.   When he’s dead his shroud will have to be from Dior.

    Gober: swallow, fall for

    Turbin: daily grind

    Galérien: galley slave

    Zébu: Indian humped ox = exotic shoe leather

    Plumard (aller au): to hit the hay

    Suaire: shroud

    For my second song, Jacques Brel sings Les Bonbons in the guise of a creepy suitor about to take out a young lady in Brussels. He has brought her sweets instead of flowers because the latter are perishable, although more presentable He promises to have her home on time. On their way to the Grand’ Place he agrees with all her disparaging remarks about a certain Germaine. The date goes wrong when they run into Léon, obviously the girl’s preferred young man. The Brel character then transfers his attention (and the sweets) to (what a surprise) Germaine.

    Polisson: scamp, naughty child

    Do not be alarmed by the Flemish subtitles on the clip – the French text is available below.


    Next, a rustic tale by Georges Brassens called  Brave Margot. How to sum this one up? Naïve shepherdess suckles orphaned kitten found in the grass. Local menfolk transfixed by the spectacle and village life grinds to a halt. Local womenfolk royally hacked off and finally assassinate the kitten. Shepherdess gets married and the incident is forgotten, save by old men who still tell the tale to their grandchildren.

    Margoton: diminutive of Margot

    Tout de go: straight off, without hesitation

    Croquant: bumpkin, yokel

    A la ronde: around

    Bedeau: verger, beadle

    Bougnat: coal merchant (Le maire, le bedeau, le bougnat sounds a bit like “The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker”)

    Ballot: twit, wally.

    Attentive followers of this blog will by now have renewed their acquaintance with the past historic tense, something taught in school but whose use is easily avoided in everyday French. You have probably also noticed how often, in order to fit words to music, the unaccented letter “e” (as in “le) is either left out or pronounced when it would normally be silent.

    Brassens made his Paris singing debut at the cabaret-restaurant run by Henriette Ragon (born 1918), better known as Patachou (from the French for cream puff pastry, the cabaret having once been a cake shop) Here Patachou sings, with helpful graphics, a song by Léo Ferré entitled Le Piano du Pauvre – all about the “poor man’s piano”, aka the accordion.

    Guimauve: marsh mallow, soppy, sentimental

    Pas chien: not stingy or nasty

    Le lui rendre bien: reply in kind, return the compliment

    Jacter: chatter

    Rupin: rich, loaded, wallowing in it

    Bésicles: spectacles, specs

    Bobard: tall story

    Grognon: grumpy,gruff.


    It is time to bring on Jacques Brel (1929-1978) who probably needs no introduction and whose output had a truly global reach; if you (are old enough to) remember Shirley Bassey or Dusty Springfield singing “If You Go Away” you are remembering a Jacques Brel song which he wrote as Ne Me Quitte Pas. His most distinctive feature for me is the immense attack with which he performs songs such as Amsterdam and Au Suivant. I have chosen a quieter example Le Plat Pays, something of an anthem to his native country.

    Vague: there is a play on words in the opening lines between vague meaning “wave” and vague meaning “vague”.

    Mât de cocagne: greasy pole

    Diable en pierre: gargoyle

    Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991), he of the notorious duet with Jane Birkin, is someone else who probably needs no introduction. Here is a poetic little number in which he is for once not trying to push the boundaries:  Elaeudanlateiteia The strange title spells out in French, letter by letter so to speak, the name “Laetitia”.

    The solution to the puzzling “danla” in the middle is that:
    – the letters “a” and “e” together form the digraph “æ”, which is called in French “a, e dans l’a”; and
    – an unaccented “e” is pronounced “eu”, as in “le”.
    So now you know, just in case.

    In the song he muses on a (seemingly lost) love whose name he has typed, obviously in pre-computer days, on his Remington portative.

    Fleur maladive: sickly flower

    Aller à la dérive: drift away

    There is also a recording of this song by Jane Birkin but her breathy/breathless delivery renders the words hard to follow.


    One of the quintessential sounds of France is that of an accordeon playing the Java. It is a kind of jerky waltz and was a feature of the bals musette, dance sessions in Parisian bars and cafes run by immigrants from the Auvergne and Italy from the 1880s onwards. It was regarded as somewhat immoral, as couples on the crowded floor would dance with their hands on each other’s backs, straying ever lower (cf. le bas de son dos in the last line of the first song).

    My first song, by Claude Nougaro (1929-2004), is about a conflict between the old and the new, the former being the Java and the latter the jazz of the 1960s. Le Jazz et La Java (Sorry about the video! have discontinued full-track streaming.) The song alternates between the two styles of music, with some particularly deft work with the brushes by the jazz drummer.

    Il y a de l’eau dans le gaz: there’s trouble brewing.

    J’écoute béat: I listen open-mouthed / rapt / “sent”.

    V’la = voila.

    Râler: to rattle, usually with reference to drawing one’s last breath.

    Ses p’tit’s fesses en bataille: two cats in a bag?

    Du pareil au même: six of one, half a dozen of the other.

    Se saouler, se noircir: both mean “to get drunk”; a pun (intended?) on the latter, with the reference to Harlem, would be the literal meaning of “to blacken” or “black up”.

    Staying with the Java, my second song is an example by Georges Brassens.  Le Bistro is about an old bistro in a crummy part of Paris  (un coin pourri). The house red (ce petit bleu lourd de menaces) is not for the faint-hearted. The patron is described merely as large and disgusting (un gros dégueulasse) but we get the picture. His wife, on the other hand, serves behind the bar with (quote) all her charms, from top to bottom, in the right place (unquote). Woe betide any besotted customer who steps out of line – the patron is ready with a flic-flac to the face.

    L’est = Il est = Il y a: there is

    Si t’as le bec fin: in this context, if you have a fine nose for wine.

    La fine fleur: the “cream”.

    Viennent en rang commes des harengs: the customers line up (to gawp at the barmaid) like a row of herrings.

    Fontaines Wallace: a reference to drinking fountains donated to Paris by a British millionaire. See Eau de Paris

    Bouge: dump, hovel, low dive, sleazy bar.

    Palace: not a “palace” (palais) but a specific term for a luxury hotel.

    Appas: charms (pun: appât: bait).

    Qui fera…les cornes: who will cuckold…(the patron).


    Jacques Dutronc (born 1943) began his singing career in the sixties and appeared in some 40 films from the seventies onwards.   Earlier this year he made some comeback appearances in Paris and is currently on tour in Northern France. He is part of a singing dynasty, being the husband of Françoise Hardy, another sixties phenomenon, and father of the jazz singer Thomas Dutronc. A dandy in Ray-bans, who appeared in a three-piece suit when others were into the dishevelled look, he is perhaps best known for Et moi, et moi, et moi. I have not found a site where you can listen to this in full without payment or some kind of sign-up, so have chosen two less well-known songs instead.

    The first is Le Dragueur des Supermarches . In this version Dutronc sings in a joke accent, with exaggerated rolling of the letter “r”, about a young pest at the supermarket who is (a “dragueur”) “on the pull”.

    Sympa’ = Sympathique : pleasant, agreeable.

    Truand: crook, villain

    Il est un peu Prosper: this expression has defeated me; can any reader/listener elucidate?

    Grandes surfaces: hypermarkets.

    The second is Il Est Cinq Heures Paris s’Eveille, all about delivery vans, street sweepers, tourists rejoining the bus after doing “Paris by Night” and more, as the night ends and the day begins.

    Banlieusards: people from the suburbs, commuters

    Traversins: bolsters, as in bedding

    La Villette: area of abbatoirs and meat markets, now a park and exhibition site.

    Déprimés: depressed

    Brimés: from brimer: to rag, bully, get at. Here (I think) it’s about people having to get up when it’s the last thing they want to do.


    This time a change from the retro: my two songs are by currently popular artists, part of the “nouvelle scène”.

    Amélie-les-Crayons is the singer in a quirky four-member indie band from Lyons. The “Crayons” apparently feature in the title of one of her favourite songs. In Les Jours de Neige en Ville she sings of the magical change made by a night of snow not only to the cityscape but also to people’s hearts.

    Guillaume Aldebert, who performs just  as “Aldebert”, had a big hit with Carpe Diem, a song of nostalgia for a college crush on a girl from Brittany who had written “Carpe Diem” on her suede pencil case (trousse en daim) in correction fluid after seeing Dead Poets Society on TV. He plucks up courage, anorak, blackheads and all, to approach her, nervous like Cyrano de Bergerac, and all he can find to say is “Could you lend me (ton blanc) your correction fluid please?” Nevertheless they have a date in a Quick (banana milkshakes) and he recalls dreams of the couple they might have become (glittering careers, big house, wonderful kids etc)

    Coeur d’artichaut: fickle heart
    Comédons: blackheads
    Vénusté: beauty, grace, elegance
    Jeter son dévolu sur: to set one’s heart on
    P’tit déj: breakfast

    Downloads can be bought through or on or (be French about it!)


    Because this blog suggests “Music to learn French by” (for which new title I am indebted to our esteemed editor/webmaster) I have tried to find songs in which the singer’s diction is clear, the choice of words is fairly simple and the accompaniment is unobtrusive. Harder than you might think; most of my choices fail on at least one of these counts.

    Georges Brassens (1921-1981) was born and brought up in the Mediterranean seaport of Sète. I will not embark on a potted biography but refer you instead to, where you can play Les Philistins and click on the Artist and Biography links on the left. Many of his songs are having a dig at authority-figures, such as magistrates and the clergy, or the bourgeoisie in general. This short song is to the philistines who dream of their children attaining the pinnacle of respectability by becoming notaires but who are disappointed, or as Brassens puts it “punished”, by their becoming “hairy poets”.

    Léo Ferré (1916-1993) was a poet, composer, musician and anarchist from Monaco, where he began his musical career as a choirboy in the cathedral. In Monsieur William he set to music a poem by Jean-Roger Caussimon. It tells the sad tale of a middle-aged innocent who on an impulse heads for the “thirteenth avenue” (where? I have not been able to discover), finds a young girl, takes her to a seedy hotel and ends up dead at the hands of a razor-wielding black man who wants the girl for himself. The devil makes a brief appearance towards the end, to a background played on the xylophone which evokes dancing skeletons.

    Fredaine means an “escapade”, particularly of the sowing wild oats variety.

    Pègre: “underworld” or by extension louche or seedy.

    Hors de lui: note how the French say “outside himself” where the English would say “beside himself”.

    Manquer de tenue can mean a number of things but in this context a free translation might be “For shame!” or “What were you thinking?”

    There is a website dedicated to Léo Ferré at

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