Tag Archives: learning French

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 www.hannahfrance.com 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 http://chansons-fr.com/boby-lapointe-avanie-et-framboise-jeux-de-mots

    2. The title of the blog where this helpful exegesis appears http://chansons-fr.com/a-propos 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.


    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!  Last.fm 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 Last.fm or on Play.com or (be French about it!) Fnac.com


    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 Last.fm, 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 www.leo-ferre.com.

    Ronald Gladman’s French Song Blog 1

    Taking its cue from earlier Frogsiders articles, this blog proposes the French “chanson” as a further fun way to improve your French. Yes, it means a song, but not any old song. There is a long tradition in France of songs, usually written by the performer, that are essentially “lyric-driven” and composed to follow the rhythms of the French language.

    There are scores of well-known exponents, ranging from the three greats of the last century, Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel and Léo Ferré, through the likes of Juliette Gréco, Claude Nougaro and Serge Gainsbourg, to those who are alive and well today, such as Aldebert, Amélie-les-Crayons and Coralie Clément, not forgetting Madame Bruni-Sarkozy.





    If you want to improve your French by listening to songs and teasing out the words for yourself, the world of chanson has many enjoyable and worthwhile treats.

    If you prefer to take a short cut you can Google your way to websites where you can find more or less any set of lyrics that you want, but (health warning) best just to look, as most of them are compiled without copyright permission and make their money from their garish animated ads for weight-loss products.

    For anyone who would like to try it out, I have put together a playlist of 24 songs which will shortly be appearing in further blogs, two at a time. There are links to websites where they can be listened to in full and, if desired, downloaded as MP3 files for between 0.79 and 0.99 euros.

    Here is an example: Musique Mecanique – Juliette Greco

    Bonne écoute!

    Oh No! It’s That Time of Year.

    I looked out of the window this morning and realised that I could no longer put off the dreaded onslaught of spring gardening. Oh how I hate the concept of working outdoors; I find the whole gardening business tedious, uncomfortable, mucky in the extreme and thoroughly boring.  Perhaps this attitude stems from the fact that I was brought up in the concrete jungle of London and as such am missing something.

    You see, I never intended to make gardening part of my retirement, when we first moved to our present house in the heady days of 1.45 to the Pound, we employed a local man. He came to work in the garden at least once a week leaving little for us to do. Then Sterling slumped and like everyone else we looked for ways to economise and guess what the gardener was the first to go.

    At first both my husband and I tried to ignore the untidiness of our two and a half acres hoping that the Pound would rally. It didn’t of course instead it sank lower and lower so eventually we fell into a division of labour which gave him the mowing of the lawns and me the flower beds and the paths.

    My first experience was clipping the heads off the hydrangeas. Being a gung ho sort of a gal I thought that it would be a few hours work and then – “job done”.  No such luck we have more than 70 of the blasted things and it took me almost 4 days. I then knew that I needed help fast and it had to be cheap.

    RES came to the rescue. This is a superb system that is, in my opinion practical and very, very French because it is simple and it works. I know of two offices, Fruges and Montreuil, it’s government run so I guess the workers are civil servants but they do not seem to have that “fonctionnaire” mind set. Basically the helpers are from the dole queue, they cost between 14 and 18 Euros per hour depending on their level of skill. In my experience they are good workers, honest and reliable with the added bonus of being insured, legal and available on an ad hoc basis.

    RES send an invoice monthly and then at the end of the tax year (for certain jobs) you get half the cost knocked off the bottom line of your income tax bill. It is this part of the system that makes them affordable. You can choose from a plethora of workers including gardeners, cleaners, carpenters and painters.  You can even request the same person each time as I do with Jean-Luc my garden buddy whom I have got to know quite well. He corrects my French and teaches me new words so I am getting more out of it than just a willing worker.

    I have got used to the hard graft of gardening and whilst I will never enjoy it I get the satisfaction of a good job done and I use up some calories too.