In this series, my goal is to make you feel better about the French you can speak and to overcome your inferiority complex. I’ll try to explain why the French are so rigid about their language and how you should react like a French person would (hint: say “Merde”)!
French is hard but you’re speaking it!
It’s not an impression: French is a complex language. I’m not going to tell you the whole story today but I just want you to know that in the 17th century, with the creation of l’Académie Française, some Frenchmen decided to dictate some rules and to make the language so complex that the uneducated wouldn’t be able to master it like the nobles and aristocrats who had time to study. French is a deliberately elitist language and an instrument of power for the elite.
Okay, that won’t help you learn French but you can start to feel better about your ability to speak French, it’s truly a life’s work so just take it one step at a time and everything will be fine.
I admire everyone who’s learning French. Had I not been born in France, I don’t know if I would’ve had the guts to study to reach the level where you’re at now. Please, give yourself a pat on the back now! 🙂
So, there you have it, “Académie Française French” is closer to a form of art rather than a means of communication.
Now the first question you have to ask yourself is this
I’m French, I can’t resist labelling everything so, if I continue with my arts metaphor, I’d say that “Académie Française French” would be the classical Renaissance painting style, standard French would be Impressionism and contemporary French with verlan and slang would be Surrealism.
Right now, do you want (or need) to be Nicolas Poussin, Claude Monet or Salvador Dalí?
In case you don’t know them, Nicolas Poussin was a famous painter of the most classical style in the 17th century (similar to the Dutch masters), Claude Monet is maybe the most iconic painter of the Impressionist current which focused more on inspiring emotions rather than reproducing exactly the reality (I’m making a parallel with French rules here).
Then came Cubism and Surrealism painters who started deconstructing everything and playing with the codes like contemporary French is doing with the language (if you don’t know her, I invite you to listen to Aya Nakamura songs which, to me, are very Surrealistic, see below).
PS: I know Salvador Dalí isn’t French but he went to French school, lived in France and spoke French (I could’ve said Magritte who has a French name but he’s from Belgium so, also not French).
Know which French you want to learn and speak
Once you have the answer, that will tell you on what you should focus most of your efforts and you can stop wasting time on everything else.
Of course you don’t have to aim as high as the Masters above but pick the formality of the language according to the situations you’ll encounter in your life and work to reach the level that will make you satisfied, then if you want you can move on to something else.
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