Language lapses

I learnt French all through high school and if I’d known what the future held I would have been motivated to keep it up. But I didn’t – who knew I would ever own a house in France! – and its a hard road to re-learn it now.

We watch French TV on a regular basis and certainly understand more than we used to. Watching Stargate SG-1 (one of our all-time favorite shows) dubbed in French is good because we already know the storyline. Some shows are dubbed with the English still audible which is rather distracting, although helpful at times – the temptation is to just listen to the English which defeats the purpose.

A French show we love (which is on channel 6 Monday to Friday at 5.40pm… they have funny scheduling here) is Un Diner Presque Parfait, a French cooking competition show, kind of like the first round of My Kitchen Rules but with a different set of competitors each week.

We even watch movies in French from time to time but usually they are American and dubbed, so no lip-reading!

We have little snippets of conversation with neighbors and shopkeepers now which is another sign of progression, although I embarrassed myself the other day:  when talking about the weather, the lady at the patisserie said “Beau temps” but I mis-heard, thinking she said “automne” (Autumn) – it’s Spring here but Autumn in Australia so I was momentarily confused. “Beau temps” is actually short for “il fait beau temps” meaning its beautiful weather, but it’s a contraction I hadn’t come across before, so it threw me. Just for a moment. A flustered moment. But I mustn’t let such lapses stop me from keeping on trying.

Another phrase that threw me (in a recipe) was “pas trop fait” in relation to cheese. Now these are simple basic words that I know, and I kind of got the gist, but in recipes (and instructions in general) the gist is not good enough.

Pas = not, trop = too or too much, and fait = done, or made, so, pas trop fait = not overdone? Kind of. In this context it means not too ripe. Close.

In Google Translate they come up as: not, too, fact, not too much. And in Bing Translator: not, too much, fact, not too much is. Neither was all that helpful. Thank goodness for a dictionary that includes phrases. The way words are used together is so much more than just their individual meanings.

Then there was my mammoth exercise at translating our programmable heater instructions.

Our electric heaters upstairs were coming on at different times, and I grew tired of pulling the worst offender out of the power point when not needed, and decided it was time to really understand the instructions. That was quite a process: typing them all out in French, then working through, section by section, translating them into understandable English, being very careful about context and meaning.

I used my own knowledge, plus Google and Bing translators, and even tried to enlist the help of my sister (a fellow French language learner) who in turn enlisted the help of her French tutor friend, but even they floundered. Translating instructions is quite a skill and of course I had the advantage of having the heaters here to test out my translation theories!

Over a period of days I managed to complete the translation to my satisfaction. I wonder if I could ever get a job as an instructions translator?


About frenchfry36

South African by birth, British by right, Australian by oath, French by choice.
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10 Responses to Language lapses

  1. Dianne says:

    We are just loving your blog and can’t wait to experience life in Argenton-sur-Creuse next year.

  2. chiefmadapple says:

    Gosh, I took French in college and barely passed. The one phrase I kept using throughout my travels to start (and end) a conversation was, “Dans ma tête, Il y a une petite bicyclette.” Don’t ask me why I remembered that phrase, but it came in handy for shooing away people I did not wish to have a conversation with, ahhahaha.

    Now having just finished Julia Child’s biography, My Life in France, your post made me smile and wonder about your life in France :).

    • frenchfry36 says:

      That’s a hilarious phrase – why on earth would you have a little bicycle in your head?? I loved the Julie and Julia book and film – about France, cooking and blogging, great combo! Maybe I should read My Life in France too!

      • chiefmadapple says:

        It was a phrase my French professor taught us – to talk about someone loony I guess. You can imagine the varied reactions I would get! As for My Life in France- you should read it as Julia Child’s adored France and as with all things we love, we also dare to poke fun at it.

      • frenchfry36 says:

        I’ll also be reading your blog! (Advice free, Lemonade 10c… much like another blog of mine Random Ramblings at
        – or perhaps what it would be like if I wasn’t so busy renovating and blogging A House in France)

  3. Sartenada says:

    Keep on watching French TV. That’s one nice way to learn it “without any pain”. I love reading and that’s why I read books in French.

    My wife has learned German, by listening to German radio stations. We also watch German movies together. She speaks quite goo German after seven years of learning.

    So I encourage You to continue.

    Happy blogging.

  4. It takes time, patience, and practice to learn a foreign language. My later life language learning, as told in my book Solitary Desire, was full of amusing mistakes of translation too – it’s just all part of the learning curve – bon courage!

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