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Section 1

#21 Be sensitive to tone of voice and body language.

When you’re reading French, you can look for context clues in the surrounding text. But when you’re listening to French spoken in conversation, paying attention to the speaker’s tone of voice and body language can provide clues to help you decipher meaning. These nuances of voice may not come through on the audio recordings provided by your language program, because, after all, the actors are paid to speak slowly and clearly, not passionately.

But in real life, French people tend to be very expressive. If they’re delighted, they show it; if they’re disgusted, they show it (boy, do they show it!). Now you just have to get them to slow down enough for you to isolate the words you know. In general, though, understanding an emotional French speaker is not difficult. You may miss the details, but you’ll have no doubt about the speaker’s feelings. Becoming a skilled reader of tone and body language not only helps in your mastery of French; it is useful in all other aspects of social interaction as well.

#22 Notice that French sentences aren’t structured like English!

I’ve mentioned a number of times that a word-for-word English-to-French translation is rarely possible, and you’ve seen that in sentences like D’où avezvous obtenu cette pomme? or Est-ce qu’on peut se tutoyer?. Sentences like that last one can’t even be reasoned out by the normal English-thinking mind – you just have to learn them. But you’ll notice a number of patterns in French sentence structure that are normal for the French, but seem quite abnormal to the English.

For example, if I lived at 47 Fountain Street in the U.S., you might expect my French counterpart to live on 47 Fontaine Rue in Paris. But, unfortunately, that is not so. In French, 47 comes first, then Rue, “de la,” and then Fontaine. Similarly, English speakers say it’s 5:10 or “ten after five” – in French, you’d say it’s cinq heures dix (five hours ten). Finally, in English I could say that I’m wearing a blue jacket. In French, I’d be wearing un blouson bleu – the color (or other adjective) comes after the noun it describes. Cheer up! Once you know how to say 47, Rue de la Fontaine, you’ll be able to compose other addresses too.

play 47, Rue de la Fontaine
47 Fountain Street
play cinq heures dix
5:10 “ten after five”
play un blouson bleu
a blue jacket

Once you know how to say cinq heures dix, you’ll know how to compose trois heures trente. Use the sentences you know as a model for the ones you don’t. It doesn’t always work (remember idioms?) but it works more often than not.

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