Tabeetousa? Tufaykoa? The new French language

by Camille Chevalier-Karfis, French Today

French is an evolving language. You know it and you've been warned. Yet, when you walk the streets of Paris, it can be quite a shock. On top of the "parler d'jeunes" (generation Y new slang), the verlan (common French practice consisting of inverting the order of syllables in a word), the traditional slang, you are going to face many grammatical constructions that are quite far from textbook French.

So here are a few tips to help you master today's real French language.

1 - Learn with audio

You cannot learn a live language only with books. Especially French. I often say that French consist of two languages: written French and spoken French. You write "il ne fait pas beau" - we say "ee fay pabo." There are many silent letters, liaisons and modern gildings that you cannot guess unless you practice with audio. And this is true for vocabulary, as well as verb forms. So, even your grammar method should be audio- based.

2 - French movies: yes, but not right away

Trying to understand a French movie for a beginner or intermediate student is like choosing Mount Everest for your first ascent. You are just not ready; you are going to fail and it will make you feel like crap. Pardon my French...

Building confidence in your ability to understand and speak a language is as important as mastering its grammar and vocabulary. So pick some level adapted audio material: the web, YouTube, podcasts... the world is full of great audio resources created especially for students of French.

This being said, watch as many French movies as you'd like, but as a pastime, not as a learning tool (you may even get a few words and expressions from them).

3 - Master the questions

Did you know there are three different ways of asking the same question in French?

  1. "est-ce que": "Est-ce que tu aimes Paris?"
  2. inversion: "Aimes-tu Paris?"
  3. street French: "Tu aimes Paris?"

The latter is seldom explained in traditional classes or in a study guide. Unfortunately, it's the most used. If it is an "information question," the "interrogative expression" will come at the end. "Tu habites où?" Where do you live? It is often reinforced by the word "ça." "Tu habites où ça?" With the modern glidings, the tu habites becomes t'habites in spoken French. Hence the title of this article "tabeetousa." The next one is "tu fais quoi?" What are you doing (right now or for a living)?

Understanding questions fast is the key to any conversation.

4 - Repeat out loud

Again, our generation is not quite used to working with audio - yet. We are still in the passive learning approach: a book teaches us and we write the answers to exercises. This is wrong if you want to learn to speak a language. You need to change your habits. Listen to the lesson, then repeat out loud. Again, again and again. Repetition is the key for creating "reflexes."  This applies for verb conjugations, as much as for word genders and modern pronunciation.

5 - Be realistic

How many hours do you spend studying French per week? When I say studying, I'm not talking about casually listening to some French songs as you drive to work. Now quickly, what is your goal? If your answer is "two hours" and "I want to be fluent by the end of the year," you have a problem. Unless you are a language genius, learning a language is not going to be second nature. It takes hard work. So the first thing to do is to set up short term realistic goals, a solid study plan and get help (self-learning material or classes). You want to be fluent in a year ? Get fully immersed. If you are a beginner, and study two hours per week, you should be happy if by the end of the year you can handle a simple conversation, be polite and understand 20% of what French people say around you. Accept that you will get what you invest. It's true for life, it's true for French.

About the writer

Photo of Camille Chevalier-Karfis Born and raised in Paris, I lived in Boston for 16 years and have been teaching French to adults around the world for 19 years. Returning to France in 2008, I created French Today which offers audiobooks and lessons in grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. All my lessons come from my personal teaching experiences. I developed my method to match the needs of adults who want to learn and interact in real, modern French.

Other articles

Information about French | French phrases | French numbers | French idioms | French colours | French grammar | Tower of Babel in French | French links | My French learning experiences | French learning materials