Monday, February 3, 2014

On Learning French

So I've decided to learn French. I've always thought it would be impossible for me, but when I heard about the Duolingo app, I decided to give it a try. (Yes, self-improvement is great, but if you want me to do something like read books or lose weight or exercise regularly, I need a free app for my phone that I can use to post achievements on Facebook.)

A few observations:

  • I'm not exaggerating when I say I thought it would be impossible. It's a very counter-intuitive language for an English speakers. That is, that vowels are all wrong. That is, English shifted vowels four hundred years ago, and French didn't. Take something like le vin ("the wine") which is pronounced "LOO VOHN" (more or less), for reasons that defy me utterly.
  • On the other hand, the vocabulary is pretty easy. About a fourth of English is inherited directly from French, so there's a ton of overlap. Elephant is éléphant, dress is robe. A lot of things are close in ways that make sense.
  • Vowels are important. So are articles. Since closing consonants are frequently dropped, sometimes the only way to identify a plural is to pay attention to the vowels on the article. As in the above example with the wine, the plural would be les vins, which has two S's, neither of which are pronounced. But les is pronounced "LAY" (more or less) instead of "LOO", so there you have it.
  • Related, French has extra articles du and des which basically mean "some" but they aren't optional.
  • I love the zen-ness of French pleasantries. "I'm fine" is ça va, literally "it goes".
  • Holy crap, diacritical marks. Holy crap. Seriously, guys.
  • Thank heavens I took Spanish, so I'm already familiar with some of the peculiarities of romance languages: gender, formal/familiar you, placing adjectives after the noun they modify.
  • I now know how to call my son "little monkey" in three languages, and they're all different. Petit singe in French, Monito in Spanish... I forget the English.


Joshua said...

Don't forget liaisons. "Les vins" would be pronounced, as you say "lay vahn", but "les abricots" would be "lay zabricoh".

"De la" is also a partitive article just as much as "du" and "des".

Kurt Pankau said...

Indeed. But give me a break, I've only been doing this for a week!