Friday, September 25, 2020

Travaillez votre français à la maison ! (Resources for learning French at home!)

By Marisa Ikert (former camper and counselor, and current high school French teacher)

Many of us have been spending an increased amount of time at home lately. The upside of that has been the additional time to spend on our hobbies, new skills, and personal projects. What better time than now to commit to practicing your French skills? Whether your level is débutant, moyen, or avancé, there is a wealth of free resources available online for you to hone your comprehension skills. Here are just a few of my favorites. In reality all of these options span multiple levels, so feel free to try them all and see what works best for you! 


Read: Visit the websites The Fable Cottage and The French Experiment to read simple fairy tales in French with optional line-by-line English translations, along with slow audio recording by a native French speaker. (Audio is free on all stories on The French Experiment; certain stories on The Fable Cottage have audio and sometimes video for free, but others are available only to members.)

Watch: Watch one of Alice Ayel’s YouTube videos per day and you'll see your comprehension soar. She speaks very slowly and uses visual aids so anyone can understand her simple stories (you can also watch with or without French subtitles). Pure beginners should start with the “Saison #1” playlist and progress from there to more complex stories from later seasons. In the "Culture francophone: Qui est?" playlist, more appropriate for moyens/avancés, Alice presents biographies of famous people from the French-speaking world. 

Listen: Listen to the Coffee Break French podcast for 20-minute targeted lessons around particular vocabulary themes (shopping, expressing likes and dislikes, introducing yourself, ordering at a restaurant…) as well as grammar lessons. Learn with your teacher Mark (he’s Scottish but his French accent is great) and fellow student Anna. Start with Season 1 for complete beginners; work through the seasons to reach a more advanced level. (The difference between this resource and an immersive, comprehensive-based one like Alice Ayel is that CBF gives you structured lessons about how to speak French, including discussions of grammar and vocab in English. I usually recommend as much French input as possible, but if you are just starting out or refreshing your French and like to be given the breakdown of how it works, this approach might work for you.)


Read: Subscribe to the daily News in French newsletter. This free daily newsletter includes a French song of the day as well as interesting news tidbits that are usually more quirky than what you might find on your local front page. The newsletter is also posted online on their website; reading it this way allows you to hover over highlighted key words and phrases to see translations (especially helpful for moyens). 

Watch: Watch a movie or show you already know well, dubbed into French. I recommend Disney movies because they are so easy to follow and the voices are great in any language! Then, you can go to to practice the lyrics to your favorite Disney (or other) songs in French with a fun, interactive game.

Listen: The Duolingo French Podcast intersperses a bit of English context with fascinating interviews in simple French to tell cultural stories that are easy to follow for intermediate learners. Listen on your podcast app of choice or go to for full episodes with transcripts. 


Read: If you live in or near a city with an Alliance Française, have you checked out their resources? Browsing these libraries is a great way to feel like you’ve transported yourself to France, but even if the physical building is closed now due to COVID, they likely have access to media resources online. Online French libraries like Culturethèque, included with many Alliance memberships, allow you to browse French children’s and young adult books, BDs (graphic novels), language learning resources, and more from the comfort of your home. Consider asking your family or school about getting a membership! (Another perk of Alliance membership is participating in free conversation events, which happen on Zoom these days!)

Watch: Go to the site to see which French movies are currently on Netflix. For even more help learning with subtitles, add the free Language Learning with Netflix Chrome extension. This neat extension allows you to see both French and English subtitles at the same time if you choose, slow down the speed, look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary, and more.

Listen: The innerFrench podcast is perfect for you if you have a relatively advanced comprehension level, but can’t quite understand full-speed conversations or movies without subtitles yet. The host, Hugo Cotton, is a native speaker who discusses interesting cultural issues, French media, and language learning tips at a slightly slower pace, aimed at the intermediate-to-advanced adult/teen learner. He also makes YouTube videos.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

"Tu" ou "Vous" (On se tutoie ?)


The topic at hand today makes even the most advanced students of French trembler: when to use “tu” or “vous”? To understand the difference, one must first know a few things. “Tu” and “vous” are both translations of the English pronoun “you”. Anglophones use “you” to indicate both singular and plural so, in this case, English is simpler than French. Although the English version may be plus facile, this may also pose some problems. Consider, for instance, the phrase “You do the dishes!” In this phrase, without context, it’s difficult to determine whether this awful sentence will fall only on yourself or on a group. Some Anglophones use the wonderful variants “you guys" or “you all” to be more specific. 

The French have a more elegant system: “tu” is singular “you,” as in “Tu vas bien?,” meaning “You’re okay?”  “Vous” is plural “you,” as in“Vous allez bien?,” meaning “You guys are ok?” Compris? Great, because that’s the easy part. This question of “tu” and “vous” became tricky because the French also change these words depending on who they’re addressing. In some situations, this point of grammar gives not only shivers but also des cauchemars. Proper execution of “tu” and “vous” can take years to master and even a native Francophone can make mistakes. In these instances, des erreurs may not be grammatical faults but rather social mistakes. 

As an adult, a French person becomes a master jongleur of “tu” and “vous”. With each new person you meet, you must ask yourself the question : “tu or vous?” This is usually a straightforward question but sometimes the answer is not obvious. Your boss would always merit a “vous” unless you work for a peer and you’re a millennial. The baker at the local boulangerie would be “vous” if you go there a couple times a month but “tu” if you go there everyday and chat about the weather, the kids, and local sports. Your beau-père or belle-mère could be either “vous” or “tu” depending on the individual and your relationship. Starting with “vous” is always the safe choice. If you become “tu” later, it’s a sign you’re being welcomed into the family. If you remain “vous” after one or two years, you might remain “vous” for the entire relationship. 

Personally, I’ve always struggled to use “vous” with people I’ve known for a long time. To avoid choosing the pronoun, I’ve developed elaborate techniques to avoid having to use any pronoun. Imagine you are at a family dinner with your partner and you want le sel next to your father-in-law. But you really don’t want to refer to him as “vous”. Wait for your chance and dès que eye contact is made, jump into it, cut the conversation, rapidly raise your eyebrows, and loudly ask “Est-ce que quelqu’un pourrait me passer le sel s’il vous plait?” Your question could appear to be for everyone! You didn’t win the war but it’s a successful battle against choosing pronouns! 

Just remember, “vous” is always the safe choice if you aren’t with des amis and “tu” indicates to the person that he or she is your peer. Don’t forget that you can also ask a person if you may use “tu” with him or her. French people will enjoy hearing this question from a non-native speaker and they will most likely say Oh bien-sûr !” 

Vocabulaire :
trembler = shiver
plus facile = easier
sentence = Sentence (law)
des cauchemars = nightmares
Compris = understood
des erreurs = mistakes
jongleur = juggler
boulangerie = bakery
beau-père = father-in-law
belle-mère = mother-in-law
le sel= the salt
dès que = as soon as
Est-ce que quelqu’un pourrait me passer le sel s’il vous plait? = Could someone please pass me the salt?
des amis = friends
Oh bien-sûr ! = Oh of course!

La grotte de Lascaux

Aurochs and horses in Lascaux

In the South of France lies one of the oldest and best-preserved secrets of France: la grotte de Lascaux, or "The Lascaux Cave.” This series of connected caves depicts around 600 different paintings that were created around 18,000 years ago! Most of them, like the one in the photo above, depict common animals. The photo shows an aurochs (an extinct species of ox) and several horses.

Because of its exceptional historical value, the entire site was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The murals are so exceptional that they are even referred to as "The Sistine Chapel of the Paleolithic" or even the "Versailles of the Prehistory.” 

The cave was discovered in 1940. Upon discovery, archeologists were able to appreciate the original paintings as they had been preserved since 17,000 due to the special atmospheric conditions in the cave. The site quickly attracted thousands of visitors. To permit the entrance of so many visitors, the entrance to the caves were adjusted. However, millions of visitors in the first 20 years of tourism changed the fragile atmospheric conditions of the place; consequently, the caves closed to visitors in 1962 so that the painting would be preserved. 

Considerable damage had nonetheless already occurred. The onslaught of tourists had introduced a new type of fungus to the caves, which damaged some of the paintings. Conservators quickly implemented a plan to protect the paintings and they managed to restore most of the artwork to its original state. Even today, specialized workers enter the cave every two weeks to clean fungus from the artwork.  

Starting in the 70s, several replicas of the cave were built named "Lascaux 2", "Lascaux 3" and "Lascaux 4.” These replicas allow hundreds of thousands of visitors to admire these sublime works of human history every year without risking the original masterpieces.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

La Galette des Rois (It's all about the cake)


Every year we eat grandiose dinners for the holidays. For that reason, January is a good time to start eating lighter, healthier food. In France, however, you'd have to wait until after the galette des rois, because missing this treat would be a real shame.

The tradition of the galette comes from celebrating the Epiphany on the first Sunday following New Years Eve. The Epiphany is a Catholic holiday that celebrates the arrival of the three kings to Jesus Christ. The idea of sharing a cake with a fève inside goes back as far as l'antiquité ! Back in those days, maîtres and servants would share the cake together. Whoever would found the charm would be designed the "roi du jour" and would be able to command even his masters for the day.

Nowadays, the French continue the tradition of the galettes des rois. The galette is a great excuse for the French to organize a Sunday lunch. "Tu viens manger la galette des rois dimanche prochain ?" The galette is such a good occasion to bring friends together that these galette gatherings often last until the end of February. 

In France you will find two main types of galettes: "la galette des rois" which is made with frangipane, a sweet almond filling, or "le gateau des rois", a brioche-like cake in the shape of a big doughnut. This second type of cake is more common in the south of France. Regardless of the type of cake, the tradition surrounding the act of serving galette is the same everywhere. Tradition dictates that the youngest person in the family sits under the table to determine who receives each slice of cake, which ensures a fair distribution of slices. As the youngest in the family, I was always the person underneath the table. It's a fun role when you're five years old but loses its charm by the time you're fifteen! 

Cutting the galette requires some skill. In the malchanceux event that the person cutting the cake hits the charm, he must pretent that he didn't. And it's always a bit suspect when the person cutting the cake ends up with the fève in his slice.  This is a great chance to display your best acting skills. "Oh j'ai la fève dis ! Non mais quel chanceux hein..!". Once the charm is found the person receives the couronne and can ask for any favors he desires. This is a good way to avoid having to do la vaisselle !

Whether you want to partake in this tradition in January or February and whether you have charms or not, the galette des rois is a chance to enjoy a delicious French tradition.  In the end, it's all about the cake!

Here is a link to a galette recipe for les plus gourmands. 

Vocabulaire :
grandiose = spectacular
galette des rois = king cake
fève = charm
l'antiquité = the antiquity
maîtres = masters
roi du jour = king of the day
Tu viens manger la galette de rois dimanche prochain ? = You want to come eat the king cake next Sunday?
le gateau des rois = king cake
malchanceux = unlucky
suspect = suspect
Oh j'ai la fève dis ! Non mais quel chanceux hein..! = Oh I found the charm..! What a luck hein...!
couronne = crown
la vaisselle = the dishes
les plus gourmands = the real food lovers

by Nicolas Yviquel, program management intern

Na’ir al Saïf

Iota Orionis, photo taken by Addison Baldeshwiler

On January 20th, stargazers around the globe went outside to admire the super blood wolf moon. Though the moon was the main attraction that night, three special stars caught the attention of CIFC staff. Addison captured a beautiful photo of three stars just under the belt of Orion. These stars represent the sword of the warrior around the constellation of Orion.

One of the brightest stars of the constellation, Iota Orionis or Na'ir al Saïf in Arabic (meaning "The Bright one of the sword”), is responsible for producing the cloud of light that resembles a nebula. This star is part of the largest nebula of the constellation (the Orion Nebula) and is the easiest star to see, visible even to the naked eye.

To find the Na’ir al Saïf, wait for a clear, dark night and search for the three stars that form Orion’s belt. Na'ir al Saïf is the star just below the middle star of Orion’s belt. Enjoy!

by Nicolas Yviquel, program management intern

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The most famous French giraffe

Her name is Sophie and she may be one of France's most classic baby toys. Sophie was invented in 1961 by une entreprise française living just north of Paris. The toy quickly became un énorme succès and has continued to be one every since. 

I'm almost certain that I had a Sophie as a baby. My parents had a Sophie as babies and mes neveux have a Sophie now too. Sophie est tellement a must-have that French people don't hesitate; no matter what the gender of the baby, Sophie always seems to be the perfect toy. These giraffes are indeed pretty great même si they are quickly flooded with de la bave de bébé because babies love to teethe on it.

Bonus tip for people who consider purchasing a Sophie: the toy can be recyclée ! Yes, once your baby is too old for Sophie, the toy will make un jouet adoré for your dog! Sophie has un petit pouet in her body so trust me, babies and dogs love them!

For decades, French people have been in love with their girafe préférée and Americans have recently joined them. Sophie arrived in Californie in 2005 and has invaded the American market since then. Today the toy is still owned by a French company and entirely produced in France. Cocorico !
*A little side not on the use of "Cocorico". As you may know, France national animal is the rooster. A rooster is small but also fier et têtu ! If you you tell a French person that the rooster says "Cocka-doodle-doo" they will look at you very strangely. In France, le coq says "Cocorico." This sound is also used by the French as an expression of pride or something quintessentially French. For example: "France has the best équipe de foot in the world. Cocorico !" 

Vocabulaire :
une entreprise française = a French company
un énorme succès = a huge success
mes neveux = my nephews
est tellement = is such
même si = even if
de la bave de bébé = baby's drool
recyclée = recycled
un jouet adoré = a beloved toy
un petit pouet = a lilttle squeaker
girafe préférée = favorite girafe
Californie = California (You had this one, right ?)
fier et têtu = proud and stubborn
le coq = the rooster
équipe de foot = soccer team

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Une lettre, une année

Une lettre, une année
by Nicolas Yviquel

As you know, we love dogs on Canoe Island. Three dogs lived on Canoe Island this past summer: Eloise, Addie, and Gator. As a French person, what surprised me when I arrived in this country was how much people love their dogs here ! Don't worry, we love our "chiens" too in France. But in France, we express our love for dogs a bit differently than Americans.
Since 1885, the "Livres des Origines Français" (Book of French Origins) has been used by the "Société Centrale Canine" (Central Canine Society) to register purebred dogs in France. The US has a similar system: owners register every newborn purebred with their breed, their characteristics, their date of birth.... and their name. Naming a dog is where the process becomes interesting in France.
For many years after the creation of the "Livres des Origines Français," the system of registration wasn't well organized. Because owners sometimes waited until years after a dog's birth to register him or her, it became impossible for the Société Centrale Canine to chronologically order the register.
The Société found a radical solution to this problem in 1926. From this year on, the first letter of every purebred dog's name had to follow the same rule. One letter, one year. Every purebred dog born in 1926 had to have a name that began with the letter "A." Any dog whose owner failed to abide by these rules would not be recognized as a purebred. This rule proved complicated in 1952, the year of "Z." That year, a quarter of all purebred dogs were named "Zorro."
This system is still in use today after several small changes. The Société removed the letters "K", "Q", "W", "X", "Y" and "Z" from the naming system, leaving behind 20 letters in rotation. This system worked so well than even purebred cats have to follow it! In addition to France, Belgium and Québec also use this sytem.

Addie, born in 2009, would have had to been named with a letter beginning in "E." She could have been named Eloise! In 2018, we are currently in the year of the "O." What would your dog's name have been if you lived in France?