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Le Blog: Lingual Links

By angelaluke, Oct 6 2016 11:03AM

We are so used to using tags in English that we don't even think about them, do we? That's one I’ve just used, but there are loads more, aren't there? June, you were asking about these, weren't you?

Tags have several functions and that is why French and Spanish speakers learning English are keen to master them. Tags make a conversation sounds more natural, encourage the listener to become active in the conversation and offer the speaker reassurance that the listener is following what he or she is saying.

For speakers of other languages, the English tags are quite complicated. On the other hand, English speakers learning French or Spanish often feel a need to use a tag but can't find one as tags do not translate easily.

So what are the equivalent expressions to English tags? Let's start with French. (if you are a Spanish enthusiast, you can jump to the next paragraph!) The easiest expression is 'n'est-ce pas' which can cover the idea of ‘don't you?’ ‘can't you?’ at the end of a statement. What is tricky is the response to this. A simple ‘oui’ or ‘non’ can sound a bit too blunt so if you are agreeing, it’s sounds more natural to say, ‘oui, c'est vrai’, or ‘oui, bien sûr’. If you don't agree with the statement, use 'mais non!' which is a strong contradiction, just like ‘No I don’t!’. Here’s an example: Tu joues au foot, n'est pas? Mais non! Or conversely, ‘Mais si’ if you are contradicting a negative statement. E.g. Tu n'es jamais allé en Turquie, n'est pas? Mais si, l'année dernière.

The Spanish equivalent of the tag at the end of a statement would be ‘verdad’. Juegas al tenis, ¿verdad? Or, no juegas al tenis, ¿verdad? The replies would be ‘Sí, es verdad’ or equally ‘la verdad es que sí’ or ‘sí claro’ and the negative would be ‘Pues no’ or ‘Pues sí’ if the question was negative like this one: No juegas al fútbol, verdad? Pues sí / Pues no.

Next time you need to give a short answer in French our Spanish, have a go at adding a tag equivalent - the goal is to make your answer a little longer than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and I promise you will sound more natural and less stilted. Let me know how you get on in the comments box below or comment if you use any other tag equivalents. Please also share with any friends who may like to know about this topic.

Merci / gracias, Angela

By angelaluke, Sep 25 2016 11:31AM

I often have people telling me that they are good at understanding written or spoken French, Spanish or English but really struggle replying and they wonder why. I think there is a good explanation for this.

Firstly, formulating a response requires much more than just putting a few sentences together. Putting the sentences together is the tip of the iceberg. For these to be intelligible, they have to make sense to the listener. This in turn means that the learner has to have understood what was said in the first place. Therefore, the language learner's brain is already in overdrive before they utter a single word.

Also, learners often question whether they have correctly understood what was said to them. My advice here is to assume you have. And if you haven't, your response is not likely to trigger a world war, so don't worry about it too much. It's better to communicate something than to be turned to stone by self-doubt. Or, take a step back and check you have understood. It's very easy to ask someone to repeat or rephrase something; we do it all the time in our own language in noisy environments and no-one thinks anything of it.

Furthermore, it may be that the person you are talking to does not require a complete answer from you - they may be looking at you simply for a signal to show that you are following (to a greater or lesser degree) what they are saying. It is very hard for a speaker to continue if he or she does not know whether the listener is engaged. So, in this case, you just need a couple of set phrases such as 'ah bon', 'bien sûr', 'ah sí' or 'claro'. The speaker is then reassured that you are not stuck in the quicksand of their language and they'll carry on speaking (which gives you a reprieve!) The good news is that there is every possibility that your mind will catch up with the general flow of the conversation and you'll then be able to participate.

And so now it's your time to talk. Learners often think this is the hard bit, but actually getting to the stage where you have understood enough of the conversation to have thought of a contribution is harder still in my mind. Now you are holding the conch, don't get caught up in this momentous occasion. Instead, just say something and pass the conch on. You don't have to say anything complicated or impressive and people will be thrilled you are communicating with them in their language instead of making them speak yours. And of course, it's only a conversation when there is an exchange between two people, so you are right to give the others another opportunity to speak: after all, you don't want to be accused of hogging the conversation!

The third stage in this process, after having listened and understood and then replied, is to metaphorically pat yourself on the back but also remind yourself that what you have just done was not that hard. The hard part is pushing yourself to do it in the first place instead of taking the easy way out and saying, 'Parlez-vous anglais?' And you'll find that the next time gets easier, and the time after that even more so. Actually, I would argue here that your ability to converse hasn't got any easier, but your confidence has increased massively... because you've done the hardest part, succeeded and maintained a conversation!

The above partly explains why people enjoy our conversation groups. The vocabulary emailed out beforehand means that people are familiar with the language being used and the crib sheets offer enough support to get you to the crucial stage where you are ready to join in the conversation without the brain already overdrive. Everyone is so relaxed that confidence soars and then the conversations go hors piste. And that's when the authentic conversations and fun really starts...

By angelaluke, Apr 29 2016 10:05AM

Last week in our French conversations we had the phrase, ‘ça a été?’ This common colloquial expression is used in conjunction with something already mentioned or mentioned in the phrase itself. For example, ‘le weekend, ça a été?’ and is a way of asking how your weekend was, but the speaker is often expecting a positive response. The closest to this in English would be ‘And was your weekend good?’ What is great is that you can use the expression with lots of subjects, eg ‘Ça a été le repas/le theatre/le film/les vacances?’ So it's a good piece of small talk and something you might hear in a friendly informal French bar.

However, let’s not forget that ‘été’, as well as being the past participle of être, also is a noun meaning ‘summer’. So, in September, if you are catching up with a French-speaking friend you haven’t seen since April, you could find yourself saying, ‘Alors, l’été, ça a été?’. And if someone does ask you, a stock response whilst you're thinking of what else to say would be, 'Super, merci!' and then you could add more detail. Alors, cet article, ça a été? :)

By angelaluke, Apr 15 2016 09:50AM

Tenir is a verb that came up in our French conversation groups last week. It is quite a useful verb but one that tends to get missed. It literally means ‘to hold’ and conjugates like ‘venir’ but has a myriad of other meanings. It’s a great sentence starter, or a way of introducing a subject. You can use it in the ‘tu’ or ‘vous’ form to attract your listener’s attention. E.g. ‘Tiens, devine ce que je viens de faire’ = ‘Hey, look what I’ve just done’.

Tenir also indicates surprise : ‘Tiens, je me suis trompé encore de numéro!’ – ‘Goodness me, I’ve got the number wrong again!’ You’ll also hear it in shops when the shopkeeper gives you your change: ‘Tenez’ = ‘Here you are’.

And there are lots of idioms using this verb: ‘j’y tiens’ means ‘it’s important to me’ and ‘ je te tiens au courant’ means ‘I’ll keep you posted’. The verb is not to be confused with ‘le tien’ which means ‘yours’, so ‘ce stylo, c’est le tien? = ‘Is this pen yours?’. Which brings me to finish with ‘A la tienne, Étienne!’ – a colloquial expression for ‘Cheers’!

A la semaine prochaine, Angela

By angelaluke, Apr 9 2016 03:57PM

Wednesday’s scripted dialogues at the French conversation groups threw up some imaginative endings when people were faced with the situation that their payment card had been refused. We had all sorts of scenarios but the most useful phrase seemed to be ‘je me suis trompé(e) de code’ meaning ‘I got the code wrong’. The grammar here is a reflexive verb in the past tense but the best way forward is to learn the set phrase, ‘je me suis trompé(e) de...’ as you can then add any noun. In English we have many ways of expressing this: ‘je me suis trompé(e) d’adresse’ means ‘I got the wrong address’, and ‘je me suis trompé de ville’ could mean ‘I went to the wrong town’. ‘Je me suis trompé(e)’ on its own means that you made a mistake. However, ensure you use the reflexive pronoun, otherwise you are deceiving, betraying or cheating on someone, instead of making a mistake. So, ‘elle a trompé son mari’ means that she had an affair, which I guess is still getting the husband wrong in a way! And lastly, there is a very similar verb: ‘tremper’ which means ‘to soak’, so ‘je suis trempé(e) jusqu’aux os’ means that you are soaked to the bone. A bientôt, et ne vous trompez pas de verbe :) A bientôt, Angela

By angelaluke, Mar 30 2016 01:44PM

The expression 'est-ce que' came up today in our French conversation groups. These three little words are so small and mean so much. I am often asked what 'est-ce que' actually means. Well, literally the expression means 'is it that...' which is not really that helpful! It is more useful to look at the function of the expression. 'Est-ce que' serves to introduce a question, which by default means that you are expecting an answer. Therefore as soon as the person you are talking to hears 'est-ce que', they are hooked in and ready to reply. This is particularly handy if you are in a noisy environment or if you are unconfident about your spoken French and so speaking softly. 'Est-ce que' is also useful as it means that the rest of the question follows the usual word order of a statement; no need to invert the subject and verb or to raise the tone of your voice to indicate you'd like an answer. 'Est-ce que' can also be combined with other question words such as 'pourquoi'. For example, pourquoi est-ce que vous êtes ici? And n'oublions pas that if someone says, 'est-ce que' to you, they are also expecting a reply. My tongue in cheek advice at this point is, if you are not entirely sure of the question, to reply 'oui', as they are probably asking you something pleasant like 'est-ce que vous voudriez encore du vin?' or a pleantry such as 'est-ce que vous êtes ici en vacances?'... Any queries, don't forget to use our website panic button. A plus, Angela

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