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Le Blog: Lingual Links

By angelaluke, Mar 25 2017 02:15PM

So this week's conversation had one phrase that

four people asked me about: 'Il ne cesse de pleuvoir'.

Why was there no 'pas' to accompany the 'ne'?

The 'ne' used on its own like in the phrase above is called the 'ne littéraire' and there are seven verbs whose meanings are rendered negative just by adding the 'ne'. The first six verbs are: cesser, oser, pouvoir and, less common, bouger, daigner, and manquer. And so, 'il ne cesse de pleuvoir' means 'it hasn't stopped raining' or 'it keeps on raining'.

The seventh verb is savoir and the 'ne' can be used on its own under three conditions. Firstly, if the sentence expresses doubt, 'je ne sais s'il arrive', secondly. with 'would', je ne saurais comment y aller', and thirdly with a question word, 'il ne sait quoi dire'. However, we cannot use 'ne' on its own if we are talking about a skill or a fact, for example 'je ne sais pas parler chinois'.

The other instance when 'ne' can be used without 'pas' is called the 'ne explétif ' and, unlike the 'ne littéraire', it does not have a negative meaning. However it is used in situations where the main clause has a verb with a negative meaning to express fear, warning, doubt, and denial. Here's an example: J'ai peur qu'il ne fasse trop froid'. The 'ne explétif ' is also used after certain conjunctions, namely, à moins que, avant que, de crainte que, de peur que and sans que. So, for example, we could say, 'j'irai à la plage demain à moins qu’il ne pleuve.'

In common parlance, you can get away without using either the 'ne littéraire' or the 'ne explétif ' but if you want to use stylised, beautiful-sounding French, having a couple of set phrases up your sleeve can be a good idea.

Please let me know if you have found this useful, or use our panic button if you'd like more detail on this. We are always happy to help... à moins que la question ne soit trop difficile bien sûr :)

À bientôt,


By angelaluke, Mar 4 2017 08:17PM

It is often said that developing foreign language listening skills is the hardest skill to master, yet it’s also one of the most important ones. What can we do to improve listening comprehension?

Well, it goes without saying that practice makes perfect. But if you’re not living in the country, how can you listen to authentic language? Actually, there are lots of ways and mixing up your sources of listening material will stop you getting bored.


With the Internet, it is very easy to search for radio stations in your country of choice. Whilst it’s true to say that radio presenters seem to talk particularly fast, radio programing follows a format. Therefore, start by listening on the hour, in order to hear the time, news headlines and maybe the weather. These sound bites are enough to get you started. The radio also makes great background noise and, the more you listen, the more your ear will get attuned. Here is a link to a marvellous site: radio garden - http://radio.garden/live/ You can spin the globe and listen to any live radio station in the world in real time – awesome!

Songs with lyrics

And if music is your thing, why not listen to foreign songs with lyrics. You can search on YouTube and if you’d like French lyrics, search for ‘chansons en français avec paroles’ and for Spanish, ‘canciones en español con letra’. You’ll find a huge choice and the lyrics on the videos help make the listening more accessible. The other day I was searching for songs in French and came across Sara’H who sings French covers of British and American artists. So, if you are a fan of Adele, you can hear ‘Hello’ in French. Knowing the song in the original language helps your comprehension enormously. Here is link to Sara’H’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/sarahageali


Podcasts are a great way to listen to relatively short bursts of French or Spanish and you can often get the transcript if you subscribe. There are many to choose from, but a French one I particularly like is called ‘One Thing in a French Day’ and the podcasts are produced three times a week. Here is a link: http://onethinginafrenchday.podbean.com/ For Spanish I like Audiria, with its transcripts and online exercises: http://audiria.com

Or maybe you prefer films?

Films are another entertaining way to improve listening skills, and give great insight into the country’s culture. Amazon has a fabulous collection of foreign films under the genre ‘International’ and if you are an Amazon Prime customer, the films are free to watch. It’s also worth checking what’s on in your local town. In Farnham, for example, Brasserie Blanc shows French films every Monday in their secret cinema upstairs and the Maltings also puts on foreign films. Don’t worry that the films are subtitled - the subtitles are there so that you can check how closely the English adheres to the original script!

Lastly, flashcards.

Building your vocabulary is another important language task and quizlet.com here kills two birds with one stone. Quizlet’s flashcard and online activities are great. You can search for any topic or easily add your own set. However, what I like is the fact that the site has built-in audio so you can listen to the words on the flashcards in the foreign language. Why not give this a try! https://quizlet.com/

Hold conversations with people who speak the language you’re learning.

Ultimately, we learn a foreign language to be able to communicate with other people so conversation groups are a great way to practice listening and speaking. Anyone who attends our French or Spanish conversation groups will know this, but if you can’t find a group near you, why not look to chat online? There are many sites that will help you find an online chat partner but here’s one I like: https://www.conversationexchange.com/

So, what do you do to practise listening? And what might you try now you’ve read this? Please leave me a comment below as I’d love to hear what you do and, if you’ve liked this article, please share it on your favourite social media.

Merci et gracias, Angela

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

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