French Conversation — Real-life Example 1 From France — Part 1

Ear training for French conversation

If you want to enhance your French conversation skills, you have to improve your understanding of spoken French for two reasons. Firstly, you can’t have much of a conversation if you don’t understand what the other persons are saying, right?

Secondly,  in real French conversations, a common speaking strategy is to start off by rephrasing some of the very words of another person.  In other words, much of the initial work in your response is done for you! This is a great way to sound very fluent and is especially effective in oral examination situations.

Many readers of this blog are already training their ears  by listening to radio and television programs, movies with subtitles, songs, lessons, podcasts and other recordings in French.  Very good.  The only problem is that often it is hard to understand or figure out what exactly is being said, especially in radio or television programs where things whiz by very quickly.

In my opinion, a very effective strategy for developing true or deep understanding of spoken French is to repeatedly listen to  a wide variety of real conversations and analyze how they work.

If you’ve never done this before,  you’re are in for a bit of a shock. Real spoken French is very different from the textbook variety.

My goal is to demystify spoken French and demonstrate how simple it really is and give insight into how a French conversation is put together.  Hopefully, when you see how this all works, you will be able to transfer this knowledge to your own speaking skills.

This post is the first of two. Here we have a  recording of a conversation in Parisian French, a word for word transcript and the translation in English. In the next post,  I first provide some general comments about the language used, then a detailed analysis of specific points in the recording and finally some suggestions into  how to use this material to improve your speaking skills.

In other posts, I hope to give examples of Québécois, African, Haitian and other varieties of French.

For now, we will work with a short excerpt of a YouTube recording. The original recording is about nine minutes long; this excerpt runs a little over two minutes.

In this 2011 recording, two young women from the Paris area are discussing how to deal with difficult or tricky job interview  questions (des questions pièges.)  A job interview is called un entretien d’embauche in French.

The accent of the speakers is that of middle-class Parisians.  This is neither the professional accent of French radio and television announcers nor, at the other end of the spectrum, the accent of uneducated manual labourers.

The speech here is quite formal, that of two people who have just met for professional reasons. It is  not the casual speech of two childhood friends.

How to use

You may want to to have a go at listening to the recording without looking at the transcript.  Print out the transcript and read it while listening to the recording. It’s fast. You’ll probably have to do this a few times and in small doses. Look at the translation and listen again until you feel you understand what is being said.

Read the technical analysis in the next blog and then repeat listening until you feel that you really understand what has been said. Naturally, nothing prevents you from listening to the rest of the recording.

Our transcript stops at 2:26 of the recording.

The transcript of the conversation

–Quand j’avais vingt ans, un entretien,  on m’a posé la question (1), euh, de  quelle était la, (2) en fait, la profession de mes parents. Donc je voulais savoir, j’étais un petit peu (3) surprise, j’avais l’impression de retourner un petit peu à l’école, je voulais savoir comment il fallait  appréhender cette question, comment il fallait le (4), la prendre, et que répondre.
–Alors, première remarque (5), pour ma part, c’est que, euh, (6) c’est une question qui sort du cadre strictement professionnel. Légalement, le recruteur n’a pas à priori à poser cette question. Pour autant, ça fait vraisemblablement partie (7) d’une pratique puisqu’elle vous a été posée. Euh, ce que je dirais moi par rapport à ça, euh, i y (8) a pas forcément de mauvaise intention de la part du recruteur. Euh, c’est potentiellement, euh, un moyen d’initier l’échange sur une tonalité conviviale. Uhm, faut (9) aller vers le plus de naturel et le plus (10) de sincérité possibles. Répondez euh,  strictement à la question (11), sans forcément rentrer dans les détails. Le recruteur peut aussi avoir envie (12) de cerner quel rôle votre environnement personnel a joué dans la construction de votre projet professionnel.
–D’accord. J’avais dix-neuf ans, un entretien d’embauche,  on m’a demandé si j’avais un petit ami.  Cela m’a un peu choquée, je vous l’avoue. Euh, donc j’avais répondu que j’étais, euh, célibataire, mais je me demandais si c’était vraiment légal et comment réagir dans ce cas-là.
–Alors, vous avez tout à fait raison (13). Ce n’est pas légal, Ce n’est pas ce que préconise la législation. Euh, c’est déconnecté de vos compétences et du fait (14) il n’y a pas d’adéquation entre cette question et l’évaluation qu’on va faire (15) de votre capacité à tenir un poste. Euh, néanmoins, il est  difficile d’opposer un refus strict de répondre à cette question. Donc, hésitez pas à reformuler, demander au recruteur qu’est-ce que vous entendez par là (16). Et, du coup (17), vous allez pouvoir cerner  qu’est-ce qu’il attend en termes de réponse,  quelle est, euh, la question visée. Ah, répondez simplement, naturellement sans rentrer trop dans les détails.
–Peu de temps après ma, (18) ma majorité, on m’a demandé si je souhaitais avoir des enfants.
–J’étais un petit peu déstabilisée, j’ai dit que oui, effectivement, mais pour l’instant ce n’était pas ma priorité, Que faut-il  répondre à cette question ?

The Translation

The translation is not as idiomatic as I would like because I’ve deliberately retained quite a bit of the French structure so that you get more of a feel for how French works.

–When I was 20, in an interview, I was asked the question what in fact was the profession of my parents (what did my parents do for a living).  So, I wanted to know, I was a bit surprised,  I had the impression that I was back in school, I wanted to know how to deal with this question, how to understand it, and what to answer.
–Well, first of all, for me, this is, eh, this question is really not very professional,  Legally, the interviewer is not supposed to  ask this question. But that said, it seems to be asked in some cases, as was the case with you. In this example, I think that the recruiter did not necessarily have bad intentions.  Euh, this is probably, euh, a way to start the interaction in a friendly manner.  Uhm,  you should try to be as natural and sincere as possible. Answer the question as simply as possible without going into any details.  The recruiter is also maybe trying to get a sense (cerner) of the role of your family environment in your professional development.
–I see. I was nineteen, a job interview, I was asked if I had a boyfriend. I was a bit shocked, I have to admit. I answered that I was not married, but I wondered if  the question was legitimate and how I should have reacted in that situation.
–Well, you are absolutely  right. It is not legitimate.  That is not what the law says. There is no connection with your qualifications, in fact, there is no correlation between that question and the evaluation of your qualifications for the position.  Nonetheless, it is difficult to totally refuse to answer the question. Don’t hesitate. Ask the interviewer what he or she means by this question.  This will help you to get an idea of the kind of answer expected of you.  Answer simply and naturally without going into details.
–Shortly after turning 18 (ma majorité),  I was asked if I wanted to have children.
— Euh heu
–I was a bit destabilized (thrown off guard), I said yes, indeed, but for the time being it was not a priority. How should one answer this question?

The next step after all this is to work on your own French, conversation skills. I’ll go in to that in the next post.


French Conversation — Real-life Example 1 From France — Part 1 — 3 Comments

  1. In the French transcript, should the last line of the second paragraph read “…de votre projet professionnel” rather than “de votre projet personnel”? I hear it as the first one, but perhaps I am mistaken (the two women speak simultaneously at that point, so it is kind of hard to tell).

  2. Although the recording isn’t very clear, I think Brian’s suggestion is very good and I have made the change.