Ear training for Québécois French conversation
This excerpt of a French conversation is an excellent little anthology of many features of colloquial Québécois French. It is important to keep in mind that although this is not the formal French of Radio-Canada that we heard in Example 2 from Quebec, it is not bad French. In fact, the two speakers here are themselves well-known television personalities. This is the way most Québécois speak in an informal situation.
If you will be interacting with speakers of Québécois French, a knowledge of this kind of French will be very useful. Depending on your needs and interests, you can decide what elements you may want to incorporate into your own speaking style.
Although the pronunciation and certain items of vocabulary may be unusual for many readers, the language is actually not very different from what we have seen in all the other examples of spoken French. All the general comments about spoken French that I made in the post on using these real-life examples are totally applicable here.
1. When people speak fast, as it the case here, a number things happen. Words tend to blend together. For example, “tu est”,”tu as” and “tu avais” become “t’es”, “t’avais” and “t’as.” “tu sais” becomes “tsé.” Words are dropped or word combinations are simplified. “Ça fait que” becomes “Fait que.” The pronouns “il” and “ils” become “i.” And, of course, the negation marker “ne” disappears completely.
People also tend to articulate less clearly. In the recording, the speaker on the left, Simon-Olivier Fecteau, is sometimes difficult to understand because at times he mumbles or swallow his words.
2. Notice that the two speakers use the informal “tu” verb forms systematically. This is a very widespread among younger speakers in Quebec. If the speakers had been over 40 or if there had been a major difference of age or social or professional rank, the “vous” form would have been used.
3. When speaking informally and quickly, speakers do not have time to make complex sentences. They speak in short groups of words or bursts and tend to use the same constructions that they are comfortable with.
What makes this material hard to understand for the learner is the fact that everything seems a bit disjointed and broken into small pieces but spoken at a fast clip. But when you look at the transcript, you see that the actual constructions and the grammar are very simple.
4. One very striking feature of this recording is the use of that very common construction “c’est.” It is used in nearly every line of dialogue. I counted 19 instances.
5. Notice the very common use of the two key pronouns “on” and “ça.”
(1) Here the speaker probably wanted to say something like “d’être ici avec nous” (for being here with us) but suddenly changes his mind to insert the reference to the restaurant”la Banquise.”
(2) “Comment que” est a very colloquial québécois equivalent of “Comment est-ce que.” So, we have here a shortened form of “Comment est-ce qu’on t’appelle ?”
Note as well two occurrences of “on.” Here it does not mean “nous” (we) as is the usual case. Here it is used with the indefinite meaning of “people” as in “What do people call you?”
(3) The “ne” of the idiom “personne ne + verb” has completely disappeared. This “personne ne…” means “nobody” as in “Personne n’a appelé” (Nobody called). Because this “ne” has nearly completely disappeared in the spoken language, instead of “il n’y a personne” (there’s no-one) you will hear “il y a pas personne.” This form is considered nonstandard, and I suggest that you avoid it.
(4) “tsé” is a compact form of”tu sais” (you know). It works just like “you know” in spoken English as a space filler. Very common in spoken Québécois. Be careful not to overuse it.
(5) Notice how the “s” in “plus” is pronounced in connection with “intime.” I’ve written a blog post on the pronunciation of the word “plus.”
(6) Although the recording is not very clear here, it sounds like “comme de fait…” (as a fact, in reality)
(7) Notice how the speaker asks a question and then tags on “la Banquise” referring to “un endroit” in the question. This construction is very common in colloquial French.
(8) Two points here. First, the speaker repeats most of the question in an affirmative manner. This is an excellent way to answer a question. Second, notice how the verb form “c’est” is used nearly in every line in this part of the conversation. This form occurs over and over again.
(9) “C’est ça” is a very common way of saying “that’s it” or “you’re right.”
(10) “Pis” is a colloquial form of “puis” which here means “and.” The word “là” has a number of different uses in Quebec French. Here it can mean either “at this very moment” as in “là, il faut que je parte” (now, I have to leave) or “here” as in “Marie n’est pas là” (Marie is not here.)
(11) Note how the speaker articulates “couleur” and nearly completely drops the first syllable “ou.”
(12) “.. pas si pire” is a colloquial and nonstandard version of “..mauvais” (bad). In standard French grammar “pire” is considered the compartive form or “worse,” but it is commonly used as synonym of “mauvais.” One hears, for example, “le film était pas pire” instead of “le film était pas mauvais” for “the film wasn’t bad.”
(13) Notice a nonstandard way of phrasing the question. Instead of “qui est-ce que j’interroge…” the speaker says “qui c’est que j’interroge…”
(14) In this line, speaker contracts all the pronouns “tu” with the following verb starting with a vowel. This gives a series of “t’es” and “t’as.”
(15) Be careful here. Despite all the resemblance, this “tu” in “t’es-tu” is not the second personal subject pronoun “tu.” In reality it is a very distinctive Quebec French way of asking a question by tagging on a “tu” to a verb, as in “je peux-tu partir ?” (may I leave?) or “ça marche-tu?” (is it working?)
(16) The “mettons” (let’s put) here means “say” and is commonly used as a filler. One also will hear “disons” (let’s say) in the same sense.
(17) The “ouais” for “oui” is a pure flow marker whereby the speaker acknowledges that he is listening.
(18) “la patente” is a Quebec French word for “the thing.”
(19) “conter des histoires” is commonly used instead of “raconter des histoires.”
(20) “Fait que” is a contraction of “Ça fait que” and very commonly used as an equivalent of the English “so”, as in “Fait que je suis parti” (So, I left)”
(21) Same contraction of “tu sais” as in note (4).
(22) This is a complicated point of French grammar. Standard French says that you cannot put a preposition “dedans” at the end of a sentence as you can do in English. For example, in this case, we should say “j’écris ce dans quoi je joue.” (I write what in which I act). However, there is a trend in colloquial French to use a contraction similar to the English “I write what I act in.”
(23) Here “genre” is often used in French like the English “like” and refers back to “réalisateur” and “égocentrique maniaque.”
(24) It’s not at all clear what the speaker is referring to after “tsé.” He is cut off by the other speaker.
(25) Here the speaker speaks to the camera but is unintelligible.
(26) Note that the speaker uses the singular “c’est” instead of “ce sont d’autres choses…”
(27) In Quebec French, “tantôt” is used as “soon.”
(28) Note here the pronunciation of the “r” in “peintre.” This is a modern form that contrasts with a trilled “r” used by older speakers.
(29) Another instance of “fait que” (so) that we saw at note (20).
(30) The “l” of the third person pronoun “il” is dropped.
(31) “…me faisait tout le temps” seems incomplete. The speaker probably wanted to use a verb with “faisait” but suddenly changes his mind.
(32) The verb form is “regarde” (look) but the first “e” is barely audible, so that the verb sounds like “garde.”
(33) “checke” is a form of the verb “checker” from the English verb “to check.” Be aware however that “checker” in French is used in the sense of “to look” as is the case here.
(34) “Pis” (and, so, then) is the same as in note (10).
(35) “gosser” in Quebec French means “to bug” or “to harass.”
(36) Similar to note (23).
(37) “un couple” (a couple) is used jokingly to mean “a few.”
(38) “une piasse” is a colloquial pronunciation of “une piastre,” an old word for “dollar.”
(39) In “ça-là” the “là” is tagged on to “ça” to add emphasis. This happens in things like “cette époque-là” (at that time) or “à ce moment-là” (at that momen).
(40) Notice here how the speaker just repeats that last sentence of the other speaker.
(41) “Bluff” is the name of the film directed by Simon-Olivier Fecteau.
(42) This “Moi, je…” (Me, I…) redundant subject construction is very common in all forms of spoken French. The “moi” is called a stress pronoun.
(43) In “..pis j’y..”, we first have de “pis” (and) that we saw earlier in note (34). Then “y” is the indirect oebject pronoun “lui” (to him/her) and not a location in space.
(44) “pu” is the colloquial pronunciation of “plus” (no more). So, in more standard form, ” pis j’y parle pu…on se parle pu” would be “puis je ne lui parle plus…on ne se parle plus.”
(45) “la chicane” is a fight or an argument.
(46) The -tu is the question marker that we saw in note (15).
(47) The “y” is the same colloquial form of “lui” in note (44).
(48) Another example of the redundant subject construction “moi, je..” that we saw in note (42).
(49) “toffe” from the English “tough.”
(50) The adjective “pareil” in Québécois is often used as an adverb instead of the standard adverb form “pareillement.”
(51) “boutte” is the colloquial pronunciation of “bout.”
(52) “fait que” or “ça fait que” that we saw in notes (20) and (29) is often used at the end of a phrase or sentence or sometimes just by itself.
(53) The same “pas pire” we saw in note (12), meaning “not bad.”
The next step: improving your French conversation skills
Keep in mind that the material in this recording is colloquial French and borderline slang. You have to decide how much you want to imitate this material or not. Just be sure that you know when to use it and when not to.
After listening to this material quite a few times and reading these notes, you should have a very good understanding of the language of this conversation. As I keep saying, once you get through the blur of sounds, you soon realize that this kind of French is not difficult at all.
The key to improving conversation skills: repeat and imitate
Remember the recommendations outlined in the blog post on using these real-life examples. Listen to this example many times over a week or two until you know it by heart. And then try the suggestions like voice-overs and role-playing.
The idea behind listening to all these recordings is to give you a feel for how French works so that you can in turn make your French sound the way natives speak it. So, there’s nothing preventing you from using this material as a source of inspiration and examples to boost your own speaking skills. And you have the added advantage of knowing exactly what it is supposed to sound like.
Here are a few things to take away from this recording
Choose words, expressions and phrases that you like and add them to your repertoire. Here are some items that are in excellent casual French and that you might want to consider:
Est-ce que c’est un endroit que tu fréquentes, la Banquise ?
T’es quoi dans la vie?
Quand je signe, mettons, mes chèques, quoi que ce soit.
Keep listening and talking but make a point of incorporating new material into your own speech every day. Your comprehension skills will improve first. But very quickly you will see your French conversation speaking skills improve as well.