Conversational French in movies – Le dîner de cons – Part 2

A model of informal conversational French

Even though the recording may be lacking, I think the transcript in the previous blog post is a very useful tool for intermediate learners of French. In my opinion, it is a model of perfect conversational French.

Be aware that it represents a certain kind of interactive spoken language. This is not a job interview, a speech or a university lecture. This is the informal language of friends chatting.

It sounds realistic, but it’s not raw spontaneous language. Compared to the unscripted French dialogs in this blog, the conversational French here is sanitized. What I mean is that all the sentences are perfectly formed. There are none of the distracting elements that are always present in unscripted French. No stuttering, repeating, pauses, mistakes, overlapping voices, sudden changes of logic, etc. Everything is just right.

There are a couple of reasons why I think this material is so valuable for acquiring conversational French skills. First of all, it illustrates so perfectly all the principles and themes that make up what I call essential French. All the key elements of French grammar and vocabulary are here. Many of things I have highlighted in my blog posts are on display here.

Secondly, this piece of dialog illustrates a theme that I hammer at constantly in this blog: spoken French is not complicated at all. French grammar and vocabulary can be overwhelming and daunting if you try to learn everything. But in reality people use only a small part of all the resources and complexities of the language.

This excerpt lasts less than four minutes and contains around 700 words. I haven’t done an exact analysis but I guesstimate that the text uses around 150 different words, maybe even less. Certain words appear only once, others appear many times. But the key point here is that in those 700 words all the essential features of French grammar are present.

What this tells us, as I say many times in this blog, is that you don’t have to have a huge vocabulary or know all the grammar of French in order to speak fluently. If you know the essential things well and have a decent pronunciation, you can get by very well and will have a solid foundation upon which to build. This, of course, is the fundamental principle underlying my wall chart calendar learning tool. Master the basics and everything else becomes easy!

General observations

Here are a few general things to keep in mind when reading the transcript.

1- You will note that the sentences are short and constructed very simply. Nearly all are of the form Subject +Verb + Complement. For example, in the very first line we see Vous ne me dérangez pas du tout. Here, of course, the object pronoun me goes in front of the verb. There are no inversions with the subject at the end.

2- Simple common question forms that use the Suject+Verb+Complement with interrogative intonation or with a question marker at the beginning or at the end. For example, we have:

Tu viens au match mercredi soir ?
Pourquoi il t’invite ?
T’arrives ou tu pars ?
Tu veux un café ?

3- The subject pronoun nous has been nearly totally replaced by the third person form awesome pronoun on. This, of course, is a particular feature of the spoken language.

4- The tu informal verb form is used systematically between friends whereas the vous is reserved for more formal circumstances.

5- Pay special attention to the many instances of those awesome pronouns ça (8 times), en (7 times) and y (4 times). Notice how there are used to refer compactly to things that were mentioned previously. This is extremely important in French.

6- Notice the importance of the key verbs: être, avoir, faire, venir, aller, pouvoir. Note the numerous examples of the form c’est, as in: C’est une de mes plus belles pièces.

Technical notes

(1) Note the idiomatic usage of the pronominal verb m’exercer for the English verb “to practice.” The verb pratiquer is becoming more common, especially in Quebec. Notice as well that that the character says: J’étais en train de to emphasize the action of practicing with the boomerang.

(2) The first instance of our awesome pronoun ça that refers here to the action of boomerang throwing.

(3) The speaker uses uses the preposition à in à dîner (for dinner) because the person at the other end probably said something like, Je voudrais vous inviter à diner mercredi soir.

(4) The first of many instances of the awesome pronoun en here referring to the invitation to dinner.

(5) Note the word is espresso not expresso that some English-speakers use.

(6) The very common s’il vous plaît is replaced by the more informal s’il te plaît.

(7) This kind of question structure using the pronoun ça is very common in colloquial spoken French.

(8) This construction is typical of informal spoken French. In a more formal language, he would have said: Pourquoi est-ce qu’il t’invite ?

(9) The on here is the first of many instances of this awesome pronoun in the sense of “we.”

(10) This form Vous causez quoi ? is used to represent working-class French. Normally, the speaker should have said Vous causez de quoi?

(11) The ne has disappeared.

(12) Tu es becomes t’es.

(13) Il y aura de gros bonnets: There will be big-shots present. Bonnet is “hat.”

(14) The use of on here is interesting because it is not the usual “we.” It is more likely “you.”

(15) ma part is a typical way of saying “from me”

(16) The on here refers to “we”. “Will we be seeing you Wednesday?”

(17) Although there is no explicit reference, the y here refers to the dinner Wednesday evening.

(18) Notice here that the n’ as in Je n’ai pas has disappeared.

(19) Ah bon is a very typical way of expressing surprise.

(20) T’en is the contraction of Tu en. Note here how this pronoun en and the previous one refer both to con that was previously mentioned.

(21) The y here refers to the idea of finding a con. The whole phrase would be translated as “I’ll think about it.”

(22) This Ah, il faut que j’aille is probably one of the most frequent uses of the subjunctive form aille of aller in spoken French.

(23) Another instance of the pronoun ça, but here the entire phrase is typical way of saying: “What is this?”

(24) Note the use of faire collection meaning “to be a collector of.”

(25) This is interesting. The speaker is referring to the la louche “the ladle” that is not mentioned but can be seen in the movie. Since louche is feminine, the pronoun Elle and the adjective belle have to be used.

(26) The word siècle or century is understood here. He is talking about an 18th century ladle.

(27) The ça here refers to the louche.

(28) The en of course refers to louches in the previous line.

(29) The ça here refers to the fact that the other speaker’s father collects ladles.

(30) Again the en refers to the ladles.

(31) There is the question marker quoi then a little play on words pas papa.

(32) Notice that originale is spelled with an -e indicating that it agrees with la passion.

(33) This is a interesting because the speaker is using the gerundive form invitant instead of the more common infinitive inviter.

(34) Je vous en prie is of course the classic reply to the preceding merci. See my recent blog post on this.

(35) Note how faite is written to agree with the feminine La tour Eiffel.

(36) The pronoun en refers to the preceding belles pièces. A translation would be “You have more like these?”

(37) Concorde refers to the supersonic airplane.

(38) Note how that I have spelled arrivés to indicate that it agrees with the meaning “we” of the subject pronoun On.

(39) Dis-donc is a sort of interjection here.

(40) De la part de Jean Cordier is a great way of saying “this is Jean Cordier” or “Jean Cordier speaking” on the telephone.

(41) The en here of course refers to un con.

Incorporating this material into your own French conversation

For learners of conversational French, this material is a little gold mine. Here you have a series of examples of very typical conversational French spoken with a perfect accent. You cannot get better than this. This is what I would call avoir l’embarras du choix.

As I always recommend, if you have access to the recording, listen to it till you know this dialog by heart or at least until you understand everything perfectly without having to think. Read it out aloud as many times as you can until you feel comfortable speaking it. Even better, if you have access to a tutor or a partner, act out the dialog.

Then choose phrases that you want to incorporate into your speaking style. You may want to start with shorter phrases because they are easier. They are all good. Here are just a few suggestions:

J’en serai ravi.
T’arrives ou tu pars ?
Tu veux un café ?
C’est l’anniversaire de mon père.
Tu l’embrassera de ma part.
On est arrivés.
Non, malheureusement, j’ai un empêchement, tu y vas ?
Non, mais je vais y penser. Ah, il faut que j’aille.

Related Posts

1. How to use the awesome pronoun ÇA
2. How to use idiomatic pronominal verbs
3. How to use the awesome French pronoun EN
4. How to use the awesome French pronoun Y
5. French verb conjugations are not as hard as they look
6. How to give and receive thanks in French
7. Five steps to mastering French object pronouns

Stanley Aléong is a polyglot, author, musician and language coach in French, English and Spanish. He likes to share his passion for languages and believes that anybody can learn to speak a foreign language well with the right methods and tools. He has also invented a cool visual learning tool called the Language Wall Chart Calendar that is based on his own learning experience. Reach him at

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