Active listening for French conversation
With the transcript and the translation, you should have a pretty good idea of what is happening in the recording in our previous post. Let’s take it a step further by looking in detail at the language used. Keep in mind that your goal is develop a deep and intuitive understanding of how conversational French works and then use this knowledge to enhance your own speaking capabilities.
Although the accent is different, the French spoken here is not very different from the French in the previous examples from France and Quebec. I should mention though that these are educated Africans who have most likely spent some time in France. Their French is not indicative of the language spoken by less educated Africans.
It’s important to remember that this is informal French spoken by two friends who come from similar backgrounds. There is quite a lot of joking and kidding, and the language is fast.
When seen on paper, the conversation seems choppy or disjointed with many incomplete sentences and full of all kinds of seemingly useless words that I call fillers. This is typical of informal French conversation as we discussed in our blog post on getting the most out of these examples. But in terms of grammar and vocabulary, the French spoken is actually very simple. The difficulty is figuring out what exactly was said and deciding what is relevant.
1. A key feature here is the constant use of the subject pronoun “on” instead of “nous” that appears only once. This is a well-known feature of spoken French, I have written a blog post about this subject.
2. Because the two speakers are friends, they use the “tu” informal “you” forms constantly except in a few interesting situations that I point out.
3. The “c’est” construction with the verb “être” is omnipresent, as in “C’est clair que c’est mieux.”
4. Note the frequent usage of fillers and conversation markers like: “alors, bon, mais,”
5. With a couple of exceptions, all the verbs are in the present tense.
(1) Look at the word order here and the place of the indirect object pronoun “nous” in front of “faire” meaning “do for us.” What you don’t want to say is something like “faire pour nous” which is a direct translation of the English construction.
(2) The speaker says “yassa poulet” instead of “yassa au poulet” which would be the more standard term. Many French cooking names use the prepositions “au, à la, aux” in the names of dishes, but there is a modern trend to drop the preposition. For instance, “glace au chocolat” becomes “glace chocolat.”
(3) Here the male speaker uses the more standard “yassa au poulet,”
(4) It’s not clear what the speaker is saying here. It sounds to me like “attends-toi” that here would mean something like “you too.”
(5) Completely incomprehensible.
(6) Maliens and Ivoiriens are the citizens of Mali and la Côte d’Ivoire respectively.
(7) I couldn’t understand what the speaker said here. She seemed to be referring to the country of origin of Stéphane who is from the Cameroons, le Caméroun in French. He is thus a Camérounais. There seems to be some play on words here.
(8) Notice how French says “le yassa” (the yassa) where English would drop the article and simply say ” yassa.” There are number of examples in this post.
(9) The word teranga is from the wolof language of Senegal and means “hospitality.”
(10) “Tout à fait” is a common expression particularly amongst journalists and means “yes” or “of course.” It is often used twice, as in “tout à fait, tout à fait.”
(11) This is the first occurrence of the subject pronoun “on.” Here it could be interpreted as “nous” (us).
(12) This “chez nous” would confirm that the previous “on” is actually a “nous.”
(13) Notice how the masculine noun “habit” takes the adjective form “bel” instead of “beau” because the noun starts with the silent h.
(14) To say that he is dressed in Senegalese clothing, the speaker uses the verb “se mettre.” with the adjective “Sénégalais.” This construction is unusual, and I suspect that it is a form of African French. There is, however, in French the expression “se mettre sur son trente-et-un” meaning “to be dressed in fancy clothing.”
(15) The speaker uses here “chose” (thing). The more common expression is “pour la bonne cause” (for a good cause).
(16) Ms Beye pokes fun at Stéphane and says that all of Senegal is grateful that he is wearing Senegalese clothing.
(17) It seems that the speaker may have been searching a bit before finding the right word “tablier” (apron).
(18) I think she says “les oignons qui est” but since “les oignons” are plural, she should have said “les oignons qui sont.” Or it could be. “les oignons, ce qui est…”
(19) Here the speaker starts off with the “c’est quand même..” construction and then changes her mind.
(20) In this list of types of yassa, notice how the speaker uses “du yassa” a number of times. This is an example of what is called the partitive construction in French. In French, one says “Voulez-vous de l’eau, du thé, du café ou du vin ?” (Would you care for water, tea, coffee or wine?) English either drops the article in front of the noun or inserts “some” or “any.”
(21) The speaker changes her mind after “tu peux faire” and decides to go with “tu peux griller…”
(22) Here Stéphane decides to poke fun at Khady and asks if one has to go to Dakar, the capital of Senegal, to get the fish.
(23) Khady jokes that instead of going to Dakar, one could simply go fishing in the St, Lawrence river that runs by Montreal.
(24) Although it’s not entirely clear, it sounds to me like “avec les moyens du bord,” from the idiom “faire avec les moyens du bord” or “to make do.”
(25) Here is basically a series of conversation fillers.
(26) Stéphane uses a common colloquial question form “C’est quoi, cette histoire ? (It is what, this thing?) instead of a more formal “Qu’est-ce que cette histoire ?)
(27) Khady is again poking fun at Stéphane, saying the onions are in water so that he will not cry. Notice that she says “dans de l’eau”, but Stéphane in the next line says “dans l’eau.”
(28) This “nous avons” is the only example of the “nous” subject pronoun in the entire excerpt.
(29) This “vous voyez” is really a filler because all the references to Stéphane use the “tu” form.
(30) The speaker wants to say “finalement” but cuts herself off.
(31) The pronoun “en” refers to “les oignons.”
(32) Note how in the pronunciation of “tout de suite” the “de” disappears completely.
(33) In this typical French construction, the speaker starts with what is called a stressed pronoun”Moi..” and then continues with “je mets…”
(34) The construction “..,parce que la base du yassa des oignons” is actually missing a verb. She probably wanted to say “…parce que la base du yassa c’est des oignons.”
(35) This sentence uses a series of “vous” because the speaker is referring to the viewers or to people in general and not to Stéphane.
(36) Again Stéphane uses a very colloquial question form “…il pousse comment ?” instead of the more standard “…comment pousse-t-il ?”
(37) Khady is kidding Stéphane when she says that the bottle of lemon juice is actually a genetically modified lemon.
(38) This “écoute” (listen) is a filler.
(39) The “on” in “on peut…” could be interpreted in the indefinite pronoun sense of “you” or “people.”
(40) This “bon” in “mais bon” is a sort of filler that adds contrast as in “..but if…”
(41) Note here how this sentence will be repeated by the other speaker. This is a common speaking strategy.
(42) “Allez” and “Allez hop” are very common fillers or conversation markers that are used to emphasize certain actions.
(43) Notice that the speaker says “une troisième” because “cuiller” is a feminine noun.
(44) “Alors mais” is here a pure filler.
(45) The speaker is cut off here. She probably said or wanted to say, “Tout a l’air bien.”
(46) This use of “on appelle ça” could be either “we call this” or “this is called.”
(47) Another example of the filler “bon.”
(48) When Ms Beye says “au pays” she is referring to “my country.”
(49) Jumbo (pronounced more like jimbo) and Cube Maggi (pronounced like ki-maggi) are two popular brands of spices in cube form.
(50) Notice the liaison in “Quand on” that becomes “quand-t-on.”
(51) In “huile d’arachide” note that “arachide” is singular. Later on we will see a plural form in note 54.
(52) Notice how the speaker refers to “huile d’arachide” as “elle.”
(53) Here is another clear example of the stressed pronoun “moi” followed by the subject pronoun “je.”
(54) Here “arachides” is plural because the speaker is referring to the agricultural production of Senegal. Remember that the singular and plural forms sound exactly the same.
(55) This “n’est-ce pas ?” (isn’t it?) is a common tag that can be used to create a question.
(56) Two perfect examples of how the “on” verb forms are more compact and simpler than the equivalent “nous” forms: “nous couvrons et nous laissons tranquille.”
The next step: enhancing your French conversation skills
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. Your understanding of this kind of spoken French should improve noticeably.
The key to improving conversation skills: repeat and imitate
Keeping in mind that this is informal French between friends, there’s nothing preventing you from using this material as a source of inspiration and material to boost your own speaking skills. You should try imitating pieces of dialogue here using voice-overs and role-playing.
Here are a number of things to take away from this recording:
1. Remember all these fillers and conversational flow markers like “bon, alors, vous voyez, donc, voilà.” They appear in nearly all these recordings. Choose the ones you like and add them to your speech.
2. Choose words, expressions and phrases that you like and add them to your repertoire. Here are a few items to consider:
super, super bon, super bon.
tout à fait.
c’est quoi, cette histoire?
si vous voulez
cest clair que c’est meilleur
on appelle ça
quoi que ce soit d’autre