French Conversation – Real-life Example 5 From Quebec – Part 1

Ear training for understanding Quebec French conversation.

In this installment of our real-life examples series, we look at a somewhat unusual form of conversation in Quebec French. Here we study an excerpt of the testimony of an important witness in a public judicial inquiry. This is a rare opportunity to hear standard Québécois French spoken in a kind of courtroom setting with a real judge and a lawyer questioning a witness.

As with all our case studies, Part 1 presents a video recording, a detailed transcription of the audio and a translation. The goal here is to help learners of French associate the sounds of the language with the written words and their meaning.

Part 2 in the next blog post focuses on how the language is used, with general observations and detailed technical comments. This will lead to what I call a deep understanding of how spoken French works.

Then I finish with recommendations on how to use elements of this recording to improve your speaking proficiency in French. For an overview of this whole process, I strongly recommend that you read my post on how to use these real-life examples, if you have not done so already.

About this conversation

In October 2011, the government of Quebec, bowing to political pressure, created a public inquiry to look into allegations of collusion and corruption in the awarding of public contracts in the construction industry. The full name is La Commission d’enquête sur l’octroi et la gestion des contrats publics dans l’industrie de la construction, It is usually called the Commission Charbonneau from the name of the president, Madame justice France Charbonneau, who is referred to as Madame la présidente. She has two commissioners assisting her.

The examining lawyer for the commission, Denis Gallant, is questioning an important witness, Gilles Surprenant, who sits facing the president and the commissioners. He usually speaks to the camera.

Mr Surprenant is a retired engineer who used to work for the city of Montreal and was instrumental in the approval of many contracts given to contractors for public works. Previously, another witness had pointed to Mr Surprenant as a major beneficiary of a system of kickbacks and bribes in the awarding of contracts.

In previous testimony, Mr Surprenant had admitted to taking bribes from construction companies to the tune of about $600,000. He is now being questioned about what became of this money. We learn that he still had about $123,000 in cash remaining that he handed over to investigators from the Commission.

As you will see in the recording, the witness becomes very nervous and a bit flustered when he has to explain how and why he handed this cash to the investigators. The dialogue is between the counsel for the Commission and the witness except for a few words from president Mme Charbonneau.

How to use this material

Unless you are used to the Québécois French accent, you will have to listen to this recording a number of times, and most likely in small doses. It would probably be most practical to first print out the transcript and the translation and then follow the recording on the print-out.

The excerpt ends at 3:57 of the original recording. Note that the person who uploaded this recording to Youtube added some printed comments that you should disregard.

The transcript of the conversation

– Ceci étant dit, (1) aujourd’hui, à l’heure qu’on se parle (2), est-ce qu’il reste de l’argent ? (3)
– Non.
– Il reste zéro cennes (4)? Vous avez,..vous avez tout dépensé ? (5)
– Ben, (6) comme j’ai dit, il y a un cent mille dollars qui était perdu (7) chez un entrepreneur. Il y a au moins peut-être deux, trois, deux cent cinquante à trois cent mille dollars qui étaient au casino. (8)
– Je vais vous rafraîchir la mémoire…31 août deux mille, deux mille douze (9)..ah..vous avez rencontré les enquêteurs Giovanni Moriello et Tri Min.Truong, qui sont des (10) enquêteurs du Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, mais qui sont affectés à la Commission. Ils vous ont rencontré dans le cadre de…ils avaient des questions à vous poser dans le cadre de notre mandat ici. OK. N’est-il pas exact (11) que vous leur..
– Est-ce qu’il s’est passé quelque chose de particulier… avec ces gens-là ?(12)
– Ben…
– …Avez-vous remis quelque chose ? (13)
– (14) Vous voyez, effectivement, c’est ce qu’on..qu’on s’en allait dire.(15) L’argent qui me restait, je l’ai remis en totalité à la Commission. (16)
– Bon.(17) Je vais vous demander d’être plus précis, c’est-à-dire que…euh…vous avez ramené une somme de combien ? Vous avez donné une somme de combien ?
– Ben, c’est autour de cent, cent vingt-trois mille dollars…approximativement, là… je me souviens pas exactement.
– Parfait.(18)
– Cent vingt, Cent vingt-deux mille huit cents, peut-être.
– OK. Il y a une raison particulière pourquoi vous avez apporté cette somme d’argent-là aux enquêteurs ? (19) Est-ce qu’il y a eu une demande en ce sens-là …des enquêteurs à votre endroit ?
– Oui.
– Ils vous ont dit, “Amène l’argent” (20) ?…Comment ça s’est passé ?
– Ben, c’est…, comment ça s’est passé ? (21)..Moi, ben, (22) leur ai fait part, ce qui arrive, c’est que moi, il me restait cet argent-là.
– Il vous reste (23) bon an mal an (24) à peu près cent vingt-trois mille piasses. (25)
– Ouais.
– C’est ça qu’on veut savoir.
– Ouais.
– OK, je vous ai situé dans le temps. Vous avez rencontré deux enquêteurs le trente et un août 2012.
– Ouais.
– OK. Madame la présidente vous a demandé qu’est-ce qui s’est passé. (26) OK. Alors, allez-y là… c’est qu…(27) ça fait pas longtemps là,,,le mois d’août-là.
– Ben, c’est ça…moi, je…je leur ai dit, aux enquêteurs (28)…je dis, “Écoutez.. (29) là c’est,,,on parle de choses sérieuses-là. Pis, écoute, (30) moi…de l’argent qui me reste…,je le veux pu.” (31) Je voulais…je voulais me…je voulais me débarrasser de…de cet argent-là. Parce que de toute façon, comme je l’ai dit, j’ai toujours été mal à l’aise avec…avec cet argent-là pis toutes façons c’était comme des…euh…juste des mauvais souvenirs là.
– Cet argent-là était chez…(32) dans votre maison ?
– Euh, oui.
– Et vous l’avez remis à la Commission.
– Exact, (33)
– OK.
– Exact.
– J’ai un document ici.
– Et puis.
– Ben, allez-y, je voulais faire…
– Je voulais juste dire que j’étais…j’étais très content de remettre cet argent-là, de me débarrasser de ça. (34) C’était comme un genre de…de libération de tout…des dix dernières années-là…de…
– OK mais le… la? question… c’est pas clair. Est-ce que c’était à votre initiative…(35) d’amener l’argent ou ce sont (36) les enquêteurs vous l’ont demandé…que…que…ç’a été quoi l’échange que…que c’est que vous avez dit là, “J’en veux pu, de cet argent-là, Je la (37) ramène ?”
– Ben, si vous …(38) ouais, ouais.
– OK, la fois d’avant, vous les aviez rencontrés…”je dis, moi je file (39) mal avec ça, je vous ramène ça” ?
– Ouais, exact.
– OK

The translation

The translation of this conversation is not a idiomatic as it could be because I wanted to retain some of the French construction and phrasing.

– This being said, today, at this moment, is there any money left?
– No.
– Not a penny left? You spent it all.
– Well, as I said, there was a $100,000 that was lost with a contractor. There was maybe two, three, two hundred and fifty to three hundred thousand dollars that went to the casino.
– I’m going to refresh your memory…August 31, 2012…you met with investigators Giovanni Moriello and Tri Min.Truong, investigators with the City of Montreal Police Department but who are seconded to the Commission. They met with you concerning …they had questions for you from the Commission .. OK, is it not exact that you…?
– Did anything special take place…with these individuals?
– Well…
– …Did you hand them anything?
– You see, in fact, that’s what I was going to say. The money that remained, I gave it to the Commission.
– So, I’m going to ask you to be clearer, that is you gave back a sum of how much? How much did you return?
– Well, it’s about one hundred, one hundred and twenty-three thousand dollars…approximately,…I don’t remember exactly.
– Perfect.
– A hundred and twenty. One hundred twenty-two eight hundred, maybe.
– OK. Is there a particular reason why you brought this sum of money to the investigators? Was there a request from the investigators?
– Yes.
– They said to you “Bring the money back.” What happened?
– Well, it’s,..what happened? I, well, I said to the, what happened is that I had this money remaining.
– You had about 123,000 bucks remaining.
– Yeah.
– That’s what we want to know.
– Yeah.
– OK, I gave you the date. You met with two investigators on the August 31, 2012.
– Yeah.
– OK. Madame President asked you what happened. OK. So, go ahead…it’s not that long ago…the month of August.
– Well, it’s ..I said to the investigators, “Listen…we’re talking serious now. And the money that is remaining…I don’t want it any more.”..I wanted to..I wanted to get rid of it. Because at any rate, as I said, I was always uncomfortable with this money. and, in any case, it was all just bad memories for me.
– This money your house.
– Yes.
– And you gave it back to the Commission.
– Correct.
– OK.
– Correct.
– I have a document here.
– And then..
– Fine, go ahead. I wanted to.
– I simply wanted to say that…I was..I was happy to give the money back, to get rid of it. It was like a kind of relief…a liberation of the last ten years of.
– OK, but there’s something that’s still is not clear.. Was it your initiative…to offer to give the money back or did the investigators ask for it.. What was said.. what did you say. “I don’t want this money any more..Here it is.”
– Well, if you.. yeah, yeah.
– OK, the previous meeting with them “I say, I don’t feel comfortable with this (money), I’m going to give it to you.”
– Yeah, exact.
– OK

The next step: understanding the conversation

Once you’ve gone through this recording a few times with the transcript and the translation, you should be able to listen to the recording without the transcript and understand it quite well. As with all these real-life case studies, I recommend listening many times until you feel you know the material by heart. You should be able to say some of the dialogues at the same time as the speakers. That’s the goal. In the next blog post, we’ll deepen your understanding by looking at the mechanics of the French grammar in use.

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