Last week, almost 50 students from Chicago Public Schools visited the Alliance for one of their last times this school year and exchanged laughs, memories, and even some bittersweet tears at the 2018 Awards for Excellence Program. It was an evening for students who successfully completed their program to reflect on their time with teachers and friends. The ceremony was also a celebration of 20 years of bringing CPS students into the Alliance to study French.
Since 1998, the Alliance Française Educational Outreach Program has offered motivated students weekly after school language programs, broadening their educational endeavors and open-minded outlooks. Some students are selected for language immersion scholarships to France and Concordia College Language Villages in Minnesota for their hard work during the program.
Meet Jin Jin, better known by her family and friends as Kitty!
When she first stepped into the Alliance Française de Chicago four years ago she didn’t know any French, not even “bonjour.” She had just quit her job and moved to Chicago where she knew no one. Now she is an accomplished French speaker who wants to continue to perfect her skills and share her love of the language.
“I never thought of learning French although I was a language teacher. But, one day I walked past the building and thought, why not,” Kitty said.
She began watching YouTube videos and movies in French to help her prepare for class.
In her initiation class with Jamal, she found it challenging to talk about her new city in French. She grew up in China where she taught English to travelers and studied Korean in grade school and German in college. So when she wasn’t grasping the French language at first, she became very frustrated and thought about giving up.
“That really did a number on me, because I was a straight-A student in my student life, always loving learning languages. I’ve never felt like I didn’t get a language. It was very frustrating for me,” Kitty said.
In China, learning new languages was often a strict and rigid experience. Even students’ accomplishments were met with stress and comments on studying harder. When Kitty’s teachers at the Alliance pushed her to keep trying, she found the support refreshing and encouraging.
“They taught me to have fun and enjoy the process of learning. Having class is not so serious, it’s a fun process,” she said.
Despite her hesitation, one of her teachers, Elodie, encouraged her to take French proficiency exams B1 and B2. She offered her materials and suggestions on how to study, and to Kitty’s surprise, she passed both successfully.
“The ambiance here is very friendly. As you can see Elodie and Jamal, they’re not only my teachers they’re my friends,” Kitty said, reflecting on classes with Geoffrey, Elodie, Jamal, Marie, Anie, and many other teachers.
She also thanked her husband for her progress in French. He went to her first class with her and even though he did not continue, often brought Kitty cartoons and movies to watch in French and would watch them with her multiple times to help her practice.
One of her favorite memories at the Alliance was last year when everyone threw her teacher, Camille, a going-away party. She baked a cake and students and teachers brought gifts and even invited Camille’s boyfriend from New York.
“I was thinking, ‘what if I leave? I’ll miss everyone so much, is anybody going to miss me,’” Kitty said. Her thoughts were answered when it came time for her to move once again, as usually happens every few years due to her husband’s job. During the past few weeks many have given their email and home address and asked Kitty to write en Français.
Her favorite word in French is clapotis, the French word to describe the sound of water droplets, because there is no word for the sound in Chinese and she loves how precise the French language can be.
Before moving overseas last month, Kitty check to see if there would be an Alliance Française near her and was happy to find out that there is a location near her new home. She plans to continue learning French and will start a blog written in French about her adventures in a new city.
“Even though I’m leaving, we will always be connected. I told Elodie, ‘you will always be my teacher.’ So, it’s not just a language school for me. It’s a place to meet people and share the best moments here in Chicago,” Kitty said.
“Je t’aime Alliance Française !”
The 2018 Olympics are upon us and let me preface this blog post by saying that I am a huge Olympics fan. Being a naturally competitive person, I am drawn to competitions and what competition is more grand than the Olympics?
But don’t worry, I am not here to just talk about my love for sports, athletes and world-wide competitions. Although, if you want to geek out about the Olympics, come into the Alliance and we will chat about fun sports like curling and long ski-jumping (which still blows my mind… I mean how do you get into that?).
But no, let’s talk about the role of the French language in the Olympics. You might be surprised to learn that English AND French are the two official languages of the games. And there is a good reason for that! Firstly, English is used as an international official so therefore, the use of English makes sense for the Olympics.
But what you may not know is that the French language has a long history with the modern Olympic games. In fact, the “father” of the modern Olympics games was a Frenchman by the name of Pierre de Coubertin. He founded the International Olympic Committee (Comité International Olympique) in 1894. The IOC is also located in a French speaking city, Lausanne Switzerland, and guess what… the official languages for the IOC are English and French! So, as you can see, the French language has been closely intertwined with the modern-day Olympic games since their conception. In fact, the International Francophone Organization, that is dedicated to representing French speaking countries around the world sends a representative to each games to ensure that French is being properly used and represented during the competition.
Even though there are more Spanish speaking and Manderin-speaking people in the world vs. English and French speakers, more countries in the world list English or French as an official language (English: 54 and French: 29). Therefore, it only makes sense to have French and English be the official languages of the Olympic Games.
So, why does it really matter? Well, when you tune into les Jeux Olympiques in the coming weeks, listen to the announcers on the loud speakers. For instance, during any medal ceremony (like the one below), everything is announced in French, then English and then in the host country’s official language. In the video below from the 2014 Sochi Olympics, that happens to be Russian. So, for all you French speakers, gear up to use your language skills while you watch your favorite winter sports.
To start you off before the Opening Ceremony, let’s dive into some winter sport French vocabulary. And since I love lists, I made you a couple.
For you hockey fans:
- Hockey – hockey sur glace
- Offense – attaque
- Defense – défense
- Goal – un but
- Puck – un palet
For those who can’t get enough of skiing:
- To ski – skier
- A ski – un ski
- Ski goggles – un masque de ski
- Downhill skiing – ski de descente
- Ski jumping – saut à ski
For the curling enthusiasts (me):
- Curling – curling
- Curling stone – une pierre de curling
- To deliver (the stone down the ice) – lancer la pierre de curling
- Broom – balai de paille
- 12 foot circle – cercle de douze pieds
Let the games begin… Je déclare ouvert les Jeux de Pyeongchang célébrant les XXIIIes Jeux olympiques d’hiver !
Salut tout le monde, ça va?
Have you ever noticed how much francophones use the phrase ça va? Yeah, a lot. Like a lot, a lot. It feels like you and I could have an entire conversation using different variations of ça va!
Let’s highlight ways to use this simple phrase to expand our vocabulary and converse more naturally. I took the liberty of coming up with a little made-up conversation between two imaginary friends to start us off on our ça va journey. On y va !
M: “Salut Hélène, ça va ?”
H: “Salut Marie ! Oui, ça va merci. Et toi ?
M: “Bah, ça va bien.”
H: “Ça va ton nouvel boulot ?”
M: “Ça va très bien ! J’adore être avocate.”
H: “J’ai toujours dit que ça t’irait bien.”
M: “Et toi ? Ton nouvel boulot ? Ça va ?”
H: “En fait, pas beaucoup. Être médecin est vraiment difficile.”
M: “T’inquiètes pas, cela deviendra plus facile avec le temps. Ça va aller.”
H: “Merci Marie! Alors, je m’en vais. Je t’appelerai demain. Ça ira?”
M: “Bien sûr. A bientôt!”
After all of those ça va‘s (9 to be exact), are you still with me? How many different definitions of ça va did you find within that conversation? Ça va is probably one of the most useful and versatile sayings in the French language and highly utilized in familiar, friendly speech. Its meanings can range from “How are you?” to “It suits you!” Master this phrase and it’s meanings and you’re on your way to mastering conversational French.
Let’s dissect the above conversation to really see how simply you can use ça va in many different ways in a casual conversation.
M: “Salut Hélène, ca va ?”
Hey Helen, how’s it going?
H: “Salut Marie! Oui, ça va merci. Et toi?
Hey Marie! I’m good, you?
M: “Bah, ça va bien.”
Oh, it’s going well.
H: “Ça va ton nouvel boulot?”
How’s your new job?
M: “Ça va très bien ! J’adore être avocat, c’est sûr.”
Oh, it’s going great! I love being a lawyer, that’s for sure.
H: “Bon, j’ai toujours dit que ça t’irait.”
Good! I always said that it suits you.
M: “Et toi ? Ton nouvel boulot ? Ça va ?”
And you? Your new job? How is that working?
H: “En fait, pas beaucoup. Être médecin est vraiment dûre.”
In fact, not really. Being a doctor is really hard.
M: “T’inquiètes pas, il deviendra plus facile avec du temps. Ça va aller.”
Don’t worry, it’ll get easier with time. It will be okay.
H: “Merci Marie ! Alors, je m’en vais. Je t’appelerai demain. Ça ira?”
Thanks, Marie! Okay, well I’m off. I’ll call you tomorrow. Will that work?
M: “Ça va. A bientôt!”
Okay. See you!
There are also many more ways to use ça va. In fact, here is a list of ones that we have learned and ones to try out:
- Ça va, Marc ? / How’s it going, Marc?
- Oui, ça va. / Fine.
- Tu vas bien, André ? / Are you okay, André?
- Ça va. / Yes, I’m okay.
- Il faut être prêt dans une heure, ça va ? / You have to be ready in an hour, okay?
- Ça va. / okay.
- Oh ! Ça va ! / Hey, that’s enough! (A personal favorite)
- Ça va venir / It’ll happen, it will come.
- Ça te va (bien) / That suits you.
- Ça lui va bien / That looks good on him/her.
- On va partir vers midi, ça va ? / We’ll leave around noon, is that ok? Does that work for you?
- Ça va les filles ? / How’s it going, girls?
- Ça va le nouvel ordi ? / How’s the new computer working?
- Ça va les filles ? / How’s it going, girls?
- Ça va aller ? / Will it be okay? Will that work?
- Ça va aller / It will be okay.
- Ça va le nouvel ordi ? / How’s the new computer working?
(examples found from https://www.thoughtco.com/ca-va-vocabulary-1371141)
Don’t hesitate to try out these phrases and get to talking.
A bientôt, mes amis!
If you have ever learned a second language you probably have had the experience realizing that the language you are working so hard to learn might be very different from the way that language is actually spoken. Think of how in the English language, numerous words become trendy and other words fall out of fashion. Sometimes rather than a few single words changing, an entire separate grammar structure is born within a language. You may be familiar with pig-latin or cockney rhyming slang but did you know that there is a secret language that has become a big part of everyday spoken French? It’s called verlan!
Verlan, basically, involves taking a word, isolating the syllables, and switching those syllables. Sometimes it is necessary to drop or add letters to the verlaned version of a word so that you can still pronounce it. There isn’t really any hard and fast rule with this but the more you verlan, the more you will be able to figure it out. The word “verlan” itself has a couple of possible origins. The main theory is that it is itself a verlan of the word l’envers which means reverse.
You may ask, “why would anyone want to do that?” In general, you verlan a word to emphasize or downplay it. The first time someone decided to verlan seems to be unknown. This isn’t surprising since, while there are many verlan words in mainstream French now, the practice’s start was as a way for young people to speak in code in front of police or other authority figures.
Here are some examples of verlan:
- laisse tomber becomes laisse béton (never mind)
- bizarre becomes zarbi (weird)
- honte becomes tehon (shame)
- dingue becomes geudin (crazy)
- fête becomes teuf (party)
There are some verlaned words that have been part of the common vocabulary for so long that they have been re-verlanged. For example the verlaned version of femme was meuf and then that was re-verlaned to feumeu.
Verlan is fun and is easiest when you have a good baseline of French. So to build up you French, register for a class at the Alliance Française de Chicago!
No language is a completely static thing. In a way, a language breathes and grows, similar to a living organism. Over time, words are gained and words are lost.
English started as a Germanic language but it has evolved through exposure to other languages. After German tribes came to Britain they influenced the Celts and this lead to Old Frisian. This, in turn was influenced by the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons so the language developed into Old English. Next Middle English was the result of influence from the Normans and the French. Modern English emerged after the great vowel shift and the English Renaissance.
So as you can see, language does not just have one origin. it is an ever-evolving thing. Even today you can see how we integrate slang and other languages into our lexicon. Even the tree to the right is an extremely simplified version of all the languages that have influenced each other.
French and English have a long history of influencing each other and it is theorized that a third of Modern English words are somehow related to French. For example, in the 14th century, at the height of the black death, the infected were required to be isolated from the healthy for forty days. In French the word for “forty” is “quarante” and doesn’t that sound similar to the word “quarantine”?
If you want to learn more about the relationship between English and French, click here to sign up for our upcoming lecture on the topic!
Imagine that you are on the train. You’re sitting down and trying to read an Alliance Française blog post on your phone but you can’t help but get distracted by those around you. The man across from you is loudly eating a ham sandwich. The woman next to you yawns and suddenly it strikes you how you also need to yawn.
Some theories suggest that you are feeling the urge to yawn because of your mirror neurons. On a mechanical level, mirror neurons are neurons that have been observed to fire both when you do something and when you see someone else do the same thing. They are known to exist in humans and other primates (and maybe more) and while they are thought to originally be a simple survival mechanism, they have developed into a facilitator of culture, language learning and empathy.
Mirror neurons are a big part of what allows babies to copy facial expressions and later replicate sounds and language and all of the cultural norms that go along with learning. Babies gather endless things to mimic and later cut some behaviors and sounds to most effectively fit into the culture(s) they are being raised in.
In some ways, adults learning a new language are not too different. When you learn a new language you aren’t just learning the words and grammar structures in a vacuum. If you are learning a language fully, you are learning about the cultures related to the language and the tiny mannerisms that make up the meat of interaction and understanding the similarities and differences between that culture and others.
When you first try to replicate the sounds of a foreign language and mannerisms of a different culture it is very possible that you might make a few mistakes along the way. While this might make you cringe in the moment, this is actually essential to you learning effectively. By making these mistakes you know what not to do and you hone your skills more specifically on a specific culture similar to the aforementioned babies. Making mistakes and learning from them in language learning causes you to develop a higher tolerance of ambiguity and this in turn helps make you a more empathetic person in general.
Increase your empathy and sign up for a French class at the Alliance today! Just in time for the 2nd four-week session of the season!
We’ve discussed just a few of the major theories of mirror neurons here and there is still a ton to learn about the nervous system and how it relates to language learning and empathy. Here are our sources if you want to read about this topic more in depth: