Thursday, August 1, 2013

Parlez-vous français?

First French Course
I took two years of French in high school and then quickly forgot the headache of deciphering the feminine and masculine nouns, the use of pronouns - je, tu, il, elle, on, and the days of the week - lundi, mardi, mercredi...

However, over the years, I have returned again and again to the language through audio tapes, children's books, vocabulary lists, movies, and les chansons

A couple of trips to Paris and France on my own have helped as well.

Anyway, I have a tiny collection of books in French that I have picked up along the way...not in France but in America. Two are French lesson books, one is a French dictionary (containing not a word of English), and another is a beautiful, leather-bound book with marbled end papers: Trois Heures au Musée du Prado (1939).

This lovely book, all in French, offers the reader a tour of the paintings and sculptures in the Spanish art museum located in Madrid. The illustrations are in black and white which don't really do much for the art, but it is a sweet little book nonetheless. My mom found it at a library book sale. There is not a mark in it!

Trois Heures au Musee du Prado

Sujet Mystique
Andrea del Sarto (1488-1530)
One of the French lesson books I picked up for a dollar years ago at the famous outdoor bookshop, Bart's Books, in Ojai, California. Titled La Belle France (1916), it is all in French and takes a look at the different regions of the country. It includes maps and photos of landmarks and landscapes. There are a couple of French poems tossed in for the student for good measure.

La Belle France
The other lesson book is entitled First French Course (1886) and is pretty standard in its contents - no photos, just lessons on Pronunciation, the Article, the Noun, etc. It has a very comprehensive French-English vocabulary. The basic instructions are in English but then the exercises and extracts are in French. 

The dictionary is a hardcover edition of Nouveau Petit Larousse Dictionnaire Encyclopédique (1948).  It is thick (some 1800 pages), has an orange cover, and is illustrated. I found it for $1.50 at a yard sale. Not just a standard dictionary, it has a section Histoire - Geographie containing entries on famous people and places with photos and maps. Another section has a chronology, maps, and entries on the major players in World War II (La Seconde Guerre Mondiale). It is quite a treasure.


Entry on Art Grec in Larousse

Eh bien! Don't be fooled into thinking that I sit around reading these books. My grasp of French is still pretty basic. But, one of the reasons I am enjoying reading the M. Hercule Poirot mystery, The Murder on the Links, is that the action takes place in France and all sorts of exclamations and bon mots are in French.  I get a little thrill reading them.

Do you have a secret stash of books in a foreign language?  Are you a life-long student of French, German, or Spanish? How is that working for you?


  1. Another little connection between us: I took three years of French in high school! I love it when a book or movie has some French in it that I remember! However, my understanding is rudimentary at best. Years ago when we went to France, I could read some signs and menus as well as sometimes understand what was being said (basically, if they were talking slowly), but couldn't marshal any remarks beyond please, thank you, and my name is. Someday (haha) I'd like to brush up on my French again. I've been told that one good way to learn is to read French children's books.

    I would treasure those books as well--they are beautiful in and of themselves, and just slightly mysterious because of the foreign language. I imagine it gives you pleasure just to page through them, looking for familiar words, etc.

    1. Mais oui, Kathy, French children's books are fun and colorful! And a great way to add to one's vocabulary. I go in spurts with 'brushing up on my French.' And you are right about my books. I do love looking through them, mostly because they are so 'vintage' which I find to be sweet.

  2. Yes, I have a stash of French books and dictionaries. I had four years of high school French, the last of which was all French all the time, as well as a year of Spanish and a year of Latin. I loved languages and picked them up fairly easily when I was younger. I love the sound of spoken Romance languages. I'd love to learn Italian and has a 'word-a-day' Italian calendar last year. But, alas, I'm very lazy and think that if I took the trouble to learn or re-learn a language, I would only lose it again because I don't have anyone to talk to. I do have a friend who is French, but she has moved back to France. I still harbor a secret desire to be truly multilingual.

    1. Ah, Joan. I had two years of Latin. The teacher was the same crabby woman who taught my mother in high school! She was a terror. (The teacher, not my mom.)

      You are so right, it is difficult to try and learn a language on one's own. There is a French language organization here locally and I have attended a couple of their events. One I truly enjoyed was a Christmas carol sing-a-long. All in French. It was glorious.

      Alors! We just have to keep trying.

  3. Nope, no books in foreign languages in my house. I took two years high school Spanish but retained only individual words - getting a sentence correct can be confusing. But I see music counts per your answer to Joan. I have numerous CDs of the group Il Divo. Their songs are a mix of languages, including English, and I think it is so relaxing to have them playing in the background. I "found" them when someone suggested I watch their version of Amazing Grace on You-Tube (I just googled YouTube Music, then searched Amazing Grace Il Divo and watched it again to make sure you could still find it) so if you aren't familiar with them, you might want to go see. They aren't bad on the eyes either. ha. This song happens to be in English, but I see you can listen to others that aren't. The guys are from 4 different countries (David is from Denver, CO)and I think they are fabulous. (My husband always says, WHAT are you listening to?!!) I must admit I never thought I would like "pop opera" though this is the only group I listen to in that genre. Check them out if you are not familar with them. Maybe the library has a CD you can borrow.

    1. Wow! I found Il Divo on YouTube and am quite smitten. As you say, they are very handsome. I do like listening to music in a language I can't understand. I have a CD by the Italian singer Paolo Conte and all his songs are in that language. I discovered him on the soundtrack from the movie "French Kiss." I also have some music CDs all in French. Sometimes I just want the melody and words but not words that fill up my brain! Thanks for the tip on Il Divo. I will look for more of their music.

  4. After I wrote the above I looked at a few more of their clips and found an August 4, 2013 interview where they talk about adding a woman to the group - Katherine Jenkins I think her name is - and a change-up to their music. Not sure I want them to change!! I did find a song they sang with her. It's interesting to read how Simon Cowell brought them together. Carlos does overdo the "lady's man" bit sometimes on the videos. I really like his voice but it takes them all to make "Il Divo"

    Joyce in KS

    1. I am not sure that a woman would enhance the group. I will check out more of Il Divo's videos.