French school graduation: 4 weeks of French language school are in the books. The time has flown by. Do we know more than when we came? Bien sûr. (Of course.) Are we close to being fluent, or even to speaking comfortably in public? Mais non! (Of course not!)

We do highly recommend immersion school as second step to learning a language.  I had a semester of French in college (il y a 30 ans – 30 years ago; yikes), and I gained a foundation that Mark feels would have been very helpful for him to have learned before coming to school. The Institut de Français tells people not to prepare before attending.  We think that is because there are times when people have so ‘mis-learned’ things it is impossible for the Institute to undo the damage. They specifically mentioned Rosetta Stone in this regard (who may be their biggest competitor….). But to take some beginner classes at the local Alliance Française, or even learn some basics from someone who knows some French, seems a good idea to us. For some suggestions on what to study before going to a school, see the end of the post.

One easy thing about French is that there are so many words that are basically the same in English and French. For example, there are hundreds of words in the English language that end in –ion, and all but a few of them translate in French with just a different pronunciation: situation, reservation, question, opinion, condition, position, etc. etc.

Some exceptions:

translation (en) = traduction (fr), explanation (en) = explication (fr), and vacation (en) – les vacances (fr). Plural, you notice, because the French don’t believe in a single vacation!!

There are many other examples of words that are the same in English/French, such as words ending in –ence and –ance (difference, relevance), and words we have borrowed from French, such as foyer, déja-vu and rendez-vous.

Speaking of rendez-vous, this word has an interesting history. Dueling became mainstream in Europe when two monarchs got into the act. When the treaty between France and Spain broke down in 1526, Frances I challenged Charles V to a duel. After a lot of back and forth arguing about the arrangements of the duel, their determination to go toe to toe dissipated. But the kings did succeed in making dueling all the rage across Europe. It was especially popular in France; 10,000 Frenchmen are though to have died during a ten year period under Henry IV. The king issued an edict against the practice to stop the bloodshed. Though illegal, dueling still continued (4,000 nobles still lost their lives to the practice during the reign of Louis XIV). But the men did change the signal for a duel to ‘Rendez-vous’ as in let’s have a meeting (literally, render/present yourselves), but it meant, let’s have a duel. Luckily this connotation no longer applies. The French now use rendez-vous to mean ‘a date, or an appointment’ but not as a verb ‘to meet up’ the way we do in English.

Mayday also has an interesting origin. Aider is the verb for ‘to help’ and the French often put the direct pronoun before the verb. So instead of saying ‘Vous aidez moi’ (You help me) they say Vous moi aidez, which becomes Vous m’aidez since aidez begins with a vowel. And in the imperative form of giving a command (or a request in this case), just like we would say “Help me!” they might say “M’aidez!”. And voila, “Mayday, mayday!”

One other interesting idiomatic phrase that came up. When wishing an actor at the theater good luck, we would say “Break a leg!” But the French say “Merde!” You may already know that merde translates to ‘sh#t”, so this doesn’t seem too friendly. But back in the day when the audience arrived to the theater by horses, if there were a lot of horses, there was a lot of ‘sh#t’ so this was a good thing, and thus an appropriate wish for success.

Anyway, these were some of the tales from our teachers (not truly verified). We’ll end with some pictures from school and some extra-curricular activities. And if you decide to go to French language immersion school…. “Merde!!” (and we mean that in every sense of the word.)

Saint-Paul-de-Vence  is a commune in near Nice.   One of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera, it is well known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries.

Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a commune near Nice. One of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera, it is well known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries.



We visited the Fondation Maeght, a museum of modern art located in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.  It houses paintings, sculptures and all forms of modern art, with a sculpture garden of works by Miró.

We visited the Fondation Maeght is a museum of modern art located in Saint-Paul de Vence. It houses paintings, sculptures, collages, ceramics and all forms of modern art.



Our view from the mountain-top medieval village of Èze.

Our view from the mountain-top village of Èze.



The mountains just to the north of Nice.  We rented scooters and traveled on some of the mountain roads.

The mountains just to the north of Nice. We rented scooters and traveled on some of the mountain roads.



We traveled over the Col de Braus along this road.

We traveled over the Col de Braus along this road.



Institut de Français

Institut de Français



Institut Garden

Institut garden classroom



Institut lawn

Institut garden



Institut stairway

Institut covered stairway



Institut view

View from the Institut



Shauna and our new friend from Oz, Gordana

Shauna and our new friend from Oz, Gordana



Mark's classroom.

Mark’s classroom with Professeur Peggy.



The audio laboratory (torture room).

The audio laboratory (torture chamber).



Mark's class in the audio labo.

Mark’s class in the audio labo.



Mark's Debutant I classmates.

Mark’s Debutant I classmates.



Julien, showing us how to play pétanque, one of the pastimes of southern France.  Pétanque is a form of boules where the goal is to throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball while standing inside a starting circle with both feet on the ground.

Julien (an Institut professor) showing us how to play pétanque, one of the pastimes of southern France. Pétanque is a form of boules where the goal is to throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball while standing inside a starting circle with both feet on the ground.



Nicola, Shauna and Chris watching different groups play pétanque.

Nicola, Shauna and Chris watching different groups play pétanque.



Some of our classmates.

Some of our classmates.



More of our classmates.

More of our classmates.



Nicola and Shauna having a good time.

Nicola and Shauna having a good time.



School outing - dinner in Villefranche

School outing – dinner in Villefranche



We took a sailboat out for the day.

We took a sailboat out for the day.



'Le Village' and Captain Franck

‘Le Village’ and Captain Franck



Relaxing on the sailboat.

Two of our new friends, both French, relaxing on the sailboat.



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Trying to use a windsurfer board as a SUP board… not too easy!



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Kids at school, and kids at play.



Our sailing compadres.

Our sailing compadres.



The harbor at Beaulieu-sur-Mer, just to the west of Cap Ferrat. The largest assortment of large luxury yachts that we've ever seen.  The following pics are of some of these yachts.

The harbor at Beaulieu-sur-Mer, just to the west of Cap Ferrat. The largest assortment of large luxury yachts that we’ve ever seen. The following some pics of some of these yachts.



Serene is one of the world's 10 largest private superyachts with an overall length of 440 feet and a beam of 60 feet. Completed in 2011 for Russian vokda tycoon Yuri Scheffler  (Stolichnaya vodka), it cost $330 million.

Serene is one of the world’s 10 largest private superyachts with an overall length of 440 feet and a beam of 60 feet . Completed in 2011 for Russian vodka tycoon Yuri Scheffler (Stolichnaya vodka), it cost $330 million.  Supposedly, Bill Gates has rented the yacht for the summer of 2014 at a cost of $5 million per week.



This yacht looked a bit like a submarine.

This yacht looked a bit like a submarine.



Another yacht.

Another yacht.



Another yacht.

Another yacht.



Another yacht.

Kids having fun on the water trampoline of the back of this yacht.



Another yacht.

Another yacht. Mark liked the yachts.



This yacht had an extended stern.

This yacht had an extended stern.



Specifically, it would have been helpful to study the basic pronouns and regular verb conjugation:

Je parle = I speak Tu parle = You speak Il/Elle parles = He/she speaks Nous parlons = We speak Vous parlez = You speak Ils/Elle parlent = They speak

And some basic pronunciation rules:

  1. You rarely say the ‘s’ on the end of a word, even if you’re using the plural form (an exception is ‘plus’ when it is actually used to mean ‘plus’ as in ‘in addition to’, and not ‘more’
  2. You often don’t say the ending consonants on words: soir (swa), institut (institoo), etc.
  3. ‘on’, ‘en’, ‘in’ etc. are nasal sounds only, not a hard ‘n’
  4. ‘-er’, ‘-ez-, ‘-é ‘on the end of verbs all sound the same (basically ‘-ay)
  5. ‘Je’ is pronounced ‘zhe’


So, for example, in the phrases above:

‘parle’, ‘parles’ and ‘parlent’ are all pronounced ‘parl’, ‘parlons’ is pronounced ‘parlo’ (with a touch of nasalness) and ‘parlez’ is pronounced ‘parlay’.

As in ‘Parlez-vous anglais?’ (Do you speak English?) which used to be my most used phrase, but is becoming less so. Progress.

For more info on the Institut: Institut de Français