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TV5, & European French (#97)

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(The second half of this post, below, will have some language quirks you may find interesting between EUROPEAN FRENCH and Canadian French).

All digital cable and direct broadcast satellite providers in Canada must carry a number of designated television channels (both in French and English) in their free bundle.  This means that, regardless of where we are in Canada, we all must receive access to a free, pre-determined basic line-up of the same stations, (there are a good number of such stations, which include CBC, Radio-Canada, Gobal, CTV, YTV, etc, etc.).  If your television bundle does not already include any of the pre-determined stations, you can ask your television provider to add it, and by law, they must do so.  (These free pre-determined stations are not to be confused with the mandatory basic pay-bundle stations, or the hundreds and hundreds of pay-per-month optional add-on channels or optional bundles which we can also choose from).

Among the free channels is TV5.  If you’re in Canada (even if you’re in the furthest reaches of the Arctic), and if you have television, you should have TV5 already (if you don’t – there may be an issue with your cable distributor’s package, and you can ask them to correct it by telling them it’s a CRTC designated “category A” channel).

The TV5 we receive in Canada is a Canadian partner of TV5 monde based in Paris.   It’s a consortium station of French-language broadcasters from around the world, sharing each other’s programming, and re-broadcasting their combined programming around the world.   TV5’s programming comes from:

  • Radio-Canada (Canada)
  • TFO (Ontario, Canada)
  • Télé-Québec (Québec, Canada)
  • France Télévisions (France)
  • Arte France (France)
  • CIRTEF (Africa)
  • RTS (Switzerland)
  • RTBF (Belgium)

TV5 is broadcast to almost 200 million people around the world (and has the second or third highest “cross-border” viewership in the world) – so it’s interesting to see what our Francophone cousins elsewhere are also watching.  This is a great chance to check out and learn more about la Francophonie internationale (the French speaking world beyond our borders).

TV5 is also a great way to catch French movies from outside Canada, such as those from Europe or Africa.

The website is here :  http://tv5.ca/

Click “grille horaire”  at the top of TV5’s website to see the daily programming schedules (international news programs, movies, television shows, etc.).


A word on the type of French you’ll encounter on TV5:

If you’re learning or improving your French, TV5 can be a good way to train your ear to different international French accents, words and expression from around the world.

If French is not your first language, and if you’re more used to hearing Canadian French accents, you may sometimes have difficulties understanding certain strong French accents from Europe or elsewhere – especially if those accents and expressions are not spoken in international standard French (newscasts, documentaries, and more educated-level discussions in French in Europe is usually spoken in International French, so those would never pose a problem understanding).

Where you may encounter problems understanding certain things is when watching European movies or hearing regional European accents, in which the language can become very colloquial, using regional-specific slang, and which can often be spoken very fast.

I admit that although I don’t have problems understanding our various Canadian French accents, I do sometimes run into the occasional issue when I come across a very strong regional accent or colloquial expression from Europe which is not spoken in Canada, or which I cannot fit into context (it’s just a question of not being used to hearing it).

So do not feel discouraged if you run across some local European expressions, words, or accents which you have difficulty figuring out or which makes you strain your ear a little in order to understand – (that’s what the closed-caption option is for – lol).  But try to place what is being said into CONTEXT (the key word being “context”)…

For example, I remember the first time I ran across the word “Nickel” from France.  A business contact of mine told me our progress on a joint project was “nickel”, and they were very happy (I was told “Je crois que celà avance nickel!”;  literal translation – “It looks like everything is proceeding nickel).  Apart from the metal, I had never before heard “nickel” used in any other context other than to describe a metal alloy.

But even without having previously known this European meaning of the word, I knew from the context that it had to mean “excellent, great, perfect”.  In Canada we would choose different slang words to describe the same thing, but we would never say “nickel”.  And just like me in the above context, Europeans too would understand most of our own words when placed in context.

Perhaps in Canada, to use a similar metaphor, we could say “C’est chocolat”; – literal translation “It’s chocolate.” (this Canadian French expression is a bit dated, and very few people say this anymore, but it essentially means the same thing – “It’s perfect” or “It’s great”).  Regardless, someone from France would understand “C’est chocolat!” when placed in context, despite the fact that I don’t believe this expression has ever been used in Europe.  T

his is all to say that when listening to French on TV5, you sometimes will just have to place a certain amount of things into context.

Anecdotally, even though I have constant interaction with people from France, the very odd time I still do have to politely ask my business contacts or other people in Europe to repeat themselves if they say something or use a local word which is not international French, and which I do not quite understand on the first take.

It’s perfectly normal to do so.

Here is an example… On one of my last trips to France, I was asked by someone in Southern France “Est-ce que je vous met la quinte?” (litterally, “Am I dealing you a flush [of cards]?” or “Am I making you have a [coughing] fit?”).

I didn’t have the slightest clue what she was talking about.  I paused and thought for a moment, then I asked her to repeat herself, thinking I perhaps misunderstood owing to an accent issue.  But after she repeated it, I realized I hadn’t misunderstood due to an accent issue… I understood every word perfectly – but what she was saying made absolutely no sense to me.

Rather she was using a colloquial French expression, unique to Southern France – one which we simply don’t use in Canada, and to which I had never been exposed.

For us in Canada (and in International and proper “dictionary” French), a “quinte” means a “flush” in the card-playing sense, like a “flush of cards”.  It can also mean a “fit / bout”, such as a “coughing fit” or “a bout of the coughs”.  Thus, to me, it sounded like she was asking “Am I dealing you a flush of cards?” or “Am I making you have a coughing fit?” 

I was sure she could not possibly be asking me if I wanted a “flush of cards”, and I knew she wasn’t “making me cough”.

I apologized and said I didn’t understand what she was asking.  Knowing I was from Canada and that there are sometimes differences in French between the two countries, she rephrased her sentence and asked with a smile “Est-ce que je vous indispose?” (meaning “Am I bothering you?”).

It then clicked for me what she was asking, and what this very different expression meant!

I responded “No, no, not at all”, but I didn’t dare answer using the same wording she used.  I simply said “Non, pas du tout.”  (I don’t think it would have worked if I worded my answer “No no, you’re not making me cough”, or “No no, don’t deal me a straight flush.” – She probably would NOT have found that amusing – but on second thought, who knows, maybe she would have – sometimes you just have to use some polite tact, and then everything moves forward 😉 ).

It’s interesting how there can sometimes be language misunderstandings – even within the same language.

Do you want to know what the funny thing is?  The above conversation occurred in a very rural region of Southern France, in the town of Mazamet, just north of Carcassonne.  Even though this is a well known region of France, not at all isolated from the rest of the country, I still have a sneaking suspicion that if she were to say the same thing to someone in Paris, even a Parisian may not have understood her.

It goes to show that, to the same extent regional differences in French exist within Canada itself, they also very much exist within France.  And then there are the differences between French in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and other countries (but I’m not going to get into that here – although it is very interesting).

Back to this last example, her ultimate choice of words, “Est-ce que je vous indispose?” (“Am I bothering you?'”), could again be said slightly differently in Canada than in France (and perhaps different regions in France or Europe may also tend to choose different words).

What she ultimately said was 100% perfectly fine and correct, with a 0% chance of any misunderstanding — her last choice of words were perfect, beautiful International, standard French.  But, her choice to use the word “indisposer” (almost like “indisposition” in English) could perhaps, in a Canadian context, be considered a little bit literary (ie: “Am I causing you an indisposition”).

Here in Canada, we would be more apt to say “Est-ce que je vous dérange?” (Also meaning “Am I bothering you?”).  I’ve also heard people in France say “Est-ce que je vous dérange?”… so it just goes to say that there are lots of ways the same things can be said, but those choices may be influenced by geography (and those gaps become a bit wider when there’s an ocean of separation – literally).

I am offering these examples so you do not become discouraged when you run into these same issues when listening to European French on TV5.  Some people say learning Canadian French can be more difficult than France French – but really, I don’t think so.

As you can see from the above examples, learning French from Europe can be as equally challenging, with many of the same issues.  In France, they too have a good deal of expressions which can be considered quite regional (perhaps even odd), and which would take a long time to learn to understand.  (And at least you’re learning French… ever try learning a non-romance language?  For English speakers, French is a breeze to learn compared to most other languages – trust me — about 40 – 50% of the vocabulary can be directly associated with an English word, making it yet even easier).

When Europeans visit us here, they sometimes have to ask for clarification of what we say, just as I had to of them in the above example.  This happens most often when we speak to them with our own heavier regional accents, slang or words (rather than using a better enunciated Canadian standard accent, such as Standard Québecois, Standard Acadian, Standard Ontarian / Standard Prairie French, or a more international style of French — in which case Europeans have no problems understanding us).

You may recall from the “Our Accents” Post 4, The Big Three” that I strongly recommended to Anglophone Canadians that they should learn Standard Canadian Québécois.  I made this recommendation precisely for the above reasons – to increase your language mobility and compatibility.

People in other countries who are learning French are also encouraged to learn Standard French from France (pretty much the same French as our standard versions), but they’re also encouraged to develop an ear for a Parisian regional accent if they’re going to be interacting more with French from France.

The reasons are the same as my additional recommendation to Anglophone Canadians to develop an ear for the Greater Montréal & Upper St. Lawerence Accent.  If you have standard, international French down to a tee, and you also understand the most influential regional accent in your country (Regional Parisian if you deal with France, or Greater Montréal if you deal with Canada), you can then go anywhere in the world and do anything with little or no language obstacles.

But in the end, you study any type of French, any type of accent you want — that’s really the beauty of it (my own recommendations in no way should take away from the legitimacy or beauty of any regionalisms or accents).

The choices are numerous, the possibilities to learn something new are endless, and differences between regions should be celebrated.

There is no right or wrong regionalism (Parisian French should not have a prestige precedence over French in Bordeaux, and French in the Great Montréal region should not have a prestige precedence over French in Winnipeg).  My own suggestions merely come down to consideration of what you may hear more often – not what is “better” (it’s wrong to say that anyone’s regionalism or national way of speaking are “better” than another’s).

I’m actually an ardent supporter of regionalism.  Standard speech is a great thing, but regionalism (regional words, grammar and accents) add so much colour to a language.

Fortunately for all of us, miscommunications are rare and the vast vast majority of what is said is mutually understood without having to repeat.  In the end, for the sake of a very loose comparison, the difference between European French and Canadian French probably isn’t any greater than what exists between North American English and Scottish English — so really, there’s no need to fret over regional differences.

Check out TV5, and bonne exploration!

ADDENDUM:  2014-12-14

I just visited some friends in Montréal for a couple of days.  One friend is an immigrant from France, originally from Toulouse (close to Mazamet).  I asked him about the expression “Est-ce que je vous met la quinte?”.   He said he has never heard such an expression used in Toulouse before, but his family has a summer cottage in Brittany.

He says he vaguely remembers a Breton expression “donner la quinte”.  He thought in the Brittany context it might mean to “receive or give the bill (ie: in a restaurant)”.   But he was not sure.  He thought it would likely be a very regional expression and that it could very well have the meaning I understood in the context of my conversation in Mazamet.   Interesting.

ADDENDUM:  2015-02-05

I just came across two very well-done YouTube videos which give samples of France’s own 28 different accents, as well as the orignal 45 languages in France from the three major French language groups.   Check them out below:

  • France’s 28 accents:   See if you can pick out certain accents (notably from the North and North East) which share some traits with Canadian French accents.  It’s quite intriguing in this sense.

  • France’s 45 languages:    What I find fascinating about this video is there are some dialect-like languages which, as a speaker of Canadian French, I can seemly (and surprisingly) understand with little difficulty.   Two which stick out immediately as relatively easy to understand are Percheron and Poitevin (I’m still quite dumbstruck just how easy they are for me to understand – despite never having  heard them before yesterday).  I’m not sure others in France would understand them as easily.  They seem to share many more traits with our French on this side of the ocean than French in Europe.   I suppose it shows that the degrees of separation from the original French dialects which came to Canada in the 1600’s and that which we speak today across Canada and Québec may not have diverged as much as one would think.    Other’s which I surprisingly do not have major difficulties understanding are Picard (Ch’ti)Orléanais, Mainiot (which appears to share many traits in common with Acadian French in Canada), as well as Gallo.  All of them have a very strange “familiarity” to them (it was actually quite eerie listening to these dialects or languages for the first time… I would describe it as almost like having met a lost relative for the very first time!).

Huh!  Go figure!  😉

Anyway, if you want to read more on what I’m talking about here, check out the following Wikipedia articles:

The same YouTube Channel with the France language / accent audio tracks also has an audio track with Belgian accents (& dialects).   You can listen to them here:

  • 10 Belgian French accents:

  • 10 Languages of Wallonie:


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