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You’re trying to learn French, you can read a bit, but it still sounds like one big garble. What to do? (#343)

You’re trying to learn French, you can read a bit, but it still sounds like one big garble.  What to do? 

Boy, this is one I have heard a lot over the years.  It seems to be a definite point of frustration for a lot of people.   The problem with language courses (in school or elsewhere) is that people learn from textbooks without being immersed in French.

This means that if a native French speaker were to write out a paragraph stating their thoughts, many learners of French could read and understand it.

But if the native speaker was to “say” the entire paragraph, at regular speed,

  • it would catch the learner off guard,
  • it would be too fast with too few breaks (to allow time to process what is being said), and
  • it would sound like one big, long string of gibberish.

This is 100% natural, and it’s not something to be ashamed of or to get discouraged at.

Learning a language is like learning four different school subjects.  And just like different school subjects, your mastery of each, and your grades may be different for each one.

Your (1) reading could be very good it it (perhaps at an intermediate level).  But your (2) writing and (3) speaking may be at an elementary level.  And, as is often the case, your (4) listening skills (ability to distinguish what is being said) may still be lagging a little bit.

How can it be that you are at a different level for each?  Well, it is possible because you may have not had equal amounts of practice for each of the four language “subjects”.

  • Reading is often the easiest because we can do it anywhere, anytime (and it is emphasized in classrooms).
  • Writing is also drilled into students in the classroom.  It may take a little thought, but writing affords us the time.
  • Speaking also may not be too difficult if students are afforded the time to pause and collect their thoughts as they speak.  The speed at which one speaks can be controlled by the speaker.  Also, there are lots of little “shortcuts” when speaking (such as slipping in easier substitute words if the desired word isn’t necessarily on the tip of your tongue).

The odd one out is listening.  Drastic improvement often comes from regularly interacting with Francophones.

But what happens if you do not live in an area where you can regularly interact with Francophones?  That’s the big question, and boy, it’s a clincher.

Yes, listening skills can be improved by listening to television and radio programs.  The problem with TV and the radio is that the language spoken is for fluent native-French speaking adults, using vocabulary for fluent native-French speaking adults, at a (fast) speed which corresponds to that level.

The garbled jumbo from listening to fast-paced, advanced French can leave students frustrated, discouraged, and feeling they are not making progress (even when they are).

One way to counter that is to listen to children’s programming.  But seriously, what mature adult or student of French would actually enjoy doing that!?!  I’d rather be hit by a manure truck than have to watch Tele-Tubbies in French or any langage!    (I’d shoot myself!!!  And I’m sure you would too).

These are problems I sympathize with, precisely because I had the same issues when I as learning Chinese.  So I get it, I really really do.

An easy solution which could work for you, with fast results

When I was learning Chinese, and before I moved to China (and completely immersed myself in Chinese for a few years), one thing that helped me develop an ear was “slow news in Chinese”.

I recently found out that Radio France International (RFI) offers something similar for French.

RFI is France’s public broadcaster to an international public.

On their website, they have a “learn French” section.  Within that section, they offer numerous tools and exercises for learning French.

One such tool is an “Easy French” (français facile) daily news broadcast.

The daily newscast is spoken in a slightly slower-paced French, with better enunciation, and regular pauses between sentences and even words.

Even better, RFI offers online typed transcripts of the newscast to allow you to follow-alone.

To top it all off, you are also able to download the newscasts in an MP3 format for your iPhone or MP3 player.  You can also print the transcripts.  Therefore you can rewind, fast forward, read along and practice your listening skills anywhere, anytime.

It is really too bad that Radio-Canada does not offer such a thing for Anglophone Canadian learners of French (ironically, CBC Radio Edmonton offers something very similar in English for immigrants to Edmonton, using local Edmonton newscasts.  But it offers nothing in French, and I can’t find something like this anywhere else on the CBC / Radio-Canada platforms elsewhere in the country).

Here’s what to do

The driver plug-ins seem to work best in Internet Explorer.  I say this because the RFI broadcast plug-ins repeatedly fail for me in Chrome.

1.  Open Internet Explorer.

2.  Go to the following RFI website:

http://www1.rfi.fr/lffr/statiques/accueil_apprendre.asp

3.  In the middle column you will see the following:

RFI1

It basically says “Understand the News — The Easy French Newscast: A newscast which presents you with the news, using simple words and which explains events in context.

Hey, what more could you ask for!?!

4.  You have three self-explanatory buttons (Read, listen and download).  Again, the listening and downloading work best in Internet explorer (not in Chrome).

Voilà!!  You now have a way to practice your learning skills at a pace and level which should shoot you light years ahead.  And the best thing is … IT’S FREE AND INTERESTING!!

But why stop there !?

If you go down by one more block, you’ll see the following:

RFI2

It is a box which says “The words of the news:  A two-minute, stimulating segment which enlightens you on a word or expression which you will hear in the news”

So not only can you improve your listening skills with RFI’s simple French, you can also increase your vocabulary.   In the above example, today’s chosen word is “MAIRE” (Mayor).

1.  If you click the word “Maire” (or whatever word you have on your screen), you’ll get the definition and a little story about it.

2.  Clicking “Newscast” will play a news story using the word in question.

3.  Clicking “Read” will give you a transcript which you can follow along with.

But wait, there’s more! (Now I sound like an infomercial!!!)

Being the ‘lil go-getters that they are at RFI… Boxes further down offer you listening exercises.  You can listen to audio tracts, and are then prompted to answer questions about what you just heard (by checking off multiple-choice answers).

RFI3

And below this is a whole series of French learning materials for teachers to present to their class.   You may also be interested in the materials.

They include:

  • Dossiers pour la class:  Materials which let you discover various areas of French culture.
  • Outils:   Which gives you more audio exposure
  • Fiche pédagogique:  Which provides you with exposés on various cultural tid-bits.
  • L’Actu de FLE:  More ways to learn in context.

Wow!!  This should give you lots of practice which you perhaps never would have otherwise had.  Take the time to check it out, and bonne écoute !!!

P.S.  Am pretty proud of ya for stickin’ with it!  Keep up the good work (the good stuff in life may not come easy, but sometimes is worth fighting for)

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A little bit of insight into Québec’s unique “Culture for Children” (#341)

You might say that this post is “childish”, but that is exactly what I am aiming for.

(A note to readers outside Canada:  this post contains cultural references which are likely more familiar to Anglophone Canadians than to people outside Canada).

My last post on the small Francophone town of Debden, in northern Saskatchewan, was no accident.  In this post you will see why.

For those of you who grew up in Canada’s Anglophone experience, as children (from the time of birth to the age of perhaps 10 or 12), you were surrounded in a world of “Canadian pop-culture for children”.

It didn’t matter which of the 10 provinces or 3 territories you lived in – the experience was very much the same for children across the country (which is an amazing feat considering the distances involved).

  • Kids across the country played with the same toys (Mr. Potato head, Jenga, Star Wars action figures, My Little Pony, cabbage patch dolls…)
  • We listened to kids’ music which our peers listened to (The Chipmunks, Sharon, Louis & Bram…)
  • We watched the same children’s movies as our peers (Bambi, Snow White…)
  • We watched the same children’s television programs (Canadian Sesame street [which was somewhat different than the US Sesame Street], the Smurfs, Paddington Bear, Fraggle rock, The Friendly Giant, Polk-a-dot door…)

Of course, different ages had different pop-cultural references(toys, programs, and songs for a three year old toddler would be different than for a child 8 years of age).

But the experiences were generally the same for children who grew up in the same age bracket as you.

We can group such references from three different angles.

(1)  International children’s culture shared by children across borders (the Smurfs are Belgian, Paddington Bear is British, Fraggle Rock was a tri-way British/American/Canadian produced program, Snow White is American, etc).

(2)  National children’s culture (Polk-a-dot door was specifically Canadian, as were Sharon, Louis & Bram, Degrassi Junior High, The Friendly Giant, table top hockey toy sets are almost a uniquely Canadian-used toy, etc.)

(3)  And then there is localized children’s culture. I can offer you some of examples.

I remember as a young child playing with toy logging equipment when I lived in Northern B.C. (Yup!  Toy logging trucks and toy chain saws as I imitated what I saw around me in Terrace, BC).

Later, when I grew up on the Prairies, I recall I used to love to play with toy farm sets.  Around age 8, I would play for hours with my toy tractors and animals, imitating what I saw on the farms around the areas we lived.

(As an adult, I play with motorbikes… but they ain’t toys – hahaha — but on second thought, I suppose they are!).

I have friends from the Atlantic Provinces who tell me they played with “fishing” toys as children, such as toy fishing boats, nets, and toy lobster cages (It makes me wonder what toys kids in the far Arctic play with).

But have you ever wondered what children’s pop-culture might be like for children in Québec?

Many of the references I provided above are “English-language” references.

Granted, many of the international references exist for children in Québec, as they do for children elsewhere in Canada and in other countries (translation of Disney movies, the Smurfs and Tin-Tin from Belgium, Babar from France, Barbie Dolls, Star Wars and Superman action figurines, etc.)

Yet for Francophone children in Québec, many of the children’s pop-culture references at a “national level” are different from those of Anglophone Canadians.  In Québec there was no Polk-a-Dot Door, no Mr. Rogers, no The Friendly giant, no Sharon, Louis, and Bram.

Children and adolescents in Québec (and Francophone children elsewhere in Canada) grew up (and continue to grow up) with unique pop-culture references such as

  • Watatatow (sort of like a “Saved by the bell”)
  • Ramdam
  • Bobino & Bobinette (there’s an oldie for you!)
  • Sol, le clown (another timeless classic!)
  • a Québec version of Sesame street entitled “Bonjour Sésame”

Now for the shocker!

(Buckle up, because you might fall off your chair with this next one)

Over the years, when people in Québec have found out I have family roots in Saskatchewan going back generations, what do you think one of their first reactions and comments to me were?

Think about it for a moment…

Come on, what do you think it might be?

Perhaps a reference about the flatness of the Prairies?  The cold Prairie winters?  Wheat fields?  Come on, think hard…

Hint:  It’s not about being to continuously see your dog running away in the distance three days after having lost it…

I’ll give you one more second to think about it…

(Trust me when I say you’re not going to believe this one!)…

Can’t come up with the answer?  In fact…

One of the first sure-fire comments I routinely receive from Québécois when they discover my Saskatchewan roots is…

“Oh! Saskatchewan! That’s where Carmen Campagne is from!!” (I bet you didn’t see that one coming!)

Boy, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that statement in Québec… !!

I’ll make 2 bets with you:

Bet 1:  If you’re Anglophone Canadian, you likely have no idea who Carmen Campagne is.

Do you know who Carmen Campagne is?  If you do not, that means that many cultural aspects of the Two Solitudes remain alive and well (as you can see).

Bet 2:  I would venture to say that most people who grew up in Québec, and who are anywhere from 0 to 50 years of age knows who she is (they have either grown up listening her, or have had children who have grown up listening to her).  Likely there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Québécois whose first thoughts turn to Carmen Campagne when they think of Saskatchewan.

In fact, because there are so many Québecois who may know who she is, it is quite possible that in terms of real numbers alone, Carmen Campagne could be one of the most well-known Saskatchewanites outside Saskatchewan (and possibly in the world).

How is that for a jaw-dropper for you !!  (Hello Two Canada’s Two Solitudes!)

Carmen Campagne is a French language children’s singer & entertainer.  Perhaps the closest Anglophone Canadian equivalent would be Raffi, or the singers from the group Sharon, Louis and Bram.

Now you can see why I wrote yesterday’s post on Debden, Saskatchewan.

In the last post, I specifically wanted to emphasize that there are many towns and villages all across Saskatchewan with significant Francophone populations (as I’ve said before, everything in this blog all weaves together to give you a much broader and more complete portrait of Québec’s culture, its place in Canada, Canada’s Francophone culture in general, and often how it relates to Canada’s Anglophone realities.  (Funny how different posts keep “bumping into each other”, isn’t it?)

She is a Fransaskoise (a Saskatchewan Francophone) children’s singer and quite famous in Québec and all across French Canada.

She is from the Francophone town of Willow Bunch in Southern Saskatchewan – South of Moose Jaw

(BELOW is a map of the French sub-accent zone in Southern Saskatchewan which encompasses Willow-Bunch).

So Sk 4

For Francophone children in Québec, she is part of their childhood memories.  The songs she sings are part of Québec’s children’s references when growing up.

This is not only an example of Québec’s own culture for children, but it also serves to show how Canada’s overall Francophone society is tied together (across provincial lines).

Just as Anglophone adults might make quip remarks among themselves regarding their own childhood pop-culture references, such as saying “That guy’s beard is as white as Papa Smurfs”), adults in Québec also make everyday remarks regarding their own childhood references;

  • That lady there looks as sad as the clown Sol”, or
  • “Hey!  I told you to turn the radio to a hit-music channel… not something like Carmen Campagne!”

Children’s culture, for any society, eventually becomes part of our adult culture.  It is what makes a society unique, and reinforces societal bonds of having “grown up together”, and “experienced the world as one”.

It’s interesting, and it is something I feel more Anglophone Canadians should be aware of.

I’ll leave you with a couple YouTube videos of some of Carmen Campagne’s songs.   Now, you can also say you’ve experienced a little piece of what Québécois (and Francophones across Canada) have collectively grown up with as children 🙂

Portrait of a village: Debden, SK (#340)

Radio Canada International (RCI) is Canada’s public “international broadcaster”.

It’s sort of a smaller version of Canada’s equivalent of BBC International or Radio France International (RFI).

It falls under the umbrella of CBC – Radio-Canada, but it does not broadcast within Canada.  Rather it broadcasts to all corners of the globe.   It seeks to tell Canada’s story to the world.

This also includes many stories pertaining to Québec and Canada’s overall Francophone nature.

Here is one such story… The story of the Francophone village of “Debden“, North of Prince Albert in Northern Saskatchewan.

I’m providing this report to you because Canada’s Francophone communities outside of Québec often share many cultural traits and realities with communities within Québec – which, together, weave Canada’s overall Francophone nature into one pattern from coast-to-coast.

If you are working to improve your French, the following report is spoken in international, standardized French, albeit with our own homegrown accent.  The speed and accent in the report should be relatively conducive for language learners (one of the main reasons I chose to present you with this particular report).

Click the following link to listen to the 10 minute report from Radio Canada International:

Ectz.1

As an aside, I added a little bit of information about Debden and its particular French accent in the post on Prairie & Western Canada French Accents (click the link).

deb.1

(Photo Above:  Centre communautaire de Debden)

(Video Below:  John Arcand is quite a famous Francophone fiddler from Debden.  This is one of his songs)

AB-SK7

A map of the French accent zone in which Debden is situated (You’ll see it on the right hand side of the map, near the top of the highlighted towns, a 2:00 hour drive straight North of Saskatoon)

Maritime population / community distribution based on language (#339)

An interesting map of population and community distribution based on linguistic lines (mother tongue) in the Maritime provinces.

It’s a bit older now, but the overall Maritimes population distribution has not changed very much since 2001, so it could still be considered reliably accurate.

I marked the credits on the map and added it to the post on Acadian accents as reference.

Pop dist Ac 1

Québec’s “surprise” album (and singer) of the summer (#335)

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post entitled Country music = Québec.

In that post, I explained how Québec’s music roots have always been connected to a genre of French-language country music.

A couple of people I know (who are from Montréal) said I was nuts when I wrote that post.  They told me nobody listens to (French) country music (or any country music).  My response:  “Perhaps you’re right if you live downtown Montréal, and if you base your entire life around downtown Montréal”.   

I told them to just wait for a few months, perhaps a year or so.  I told them with the uptick in French-language country singers and it’s resonance / ties with traditional French Canadian music, that I would bet my bottom dollar that we’d see a virtually unknown French-language country artist come to the fore and top the album charts in Québec.

They thought I was crazy…

Well… the writing was on the wall — and guess what!  It just happened!

The reality (in Québec an elsewhere) is that

  1. many people in Québec listen to French-language country music, and
  2. there can often be a HUGE disconnect between our largest cities and all the rest.  You get the sense that this disconnect becomes as wide as the Pacific when it comes to lifestyles and concerns lived by people who reside in the downtown cores of our larger cities, and all the rest (even the suburbs for that matter).

As usual, the rest of Québec, and the rest of Canada do not all live in downtown Montréal, Toronto, or Vancouver (on that note, one federal party leader in particular better learn this little factoid very fast, or his party will be heading straight down the tubes in October – ok, ok… no more political commentaries, I’ll behave now).

This post will make my point, and will emphasize just how wide that gulf can be (between the city – particularly the city cores — and all the rest).

Guylaine Tanguay is a French-language country singer, from the Saguenay region in Québec – particularly from Dolbeau (I actually wrote a post on her hometown last winter, which you can read by clicking HERE…  (Boy… even I am surprised that I wrote a post on Dolbeau!  I guess I have covered some territory with his blog after all).

Her new album, Inspiration, was one of the best-selling albums in Québec of the entire summer!

Yet, ask someone in Montréal (particularly downtown Montréal), or downtown Québec City, or downtown Ottawa (which I consider within the “Québec urban sphere of influence”) who she is, and you’ll just get blank stares.

But go elsewhere, such as the smaller cities around the province, and you’ll find a good deal of people who know who she is (you don’t even have to go very far… sometimes just as far as the suburbs such as St-Eustache, Gatineau, or Beauport).

Her fifth country music album, Inspiration Country, came out on June 16th,

All Tanguay has done was a little advertising on television, given a few concerts, and the crowds AND SALES came’a flock’in!

Here is the TV advertisement for her latest album:

Province-wide, her album has even bumped out the “Clique’s Montréal’s downtown darlings”, such as Jean Leloup and Yoan, from the top spots.

This little whirlwind named Guylaine Tanguay has the (sometimes quite stuffy) “downtown Montréal cultural class” (informally known as the “Clique du Plateau”) scratching their heads in disbelief (and me shaking my head at their disconnect from the rest of the province).   I actually wrote a post on the Clique du Plateau way back when (click the link).

Whether or not you think a true media Clique exists (ie: media which all beats the same drum in central Montréal), is a question of debate, impressions, and person viewpoints.  Regardless of my own viewpoints, it’s not for me to categorically say if it does or doesn’t exist (there are people with opinions all over the place, and grey comes in all shades).

However, if the Clique were to describe a general “downtown attitude” in any big city, then you could perhaps say it’s a snobby attitude, in the sense that if related media feels “their own” media circles were not the ones to launch or promote someone’s career, or if “they” were not the ones to invite an artist to their TV or downtown radio programs, then it the music must be crap (sigh x 10).

Guylaine Tanguay is one person who could be said to have proved them wrong – and in no small way.

You can check out her website at http://www.guylainetanguay.ca/

Here is an article by a “shocked” and baffled Radio-Canada (hahaha!! Love it!!!)  — Click HERE. 

Here is an article by the Courier de Laval (from the suburbs of Montréal, so it comes with less shock and horror than articles written from downtown Montréal – hahaha!!!).  Click HERE.

You can purchase her hit album online at Archambeault at the following link:  http://boutique.archambault.ca/divertissement/Guylaine-Tanguay

If you wish to purchase single songs off her album (on platforms such as iTunes), they are

  • Jusqu’au bout du monde
  • Colinda
  • Crazy Arms / Dans tes brasIsland In the Stream (avec Mario Pelchat)
  • Thank God I’m a Country Girl
  • Je voudrais être Madelinot
  • Que la lune est belle ce soir (avec Julie Daraîche)
  • Me and Bobby McGee
  • La fête en AcadieCrazy
  • Je voudrais voir la mer (avec Michel Rivard)
  • Embarque ma belle (avec Christian-Marc Gendron)
  • You Are My Sunshine (avec Camille Tanguay)

P.S.  Although my roots are from rural areas (I’m just as comfortable in a pair of shit-kickers as I am sneakers), I have nonetheless lived in some of the largest cities around the world and Canada.  I certainly like many aspects of the larger city “downtown” lifestyles (otherwise I wouldn’t live on a subway line with a direct connection downtown).  But as you can see from the above post, sometimes the snobby “downtown attitude” irks me.  I have spent a LOT of time in and around Montréal’s downtown.  It’s where many friends live.  But like any city, Montréal’s downtown core also has its fair share of this attitude I’m referring to.   Yet, like anything in life, you take the good with the bad – and there is still far more good than bad  🙂