Learn the Language and the Lingo!
Any language enthusiast knows that the best way to learn a language is to live in the source country and speak it, write it and interpret it like the natives. The same is very true of culture. As you learn about the culture of France and other Francophone regions, knowing the language comes to you naturally and it is something you are never going to forget regardless of how often you speak it.
Let us examine one element of French that is key if you want to speak like a true inhabitant: mastering the slang and idioms. These are lively words, expressions and colourful verbal sentences that cannot be translated literally without losing the meaning of what we are saying. Just imagine a French speaker trying to make sense of English idioms as if “he has a screw loose” or “it’s a piece of cake”.
Learning these slang terms and idioms is the secret to achieving true fluency and it is the difference between a robotic “textbook” and “real-world” language usage. It can make a huge difference to how we translate documents or even interpret for someone in another language. If you are not yet familiar with any French slang words or idiomatic expressions then prepare yourself and you may be surprised at how appealing-and fun-they can be to learn and to use. Best of all, learning about slang and idioms will add a new dimension to your language skills by making you a smooth and French translator.
A language’s idioms are the final synthesis of the entire cultural history of those who speak the language. It is a part of life that no longer exists, but lives through present day popular expressions and idioms. Today, France is a modern, industrialized nation, but this was not always the case. To get a feeling of modern France’s agricultural roots, listening to some French idioms is an integral part of the learning process.
Strange but fun facts….
If a French speaker claims to be “reaped” or “reaped like the wheat,” it does not mean that someone has gone after him with a sickle, the instrument used to harvest wheat: it is more indicative of a lack of money (or in savvy French: one lacks bread). Contemporaneously speaking, today, to find many Frenchmen who know how to reap is a rarity, but everyone knows what it is to be broke.
Let us assume, that one day you are eating in a chic Paris café and suddenly, the diner at the table in front of yours shouts out, “The cow, this meal is really great!” If you turn around, will you not see a herd wandering down the Champs-Élysées? Of course, not, because you know that “the cow” is an expression indicative of pleasure, just like saying “fantastic.” How is it that an animal became an interjection – one must imagine that it originated from somewhere in a world where cows were a common sight and associated with food and hunger.
Another popular but misinterpreted bovine idiom, often used in French, is the adverb “cowly”, which means “very” or “extremely.” The French usage of it in common linguistic terms is to say, “I found the film cowly good,” even if there is not a single cow in the movie. The origin of this term is not agricultural, but more a corruption of the word “vastement,” a literary adverb that means “greatly.”
Countless languages often have words referring to food becoming terms of endearments. In English, we often use words that bring to mind sweet foods. In some parts of the United States, people are called “sugar.” In French, endearments are often more down to earth. One might call a loved one “my little cabbage” it does not sound so fantastic in English but it makes the point. A very nice and obliging person could be called “a cabbage,” as in the example, “Please be a dear and get me a cup of tea.” Would a city-dweller have created such an endearment or is it more from the countryside? So in any case, treat it like a compliment!