On being excited…


Well, we have come full circle. I am now the French teacher telling anglophones to think twice before they say, “Je suis excité.”

It seems like a harmless translation, doesn’t it? I’m excited. Je suis excité(e)… right? RIGHT?

Well, it can mean that. And sometimes, you will hear people refer to other individuals—even children—as excité. But if you say it about yourself and find that the French people around you are sniggering, that could be because it also has another meaning: “I’m horny.”

The poor guy in my class. He had no idea. 😉

In an effort to keep things educational, what are some other ways to say “I’m excited” without coming across as oversexed? Here are some alternatives:


I’m excited.

J’ai hâte.

J’attends avec impatience.


I’m excited to…

Je suis impatient(e) de + infinitive

Je suis enthousiaste à l’idée de + infinitive

Je suis ravi(e) de + infinitive

J’ai envie de + infinitive

J’ai hâte de + infinitive

Il me tarde de + infinitive



Le mammouth.

I’ve been reading a lot of French news lately.

Of course, a lot of those articles were about the events in Paris last November, which continue to horrify and sadden me.

But I also swallowed a hefty dose of education news to prep for the test d’accès of the DAEFLE (a teaching diploma program). The essay portion of the test is always about the French education system, which I had no cohesive knowledge about. So, instead of blogging (sorry), I gave myself a crash course on le mammouth.

By WolfmanSF (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
L’autre mammouth. (Wikimedia Commons)
The mammoth,” they call it. Monolithic and characterized by top-down instruction, the French Ministry of Education and its chain of command are something to behold.

Now, I have my reservations about the French system and the kind of education it inspires… as do the folks at the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), if you refer to their unflattering review based on the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results. However, pedagogical beliefs aside, it is a system that fascinates as much as it inspires vigorous debate.

The French education system revolves around the national motto of liberté, égalité, fraternité. It is public, large-scale, highly standardized… and yet it has to meet the individual needs of the students who make up the tapestry of France’s youth. In addition to satisfying the teachers. And the parents. Everyone really. Needless to say, this equation of sometimes competing demands poses significant challenges for an all-encompassing institution. And the heated national debates and demonstrations that accompany any and all proposed education reforms are no small indication of the sheer range—and sometimes, stark polarity—of public opinion.

It is also very different from the education system I went through, which made it feel like I was discovering a whole new world.

Some of the recent issues:

  • The paring down of the Greek and Latin programs for collégiens (middle school students).
  • The changes in French history classes, which were perceived by some as a capitulation to those who would besmirch the glory of France. This would include the controversial topics of Islam, slavery, etc.
  • La mixité sociale and la carte scolaire.
  • L’harcèlement scolaire (mainly the unveiling of a new hotline for young victims of bullying).
  • The introduction of enseignements pratiques interdisciplinaires (EPI) to better engage students and expose them to multidimensional applications of what they are learning.

I am curious to see how France addresses the changing educational needs of their population. I would also like to see if they can successfully figure out which policies work… and which don’t.


Bonne année!

Bonne année, bonne santé! 

Hey hey, it’s the new year! C’est le Nouvel An! And I’m ushering in 2016 with a post about the expression un panier de crabesand hopefully more posts very soon. Oh, and a new, less HTML-circa-2005 look! (Change… let’s go for it! 😉 )

Ouf. 2015. That was a wild one. It’s been a hectic few months over here, but I have renewed my determination to update this blog more frequently. Hence the hiatus of (only) 2 months this time! 😀

En tout cas, I’m back! Et je vous souhaite une très bonne année pleine de bonheur et de progrès dans vos études françaises!



EXPRESSION: Un panier de crabes

A basket of crabs.

English Meaning: A group whose members are willing to harm each other to prevent one another from achieving goals. (A fiercely competitive environment.)

English Equivalents: A bucket of crabs. A nest of vipers. A rat race. A dog-eat-dog world. A cutthroat environment. 

French Meaning: Un groupe dont les membres se haïssent, conspirent les uns contre les autres.

French Equivalents: Un nid de vipères. Un nœud de vipères.


Basket of crabs with Attribution
Jolis. Dangereux. © Austin Kirk

Have you ever been pinched by a crab’s claw? I haven’t. But my mom has, and it was NOT pretty.


Setting aside the fact that we then boiled that sucker and ate him happily, it is my 100% objective view that those critters can be vicious. And when a handful of them are trying to get out of a container, you’d better believe they’re crawling over each other in a violent struggle for crustacean freedom. (It’s also really creepy when they escape and scuttle around your house, setting off a chain reaction of screaming humans and barking dogs. But I digress.)

In the figurative sense, the idea of viciousness still applies. Like its English translation, un panier de crabes refers to a similarly cutthroat-competitive environment where, for example, people are vying for something and are willing to claw at each other to get to it. To succeed at any cost—except, very often, no one succeeds as a result.**

For some people, this “basket” is school or the workplace. For the media, it’s often le monde politique. This phrase is often used to characterize a group of politicians stooping to new lows to further their own agendas while totally failing to work together to move the country forward. It can also be used to describe a dysfunctional sports team plagued by infighting.

Beyond these occasions, this phrase is fine to use in most contexts; it’s neither familier nor vulgaire. Obviously, you may not want to trash the basket of crabs when they’re à portée de voix (within earshot), but otherwise, this one is safe to use.

**It’s said that a single crab in a bucket can escape, but multiple crabs will prevent each others’ efforts to the point that none make it out. Zero gains. For francophone learners of English, this colossal failure for crab-kind is an example of a “zero-sum” situation.


French Context: Quand j’ai commencé mon nouveau boulot, je ne me suis pas rendue compte que j’entrais dans un véritable panier de crabes.

Translation: When I started my new job, I didn’t realize I was walking into a real dog-eat-dog world.


Propre and nappy-free.

Diaper Ad
“Plus de lavage des couches…” à partir de 3 ans. (Wikimedia Commons)
I recently learned that children need only one thing to enter a French nursery school (apart from the paperwork): they must be propre.

The adjective propre often translates as “proper,” “neat,” or “clean.” It can also mean “[one’s] own” when situated before the noun, as in ma propre maison (my own house). But this situation is a bit different.

Upon realizing that all of us were still stuck in the dark, my professor clarified that propre meant: “Il faut que l’élève soit capable d’aller aux toilettes tout seul.” (The student must be able to go to the bathroom alone.)

My classmate and I proceeded to laugh because, if those are the conditions, then many of us grown women would not be eligible. For some reason, we are wired to go to the bathroom in groups. Packs. Battalions. Phalanx formation. Now, laugh if you will, but do you remember what happened to Hermione when she made that lonely trip to the loo in her first year? Hmm?

The joking aside, yes, the French use this euphemism to mean a child is capable of using a toilet. And yes, it is required that children be potty-trained before they are allowed to attend l’école maternelle. According to le Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, children can start la maternelle at the age of 3, or even as young as 2, “à condition qu’ils soient physiquement et psychologiquement prêts à la fréquenter” (on condition that they be physically and psychologically ready to frequent it). Interesting choice of words.

They have to be happily nappy-free. It actually makes sense. I guess I just wasn’t expecting it to be a national rule. Now, my question is: how does a school verify this? Is there a trial period? Is this the French schoolchild’s very first test? I have to admit I didn’t ask. (But I should.)

Revenons au début…

This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to observe some of the beginners’ classes during my school’s Journée Portes Ouvertes (Open House).

With my interest in teaching the French language, in doing a FLE degree, I was particularly focused on studying the different styles and methods of my professors. I’ve always been the kind of student that paid a lot of attention to pedagogy, because I think that part of being a student is understanding your teachers and their methods. However, it was different being there with the express purpose of studying my professors in order to become one myself. I noticed things I couldn’t have possibly registered as a novice. And I couldn’t help but feel even more admiration for my mentors. For how much patience they had. For how they were getting these complete beginners to start uttering their first words of a totally foreign tongue. For their sheer creativity in getting around the language barriers. I couldn’t help but think: I want to be like them and do for others what they did for me.

“Surreal” is such an overused word, but it was definitely surreal reliving my early French days in that way. To still be the student, and yet, not be one of the students. As I sat there, watching people learn how to say, “Je m’appelle…” and “Oui, ça va,” the memories of yore (hah) flooded in. Memories of meeting my first friends from French. Of how my first teacher drew up a list of the few words we knew (mainly the names of foods 🙂 ), which constituted our very first collective foray into French vocabulary. Of spelling my name in French for the first time and learning how to count the French vigesimal way (you know what I’m talking about: 4×20+10+8 = 98).

All of these things happened six years ago.

It almost sounds silly to be so emotional about French, but it’s been such an eventful and fulfilling journey so far. After being an unredeemable jack of all trades for so long, I’ve finally found something that I really care about and enjoy. Something I could do happily, without need of external motivation. And I am so grateful for the opportunities that have come my way and the friendships that have blossomed as a result of learning la belle langue.

I never expected to stay so long. Six months. Maybe not even six months. Just enough to satisfy my childhood desire to learn French. Just a taste—un ‘tit goût—before I moved on to other more important things… And yet, here we are, six years later! And I’m still not satisfied. 🙂

Le français, via la politique américaine.

I’ve always found that one of the best ways to learn something is to make it relevant to your life and interests.

In my case, I’ve always had a fascination with American politics, especially around election time, when international coverage picks up. And now that I’m at a level where I can understand most French news, I’m so thrilled to be able to read what francophones have to say about the political goings-on stateside. (And you’d better believe the French have a lot to say about American politics!)

The Democrats had their first debate the other day, and I was particularly interested in how the French would translate Bernie Sanders’ epic quote about Hillary Clinton’s emails. This was one rendition:

« Le peuple américain en a ras le bol d’entendre parler de vos fichus emails! »

Now, let’s examine some of the components of that now-famous line:

En avoir ras le bol – to be sick and tired. (Literally, “to have it to the brim of the bowl.”)

Alternatively, one could use en avoir marre, as some media did. (En avoir assez didn’t seem to accurately capture the frustration.)

Interestingly, these are fixed expressions, which means the adverbial pronoun en (“of it”) remains, even if you then specify what the person is sick and tired of. J’en ai ras le bol de tes bêtises. “I’ve had it up to here with it, with your foolishness.” Weird, redundant, but correct.

Entendre parler de quelque chose – to hear about/of something.

Another useful expression is entendre dire, which is effectively a synonym of entendre parler. The difference is in the grammar:

On entend parler de quelque chose.

Mais on entend dire quelque chose.

Ou on entend dire que… (+ proposition).

Fichu – (informal adjective) damn

Clinton’s emails were also referred to as mauditssatanés, and foutus – a good range of synonyms!

E(-)mail – email

Yeah, I know. But I’m bringing this up because the unassuming “email” could be a whole subject in the study of francophone-anglophone relations. Now, I won’t go into detail, but it would be remiss of me not to point out that you will also hear un mail very often, as my friend I Say Oui mentioned in the comments below.

Officially, it’s un courriel (short for courrier électronique), but you’ll find that the French rarely use that word. On the other side of the pond, however, this is the preferred name. In fact, the French Canadians invented it. So it goes without saying that the French-Canadian media translated “your damn emails” as « vos fichus courriels. » Ah, vive la Francophonie!

Et vive le français!

To be (interested), or not to be (interested)?

You know you could use some mental rewiring when you’re asked for the opposite of s’intéresser à (to be interested in), and instead of immediately thinking of se DÉSintéresser de, your panicked brain cells do the entire Tour de France of gray matter before arriving at:

  1. Se foutre de = to not give a ****.
  2. Se ficher de = to not give a damn.

Clearly, some room for improvement!

For good measure, I think I’ll throw in a few more synonyms that are less familiers. You know, to keep me from coming up with those two gems again!

  • Être indifférent à = to be indifferent to
  • Ne pas porter d’intérêt à = to not take an interest in
  • Se moquer de = to not care about / laugh in the face of
  • Ignorer = to ignore

Know any others? Post them below! 🙂

Un coup de tête.

Un coup de tête. “A strike of head.” A headbutt.

Today’s vocabulary word is brought to you by Taboo, circumlocution, anglophone outbursts, and a bald footballer.

The need to overcome lexical obstacles is something every student in French immersion has to go through. The fact is: your interlocutor won’t always know your tongue, so treating them like a bilingual dictionary is not always going to work. As débutants, we often use gestures to communicate. But once you know enough French to describe what you mean to say, that’s when the fun begins.

The technical term for this linguistic detour is la circumlocution — Latin for “around” and “speak.” (Thank you to my friend Lenie for teaching me this term!) Often, it refers to evasive language, but it can also refer to what students are frequently forced to do: work around what they don’t know how to say.

Now, Taboo en français is one of those fun games, one of those privileges you earn once you’ve graduated to intermediate French. (And oddly enough, it doesn’t take the French spelling, Tabou.) It’s a jeu de société (“game of society,” or board game) that recreates the situation of seeking words, and can greatly improve one’s ability to use circumlocution. Being quite reserved, I think the reason I love Taboo so much is that it quickly dismantles inhibitions. Because the whole point is to avoid these words! Suddenly, it becomes a game of getting others to find the words for you, and, for many, this is the proverbial carrot. With each turn, students become conditioned to do this against the clock and under surveillance. Somewhat like in real life.

And with competition—this is a game after all—comes some over-exuberance. Which finally brings me to today’s word (yes, I get there in the end)! Despite being seasoned students, one of my classmates and I are hopelessly prone to “anglophone outbursts” when we’re feeling competitive. These lapses are invariably followed by someone telling us off. Les vieilles habitudes ont la vie dure! Old habits die hard!

Today’s cause for a verbal slap on the wrist was the taboo word Zidane. Now, if you don’t know of French football legend Zinedine “Zizou” Zidane but are endeavouring to become a bonafide francophile, I urge you to watch the short video below. This man is known in France—no, the world—for both his shaven head and headbutts. And if you already know who he is, well, you might know where this is going…

Euh, c’est un joueur de… Headbutt!”



En français!

J’aime ce jeu. 🙂

Mais pourquoi? Mais pourquoi? Mais pourquoi?” (WHY?)

And now I’m back! From outer space!

At long last!

Like the prodigal son—well, okay, not really—I have returned. And this time, I would like to be back for good!

What’s been going here? A quick update that can also conveniently function as a list of excuses for being AWOL these last few months:

  1. Classes at the C1 level have been giving my brain a good workout. Though I’ve been in C1 for over a year now (a fact that still boggles my mind), there’s still so much to learn! But I’m not complaining; it’s an amazing challenge!
  2. Back in the Mad Month of May, I took the DALF C1. That saga of suffering and success will feature in a few future posts.
  3. I am now contemplating the next step for myself with French. The cloud of possibilities includes: the DALF C2, a FLE degree, something like a FLE degree, teaching at Alliance française, coming up with events for fellow classmates, etc.
  4. “Life” happened.

Excuses enumerated, I would like to apologize for the lengthy and unexpected hiatus. Sorry and désolée!

Moving onto more positive news, I’m rather thrilled that the blog has actually gotten views from people beyond my little circle of Frenchie friends. I’d actually promised myself that I wouldn’t check the stats page, but WordPress kindly rerouted me to it upon login, rendering all attempts at self-restraint futile. Then curiosity kicked in and one thing led to another—you know how it goes. But I’m genuinely excited that this blog didn’t fall into complete ruin and obsolescence whilst I was gone. High fives all around! And thank you for visiting!

Now, let’s get back to work! Remettons-nous au travail!