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101 French Idioms: Understanding French Language and Culture Through Popular Phrases, Cassagne and Nisset-Raidon

Updated on August 4, 2012
kevindooley on Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
kevindooley on Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) | Source

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Learning a language is hard, and if you’ve ever tried it then you know just how true that is! There are all kinds of tips and tricks on how to pick up a little extra fluency and know-how, some effective, some perhaps less so. Just take a scan around the old interwebs and you’re bound to discover a ton of handy hints on how to order drinks and tell little old ladies you’re looking for the pen of your aunt, to master business Chinese and improve your Russian vocabulary via five quick easy mnemonic tricks.

But what are the basic steps that will get you through the first (and maybe intermediate) stages of learning a language? There are a few things you might want to prioritise along your path towards fluency. Obviously immersing yourself in the language as far as possible is the first priority. If you can live, work or study in a country where the first language is your language of choice, then obviously that's absolutely ideal (and an unrealistic dream for most of us).

Taking formal classes at a local college or university is also a very popular step. If this isn't possible – and it's certainly a very time-consuming and travel-heavy option – then online studies are increasingly viable, whether through paid one—to-one online tuition, or various free services such as Youtube videos, free e-books and language study websites.

One thing that most prospective language students do like to do is to select one or two good, recommended textbooks to work from If you are attending a language class then it is more than likely that you've already had specific examples recommended to you. If not then you may be casting around looking for suggestions on the best books to look out for (or for supplementary books if you have already purchased prescribed texts).

If you're learning French as your preferred foreign language, then I can assert that one book I have found to be rather useful is ‘101 French Idioms: Understanding French Language and Culture Through Popular Phrases’ by Jean-Marie Cassagne and Lucques Nisset-Raidon, published in 1995 by Passport Books. Think of all those crazy idiomatic expressions that are so hard to explain to a foreign student of English: French has its equivalents too. And this book aims to explain them.

The book is divided into nine different sections for the different types of expression, e..g the body, everyday life, food and nature etc. For each expression, occupying a single page, you are provided with a rather hilarious little illustration, combined with a translation to English and a short bit of dialogue illustrating how the expression would be used in everyday conversation.

At the end of the book you are also provided with translations of the French dialogues chapter by chapter, an index and a list of idioms via the images provided. How useful is this method of teaching idiomatic, rather than systematic French? By necessity it's somewhat limited: idiom is such an infection of language, half the time we're using it we don't even realise. This is quite a short book (133 pages) and, although excellent as far as it goes, cannot possibly comprehensively cover such a huge subject.

I think the presentation of the idiosyncratic expressions helps as an aide-memoire a lot. This is especially the case with regard to the eccentric little illustrations and the index via image, which helps if you have someone assisting your learning process by testing you to see what you can remember via a particular image.

Is this little book, covering a narrow area of language acquisition, worth the purchase price? I've certainly found it a useful part of my process and journey towards fluency, and that's as much as I can say!


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