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My language buddy Léa

My language buddy Léa

The best way to improve your spoken French is to actually speak it. But not living in France can make this tricky. Even if you do live in L’Hexagone, you might not get as much opportunity to practise French with a sympathetic listener as you would like.

I live in South Kensington, London’s quartière française but I barely get a chance to converser en français. Or at least I didn’t until a couple of weeks ago. Then I discovered the language swap section on Gumtree.

I’ve written about my experience in this week’s TimeOut London (see p.44, if you’ve got it) but let me tell you a little bit about it here.

Forget having to pay for lessons. Hundreds of people on the site are offering their native French for your English. Reply to a post, fix a date and find a quiet place to have a drink.

My Gumtree adventure led me to coffee with Florent, a French guy from Nantes who lived in Barcelona for three years and brunch with Léa – a fluent French speaker who refuses to call herself French. (She’s Corsican and proud.) We spoke in French before the meal, in English during and after.

You too can find yourself a language buddy wherever you are. Gumtree has sections for all the major cities in the UK including Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, Dublin and some smaller towns such as Oxford. There are also listings worldwide: throughout Europe, North America and the southern hemisphere as well as a link to Kijiji, France’s equivalent of Gumtree.

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When I was in Paris last week my cousin introduced me to Books, a new literary magazine which comes out once a month in France. 

I was at first sceptical about a French magazine with an English title. Like many other English francophiles, I am a hypocrite: I delight in using French but find it a little irritating when the French use English words because they think it makes them look branchés.   

But I was won over by the editorial column on the first page, which declared:

Le magazine que vous avez entre les mains se propose d’éclairer les sujets du jour et la condition humaine en utilisant la lumière des livres.

And Books does just that. The magazine is not simply a collection of reviews and essays (although it does do these very well). Each month as well as covering regular topics such as politics, religion and the sciences, it also takes a different issue and examines it in depth. Last month it was “Inde: la démocratie miraculeuse”.

Books purposefully steps back and takes a long term view of things through the telescope of literature. Think Prospect crossed with a literary review in French.

The magazine is delivered all over the world, so you can become a subscriber no matter where you live. Or, get your French literary fix from its website, which has blogs from writers such as digital books expert  Jean Louis de Montesquiou and interesting features such as bestsellers, where lists of bestsellers from countries around the world are given.  

Happy reading.

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Many thanks to my friend Ali for showing me this clip. It made my day. Maybe it will make yours.

I’m guessing if you’re reading my blog you’ve got an interest in France. You may be interested in learning the French language.

Forget textbooks – or at least don’t rely on them alone. The best way to buff up your language skills is to watch as much telly or film en français as you can. Listen to French radio and download French music.

If you’re looking for French songs where the lyrics are easy to understand try Carla Bruni. France’s first lady isn’t just a hot fashionista. She’s a singer-song writer with a penchant for singing about her sex-life. And she sings slowly and clearly enough that you can grasp most of what she’s saying, even with G.C.S.E French.

Many French television stations put their programmes online. My personal favourite is TV5 – it’s got an international focus and normally has a cultural bit at the end. TV5’s site also has a weekly news round-up in video clips and specialised news video sections for science, the economy and Africa

Getting hold of as much of this media as you can will make all the difference to your French. When I was teaching at a French Lycée, the pupil who spoke the best English was the one who was so obsessed with One Tree Hill that she couldn’t wait for it be translated into French. She learnt English (with an American accent) downloading the series off the net.

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