Project Français log #2: Rien d'impossible, à tout cœur vaillant

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Bonjour mes amis! Je m'appelle Santiago, et bienvenue à Jackass!! :D

... well, I think I wrote that well. And before you accuse me with the Grammar Police please have a bit of compassion, as this is the very first things I've ever written in french, k?

But ANYWAYS, it's been more than a month since I wrote the last log for Project Français, so I think it's now time to share my progress with you, as well as several things I've noticed and learned about French during my first month of this fantastic language choco-adventure.

Follow me!


This one right here is a letter (well... actually, like two letters stuck to each other like if they were siamese twins) that I didn't know was part of the french alphabet: the letter 'œ', also known as the "e dans l'o (the 'e' in the 'o')" in France. It's also known as an "open-mid front rounded vowel" for the phonetics fanatics...

Hey, that sounds cool... phonetics fanatics, phonetics fanatics...

I don't really remember ever seen the letter 'œ' before starting this project, so i assume that I met this letter when I was learning the IPA for French for the first time.

At the beginning I thought that just like the 'æ' in the IPA for English, the 'œ' was only used to write that particular phonetic pronunciation, not to actually write in French. But then I noticed words like "cœur (heart)", "œuf (egg)" y "œuvre (work)" which did use the letter.

I wondered if it was possible to just write "coeur" and "oeuf" instead of using the ligature. I asked one of my readers who knows French, and she told me that although people might understand you if you write "coeur" in a chat or something, what's right is to always use the 'œ'. Understood ma'am!

Getting better at distinguishing certain pronunciations

In the last log I mentioned that for me the /œ/ and /ø/ sounded just like the /ə/ (the schwa in English). For now I've noticed that the /œ/ doesn't make a schwa sounds per se, but a sound that's like something in the middle of the 'o' and the 'e', a sound that flows a bit between the letter o and 3... or something (I understand me :P). But the fact is that I no longer feel the /œ/ as a dry schwa.

To me, the /ø/ still sounds pretty similar to the schwa... but maybe with the difference that it is more "pronounced"? Agh, I don't know, I'm not sure... but oh well, it's close enough.

Something else that weird to me is that in the IPA for French the /ɛ̃/ is not pronounced like a nasal 'e', but more like a nasal 'a'. Basically, it's my impression that it's pronounced the same as the /ɑ̃/.

I checked again the pronunciation examples at 4StepsToFluency, and there the nasal 'e' seems to be more identifiable, except for the word 'bien', which to me it sounds like it ends with a /ɑ̃/.

I was checking some songs in French (with their respective transcriptions and pronunciations in IPA) that I've used for my deciphering sessions, and I'm still having the same issue: anywhere with an /ɛ̃/ sound sounds practically the same as an /ɑ̃/, except that it's less... "pronounced", I don't know. In this case, I feel I have the same issue I have with the /ə/ and /ø/.

Maybe as I keep listening and deciphering content in French I'll start noticing the subtle differences between those vowels. Ohh, and the /œ̃/ DOES sound like a nasal 'e'!

The cool little advantage of knowing Spanish to learn French

I've heard some authors say that knowing a language of the same family as another language doesn't give you any major advantage to start learning it. Basically, that whatever language you want to start learning, you starting to learn it from scratch.

I don't agree completely. Yes, the advantage you get is not the biggest in the world, but it DOES exist, and it DOES help you.

For instance, I learned that if you look up verbs in french in the dictionary I use, WordReference French-English,it gives you the grammatical explanation of which verb base of the conjugated verb you just looked up, and what kind of conjugation it is. For instance, if I search for "allons" there, the dictionary shows:


Du verbe aller: (conjuguer)
allons est:

1re personne du pluriel du présent de l'indicatif
1re personne du pluriel du présent de l'impératif

At first I had no idea what was written there. "Who's indicative? That that guy is imperfect in the present? What the..."

So I clicked on the "conjuguer" link, and there I found a list with all the derivative (i.e. conjugated) verbs for the base verb "aller (go)". Searching for "allons" in that list I found the phrase "nous allons", which means "we go".

My native Spanish is an advantage here because the Spanish language uses practically the same "structure" of conjugations:
  • Yo como – Je mange (I eat).
  • Tu comes – Tu manges (You eat).
  • El/Ella/Eso come – Il/Elle/On mange (He/She/It eats).
  • Nosotros comemos – Nous mangeons. (We eat)"
  • Etc.
I'm already used to this kind of grammatical structure thanks to Spanish, so that makes it easier for me to look up meanings. For instance, if I find the word "sommes" and I search it on WordReference, when I check the conjugations for "être (be)" I see "nous sommes", and I think "Ahhh ok, that means 'nosotros somos (we are)' "

If my native language was English of Japanese I couldn't do this little trick. I would be used to most verbs not be conjugated besides adding an 's' (I eat. You eat. She eats. They eat.)

I would have to gradually learn, through exposure and deciphering content, that a word like "sommes" means something like "(we)-are" or "are-(for we)" - an "are" that has to include the idea of "we" within it. And I would have to learn that saying "nous sommes" would be like saying "we (we)-are" o "we are-(for we)".

With time the English speaking native would get used to these structures, obviously. But if one already knows a language that follows that similar structure (like Spanish), the process of getting used to it would be a bit faster.

Here's something else I do to take a little advantage of me being a native Spanish speaker: When I need to search for the meaning(s) and pronunciation of a word I search it in WordReference French-English, but if I'm still not sure what that word means within that context, and I need to search example phrases then I use Tatoeba. In Tatoeba I first search examples in Spanish, and then maybe in English.

Doing this I've managed to decipher most words I've found, although there are some I've not been able to understand completely yet, like "q'à" and "q'on in the phrase "Il ne tient qu'à noust qu'on puisse couronner Twilight!"

... shut up, it's a good song!

Ohh, and by the way, another possible advantage of knowing either English and/or Spanish is that in french you can find several cognates towards both languages.

A cognate is basically a word in another language (like French) that has the same origin as a word in a language you master (like English). That makes both words be written pretty similarly (even identically sometimes) and mean the same.

For instance, the French word "courage (/kuʀaʒ/)" and the English word "courage (/ˈkʌrɪdʒ/)" are cognates. Also the French word "bien (/bjɛ̃/ )" and the "bien" in Spanish.

But be careful! Just like there are several cognates, there could also be false cognates - words that could be written exactly the same between two languages, but they DON'T mean the same things.

It came to mind the French word "main (/mɛ̃/ )" and the English word "main (/meɪn/)". One means "hand", and the other means "principal/the most important/primordial".

There is also the French word "comment (/kɔmɑ̃/)", which you might think it means "comment" in English, but it actually means "how".

In that case, the lesson is to always look up in your dictionary the definition of a word you don't know or that you don't remember, or you could end up thinking that "embarazada (Spanish)" and "embarassed (English)" are the same thing.

Not everything is translated word-for-word

Hey, now that we were talking about how I didn't understand "q'à" and "Kon! q'on", it's very important to note that you can't always expect to be able to always decipher content word by word.

In many instances a set of words, an expression as a particular meaning, but you can't see that meaning if you try to decipher that expression word for word.

For instance, if you look at the french sentence "Tu as l'air de t'ennuyer.", that sentence is translated word-for-word as:

"You (you)-have the air of you ' boring "

A native English speaker would think something like, "Uh… the hell is this? What do you mean 'the air of you'? What does AIR, oxygen, even has to do with this?!"

However, if said person had searched for the phrase "l'air de" or "as l'air de", he would've found the following:

avoir l'air de + [infinitif]
= look (like), appear to, seem to (verb)

And If s/he had searched one of those phrases in Tatoeba, the user would've found some example sentences where the English translations contains "look" or "seem".

That means that "Tu as l'air de t'ennuyer." meant "You seem getting bored". Or a bit more literally, "You have the air of getting bored".

Another phrase I remember that took me by surprise was "Whoever a besoin de toi". Translating said sentence word-for-word sounded weird at first.

"Whoever has need of you? Uhh... ok..." But then I understood that that's how you say "need" in french: "have need of".

For an example of this in English I'm thinking of the phrase "Make sure that...". A beginner English learner who tries to translate that phrase word-for-word would think something like, "Wait, what the hell?! You can't "make" a "sure", that doesn't make any sense! You make bread, not "sures"!"

But if the user instead of looking up "make" and "sure" separately looked up the word set "make sure", he would find out what this expression really means (probably in his/her native language).

During my French practice sessions I've found myself in many situations where the meaning of a phrase doesn't make sense if I just search for meanings word-for-word.

But, If I take a set of two, three, and maybe even four words (like in the previous examples), and I search them in WordReference and/or Tatoeba, I realize that if those words are together they form an expression, which meaning tends to be different to the literal word-for-word meaning.

Hmm... it occurred to me to make an entire article about phrases and expressions in English. Wait for it English learners!

How my French learning routine has been like

Well, I have to admit to you that I haven't practiced my French every single day without missing any. I've skipped some s days without any valid reason to do so. But yes, most days since the previous log I'VE been training my french using content of interest.

From now on I decided that if I skip one day I will write it down, and in the following months I will share how many learning days I missed so that you can point your finger at me and mock me for my failures :D

For now I'm working on improving my listening comprehension - training my reading skills in french is not that important to me right now, and with the lyrics ("paroles" in french) or transcription of a song or video in French I do read a little bit anyways... although I admit it, what I read most is the IPA transcription of the respective written transcription.

The process I've followed to train my listening comprehension in French (almost) every day is basically what I describe here in my (almost) complete guide to improve your listening skills, although with certain adjustments that I'm planning to incorporate soon on said guide.

My process basically looks like this:

First, I search for the content I want to descipher, like a song. YouTube is where I go to get my songs. I find a song I like, and I check if it has its respective lyrics in the description. If it doesn't I look for the lyrics in Google.

I then download the song from YouTube as an mp3 file using

Then I login to and input in the phonetic converter the lyrics of the song in French. That returns each line of written French with the respective IPA below. For instance, if I input a fragment like the following:

Ne croyez pas que je sois déçue
Après ce qu'il m'est arrivé
Ces belles aventures que j'ai vécu
Et tout ce qu'elles m'ont enseigné.

After submitting the fragment to the converter it will give you:

Ne croyez pas que je sois déçue
nə kʁwaje pa kə ʒə swa desy

Après ce qu'il m'est arrivé
apʁɛ sə kil mɛt- aʁive

Ces belles aventures que j'ai vécu
se bɛl avɑ̃tyʁ kə ʒe veky

Et tout ce qu'elles m'ont enseigné.
e tu sə kɛl mɔ̃ ɑ̃seɲe.

As you can see, each line has the written part above, and its respective phonetic transcription below. This is very, very, very useful, because that way you can check out rapidly, and many times, the pronunciation of each word.

Also, there are words for which their IPA transcription doesn't appear in WordReference, specially derivative words like conjugated verbs, so doing this you get access to all the pronunciations for your transcription in one go.

Then I copy and paste the transcription with IPA in a blank LibreOffice Write document.

I then setup my desktop as shown above: VLC player with the song on top, in the lower-left part I put the Write document that has my transcription + IPA, and in the lower-right part I put my browser, where I open WordREference, Tatoeba, and the Google Timer.

I generally listen to the entire song once. Then I set up the timer on 50 minutes and I start deciphering.

During the deciphering process this is what I do:

I listen to one sentence in the song. I stop and replay that part two more times, and try to distinguish what words are in there. I try to determine if I understand the phrase or not.

If I didn't understand something, or everything, I check the transcription and read the part corresponding to what I heard. If I'm still not understanding (which is most likely), I start looking up meanings.

If I'm to search the meaning of a word, I check its respective IPA, and I sub-vocalize it about three times. Then I copy-paste the word in WordReference to search the possible translations of that word in English.

I do the same with the other words after that one, and I try to make sense of that sentence I'm deciphering by translating word-for-word, for now. If I feel I understand well what the phrase means, awesome!

But, if something doesn't seem right, I try to search little sets of words (possible expressions) in WordReference and Tatoeba (as I explained before) to see if a group of words in that sentence meant something different to what it seems to say word-for-word.

Besides looking up sets of words I also try looking up individual words in Tatoeba to see if the examples + translations there can help me get a clue of what the sentence I'm trying to decipher is saying.

If despite looking up the meaning of word groups and looking up usage examples I just don't understand what that phrase/sentence means... I let it be for the moment, and start working on the next phrase.

I've felt tempted to use Google Translate in that case... but I don't trust it. (In the next article I will be checking if it's worth it to use Google Translate in your English learning, so keep an eye on the blog! :D)

If I DID feel I understood well what the phrase meant, if to me it makes sense given the context and everything, then I proceed to sub-vocalize the entire phrase reading the IPA of the phrase, thinking abut what the phrase means, it's complete meaning. I do this about three times.

Then I proceed to do what is the key exercise to train my listening comprehension: I listen many times to the part I didn't understand, trying to identify each and every word that occur in that part, without looking at the transcription, and keeping in mind the meaning of the entire phrase. I do this about 12 times.

And then I do all this with the next line of the song, and with the next, and with the next... until the 50 minutes run out. Then I rest for 10 minutes, start the timer at 50 minutes again, and repeat the process.

[Edit: I understand that it's much easier to visualize all this with a series of concrete examples. I promised then that in the next log I would show 3 examples of how the deciphering process looks like in French, more or less like how I tried to show here for English.

I'm sorry. And I know I'm breaking my promise. But I won't do it. Trying to show these examples in written form is just horrible. It's not only painful for me to write, but it's also not effective as an example for whoever reads it.

When the time comes I'm thinking about creating some videos using Camtasia or something similar where I show directly how the deciphering process looks like - THEN it would all make sense. But in written form... I can describe the process and all you need to do. But trying to express in words a "simulation" of what goes on in the mind of someone doing the deciphering... no, that's just not a good example.]

I will also include how many times I skipped my practice sessions. I hope you don't find any! :P

What kind of content am I using to learn French?

At fist I deciphered a couple of songs by Indila. I like her music and I will most likely decipher more of her songs in the future.

Also, the reader who cleared up my doubts about the 'œ' shared with me a song from a group called Les Cowboys Fringants (I think that would translate to "The elegant cowboys" or something...)

This group is from Quebec (¡yay!), and the song she shared with me is called Plus Rien (in English: Nothing More). If you want, check out this cover I found of the song, which I enjoyed a lot.

I also found the French version of one of my favorite songs ever Hijo de la Luna (Son of the moon), which if I'm not mistaken is sung by Ana Torroja, the original singer of the song in Spanish.

But definitely, what I've used the most this last month to train my french has been songs from the French dub of one of my favorite cartoons: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Me and many other people of all ages like this cartoon, and I think it has pretty cool music (except the Intro).

I've been fortunate enough to find French versions of almost all song of the show on YouTube, and something really cool is that the users who upload them also post the respective lyrics in the video description.

To me, the French versions of the songs from the show (and movies) are really cool, and that makes them suitable to be completely DEVOURED deciphered :D

If you are curious and your day doesn't get ruined just for seeing a technicolor pony, check some of the songs from the show in French, and judge by yourself: Tu Trouveras Ta Place. À tout cœur vaillant.

This following months I will keep using songs from Friendship is Magic... err, I mean, "La Magie de l'amitié", to train my French.

I'm also thinking about deciphering one (or even more) episodes of the series in French which transcriptions are available. I suppose that after some months I will get bored of the ponies and will listen the entire discography of Les Cowboy Fringants and other artists.

Things to improve

Most of the time I followed each 50 minute session without interruptions. Sometimes I stopped the timer and started doing some other stupid stuff. Bad Santiago, bad!

The next thing to improve is to skip way less days. As I mentioned before, if I miss one or more days I will write them up so you can throw tomatoes at me later.

And I have to be more disciplined in writing up ideas for the logs. It's better to just have the respective Write document open at all times.

Besides that I feel my progress is going well. I feel that I now understand many basic things in the language and I feel I have a considerable amount of essential vocabulary (et, avec, dans, au, il manger, etc.)

Oki doki, this is all about Project Français for now. See you next month! And remember:

Rien d'impossible, à tout cœur vaillant!


I discovered that in french the letter/ligature 'œ' is used not only in the IPA, but also in written words like 'cœur', and that it's not correct to write it as 'coeur'.

I learned to distinguish better the /œ/ sound, but to me the /ø/ still sounds kind of like an /ə/, and the /ɛ̃/ sounds practically the same as the /ɑ̃/, but the /ø/ and /ɑ̃/ are more "pronounced", I don't know.

Knowing Spanish has helped me look up definitions and examples of words and expressions in French because both languages have the same structure for conjugating verbs (Yo, tu, él, nosotros. Je, tu, il, nous, etc.)

In French there are different cognates with Spanish (bien) and English (courage), but be careful. Always search for the definition of a word which meaning you don't know.

You can't always decipher the meaning of something translating word-for-word. Sometimes you have to try deciphering what may look like expressions in a sentence, like "Make sure..." in English, or "Avoir l'air de..." in french.

My routine to decipher songs looks like this: Get songs and lyrics. Get the song ready. Put the lyrics in and save it in a text document. Image of my setup here. Then:
  • Play song
  • Listen to short part three times
  • Look at the transcription
  • Look up meanings/examples of words and expressions
  • With that information I try to deduce the meaning of that sentence
  • Sub-vocalize the sentence using the IPA under the sentence as guidance
  • If I feel I understood well what the sentence means, I listen to it again about 12 times, trying to identify each word in the sentence WITHOUT looking at the transcription
  • Do this for 50 minutes. Rest 10 minutes. Repeat for another 50 minutes

I will later share detailed examples of how this looks like.

For now I'm using songs (and then episodes) of Friendship is Magic in French for my daily practice. I'm thinking about deciphering songs from Les Cowboys Fringants and maybe Indila later.

Things to improve: To not skip days. If I skip one I will write it down. Write down ideas for the logs. Besides that, I feel I'm progressing well.

Last Updated: September 12 of 2015

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