March 13, 2011 | French

Language Changes

French is no longer the same language it was when I first studied it.

Special note: I am posting this entry late, for which I offer my apologies.

In the past few days I have done 13 more Pimsleur lessons. Some of them I did while running in Central Park (I would be able to run faster if not for those French r’s, which require considerable physical energy).

Some of them I did running errands.

Some of them I did lying in bed.

Some of them I did lying on the floor stretching.

Some of them I “did” while sleeping, so I then had to redo them.

They are going well; I have only 24 left.

Me in Cab with Flashcards: Too Bumpy to Study

Me in Cab with Flashcards: Too Bumpy to Study

Last night en route (see that French?) to a party, Brandt and I did French flashcards together on the subway. People were looking at us funny. Partway there we switched from subway to cab, which was unfortunately too bumpy to continue with the flashcards (or to get an in-focus photo).

Later we took a cab home, too. The driver initially struck me as pretty gruff and uncommunicative. I soon realized he was French-speaking by the radio program he was listening to; it sounded like an African French to me, though I am by no means able to identify accents with reliability.

When we reached home (I don’t like to talk to cab drivers when they are actually driving), I had a little conversation with him in French. To recap: I said, you speak French, right? And he said yes. And I asked where he was from. He said Senegal. I said I was studying French right now, and he said I was doing very well, that he could understand me perfectly. His face lit up as soon as I began speaking to him in French, and he was utterly charming.

This conversation would not be terribly exciting to the objective observer, I suppose. But it was thrilling to me. Like a new world opening up. And also plain old fun! Just in that little exchange I felt so much more confident in my pronunciation and constructions than I did two weeks ago. 

Following are several observations from today’s grammar and vocabulary lessons.

First, the French word for “lawyer” (l’avocat) is the same as the French word for “avocado.”

Second, I find it funny that “grape” in French is raisin. As a consumer of both grapes and raisins, I also find it confusing, but I will work it out.

Third, I am perplexed about the differences between j’aimerais versus j’aimerais bien versus je voudrais. For “I would like,” I have always said, “Je voudrais,” as in “Je voudrais manger ton gâteau.” (I would like to eat your cake.)

According to what I am hearing from Pimsleur, I have now formed the impression I can also use either j’aimerais bien or even j’aimerais, but I always thought j’aimerais meant “I would love” rather than “I would like.” Such issues matter; you don’t want to overstate your prospective affection for something.

Fourth, it is interesting to study a foreign language years after you first studied it, because the experience makes it obvious how language changes. I am now learning technical vocabulary that simply didn’t exist when I studied French in college. Page d’accueil, for example, is what I just learned for “home page.”

Surfer sur le net translates itself, I think. 

Comments (3)

Manon • Posted on Thu, March 24, 2011 - 11:05 am EST

I think Pimsleur’s right about “j’aimerais”, j’aimerais bien” and “je voudrais” all meaning “I would like”. When I want to convey the meaning of “I would love”, I use “j’aimerais vraiment” or “j’adorerais”(if I really really want it). Of course, it ALWAYS depends on the context.
Having just one verb (“aimer”) for both “like” and “love” makes it difficult for French speakers learning English. At the beginning, we don’t know when to use “like” and when to use “love”.

Katherine • Posted on Thu, March 24, 2011 - 11:19 am EST

The difference between the phrases j’aimerais and je voudrais are the verbs themselves.  First off they are both in the conditional.  Je voudrais comes from the verb vouloir- to want.  J’aimerais comes from the verb aimer- to like. In English we rarely say ‘I would want’ and always say ‘I would like’ so in most cases these two phrases are being translated the same even though they are different. There is a difference between saying that you want something and that you like something.  Therein lies the difference between je voudrais and j’aimerais. The difference is slight but aimer is stronger than vouloir.  I would use j’aimerais for eating cake, because cake is something that you really like and really want (sorry I am probably making people hungry now).  You are adding a little emotion to it (keep in mind ‘aimer’ is the same verb used to say I love you- je t’aime!).

Adding ‘bien’ is just like adding ‘really’, ‘very’ or ‘a lot’ in English.  You can say je voudrais bien as well.

Lisa T. • Posted on Thu, March 24, 2011 - 8:47 pm EST

I’m in the same place in Pimsleur and had the same question about j’aimerais, j’aimerais bien, and je voudrais. (I too had been taught “Je voudrais” in my high school French class.) Thanks for posting this and thank you Manon and Katherine for the explanations.

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