Hide This French Book

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 Berlitz Hide This French BookThe front cover of this book bears a warning: ‘Highly inflammatory text inside. Do not open near French teachers. Not for classroom use.’ Slang or ‘argot’ is very commonly used in French, and one or two publishers have seen an opening here for a book that teaches you the kind of language that is deemed unsuitable for reputable courses or text books.

Intended for those who already know a certain amount of French, this book will not teach you any verb conjugations or any other grammar for that matter. It will teach you everyday expressions, slang and even swear words. However, anything likely to cause offence will be marked as such: a thermometer with a low level of mercury indicates an expression that is to be used ‘with caution’, whereas a thermometer with a high level of mercury means that a phrase is extremely offensive.

Topics covered start with ways of saying hello and progress through love and sex (including gay and lesbian life), sports, shopping, technology and entertainment, ending with a chapter on gestures and body language – which do sometimes differ from one culture to another. Entertainment, food and fashion also feature here.

You can learn that calling someone a rabbit or a cabbage in French is in fact quite romantic. If you want to ask someone out, say you’ve broken up with someone, or tell someone he’s a loser, it’s all here. You can say you got wasted, stoned, or that you don’t do drugs.

Not all the expressions given here are slang or likely to cause any offence. The page entitled ‘Is the price right?’ for example gives the French for asking if something is on sale, enquiring whether you can have a discount, or telling the shop assistant that you are just browsing. In the chapter on fashion, you can find out how to ask for a massage, a facial, an eyebrow wax and so on. Terms given for family members are not the simple, straightforward ones, but rather ‘the son of my stepfather’ or ‘my half-sister’. In the section on food, you can learn how to say that you are a vegetarian, a vegan, or on a diet. Music fans have it easy, as pop, hip-hop, jazz, rap, reggae and techno are all exactly the same in French as in English.

Perhaps one of the most useful sections for me is the one on technology, as computers and mobile phones were not around when I first learnt French, so I’m not particularly familiar with expressions associated with the internet or text messaging. Once again, French has adopted a lot of English words such as forum and modem, but I wouldn’t have known how to say ‘scroll down’. Neither would I have guessed that @2m1 meant ‘A demain’ (See you tomorrow). Of course the French abbreviate language in text messages just as we do, so ‘m jvb’ stands for ‘Moi, je vais bien’ (I’m fine).

“This could be very useful for someone actually going to live in France, perhaps a student on an exchange year or someone who has a French girlfriend/boyfriend”

These abbreviations aside, I have to say that most of the expressions and vocabulary here can also be found in my edition of the Collins-Robert French Dictionary. This dictionary indicates how offensive particular phrases are by the use of asterisks, one meaning informal, two ‘handle with care’, and three signalling ‘danger’. However, whilst any good bilingual dictionary should include this kind of language with information on suitability of use in various situations, the big advantage that ‘Hide This French Book’ has is that it’s small enough to fit in a backpack or large handbag, as well as weighing next to nothing.

The book is easy to use, well organised with a clear font and not a huge amount of text on any one page. French is given in bold type, with English translations in ordinary type alongside. Whilst there is no alphabetical English index, it should be easy to find what you are looking for by referring to the list of topics in the table of contents. Headings are in red, with lowercase subheadings giving a friendly feel; there are plenty of black and white illustrations throughout the book to lighten the atmosphere.

This could be very useful for someone actually going to live in France, perhaps a student on an exchange year or someone who has a French girlfriend/boyfriend. I can’t imagine many holidaymakers or tourists wanting to use some of the expressions included here, but as I have said, there are chapters on shopping, sports and games or technology that could be helpful to travellers in general. So whilst it would seem to be aimed mainly at the younger generation, others may find it a useful book to carry around, probably for city life in particular. If you are easily offended, avoid it; otherwise, it’s light hearted as well as practical. I do, however, foresee that it will need to be updated frequently, since its purpose is to give you the language being spoken on the street in the here and now. In their introduction, Berlitz invite anyone to contribute any new expressions they are aware of by email, and they will add them to their website.

I have said that the lack of a pronunciation guide is a disadvantage of the book; you can, however, listen to the expressions being spoken at www.berlitzbooks.com .

There are Spanish and Italian versions available in the same series.

Hide This French Book by Eve-Alice Roustang-Stoller

Berlitz, 2004, Paperback, 94 pages

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Berlitz Hide This French Book
by Eve-Alice Roustang-Stoller

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Written by frangliz