Since I have been learning French in France I have discovered that idioms are very important and my teachers at the Easy French Immersion School in Montpellier know this all too well. When I first started my French language stay in Montpellier I was under the impression that idioms are a lot like slang; fun to learn, good for making your speech sound more natural but not that important. I now know that this is not true at all and learning idioms is essential to your comprehension and understanding, they are in my view not as important for your expression as you can get the same meaning across in other terms although to a French local it might sound a bit wooden.
An idiom is defined as a group of words that have a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words. It is the official name for an expression, a turn of phrase or in formal terms a locution. The fact that they are not deducible is what makes them difficult to understand; it’s not possible to take the slow route and check word by word in your dictionary and find the meaning. You may be able to get close but the meanings of idioms are established by usage, this means that hearing them in action is the best chance you have to gain an idea of their usage. Over the coming weeks I will share the phrases I learn on my intensive French immersion course, which has undoubtedly been the best way to understand them I have found since starting my French language stay in Montpellier. First though I want to share some of my thoughts on how I have found them important.
Why Learn Idioms During Your French Language Stay in France?
As I have progressed in French my listening has been an area I have focused a lot on as it was where I was struggling the most. Especially as opposed to my Spanish speaking classmates at the Easy French Language School in the South of France who seem to find it a lot more natural to distinguish words and easily understand the basic sense of an audio clip or a conversation. This has improved as I have moved up the levels on my French immersion course and now a the C1 level I can read a text and if I don’t understand the odd verb or noun I can normally determine a good idea of what they are referring to from the context. Suspending complete understanding has been an important lesson for me. This is fairly easy now with a few unknown words within some dialogue but was really throws me off is when idioms are in there. As they are complete phrases they can often completely throw off my grip on the meaning at hand. I easily get caught up on the components of the phrases as at first, I take them as literally involved in the speech and I’m questioning how they relate to following or preceding information. It slows me down a huge amount.
Then you have the fact that your ears are not going to be as used to the patterns of sounds that idioms produce as in a more literal context those words are not likely to be used together and in the earlier stages of learning French in France you will be speaking more literally. When you are doing a language stay a lot of your understanding comes from context where you figure out what someone is trying to express based on what has come before and after. If you are listening to a podcast for example it is a lot easier to follow the dialogue if you listen from the start as opposed to jumping in half way. Not being familiar with common idioms can have a destabilising affect and leave you feel like you have lost the thread of the conversation. For me this can often lead to a bit of frustration which can pull at my focus and completely derail my comprehension of a conversation.
Learning idioms during your French language stay in France can feel like opening flood gates to your understanding, especially for everyday conversation and……………they are fun! The literal translations of idioms are often kooky, obscure and hilarious. Learning something fun and interesting at the same time as unlocking your comprehension seems like a no brainer to me now and I’m full of curiosity when I hear new ones. Whether that is in my intensive French lessons, on the street or anywhere during my French language stay in Montpellier. Stay tuned for some samples.