I confess. I have an "amant", a love in my life other than my husband, Pascal. It's the French language. When I met Pascal, he didn't speak more than five words of English, so our relationship developed in French. After more than eight years of talking and writing love letters to one another in this beautiful, romantic tongue, Pascal moved to New York and we got married. Although it was important for him to learn English in his newly adopted country, it felt completely artificial when we spoke English to each other. So we worked out an arrangement where we speak French when we're alone together and English when we're with others. One of my greatest pleasures is getting to speak both languages every day.
But, like most couples who live and work and play together, our daily French chit chat can often become stale: "Good Morning." (Bonjour.) "Did you sleep well?" (Est-ce que t'as bien dormi?) "What's on the agenda for today?" (C'est quoi le programme pour aujourd'hui?) "What do you want to eat for dinner tonight?" (Qu'est-ce que tu veux manger ce soir?). You know. The usual. How could I infuse some new passion into my romance with France and the language of love? The answer came to me while I recently perused the travel section of a local bookstore. I love reading travelogues, they're one of my favorite genres (there's a French and English word for you!), and while seeking out the "nouvéautes" (newest titles), I discovered this book by Kristin Espinasse: Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France.
Like me, Kristin is an American who met, fell in love with, and married a Frenchman about fifteen years ago. Unlike me, she is living and raising kids in France who, of course, speak better French than she does and correct her grammar regularly. Kristin writes: "Although I majored in French, I still struggle daily with the language. Luckily I have two built-in tutors, my 11-year-old son Max and 9-year-old daughter Jackie, who have taken it upon themselves to straighten out my language faux pas. Sometimes I get a bit miffed and remind them that I spoke French before they did, but they just stare back, heads shaking in disbelief."
Several years ago, Kristin created a blog. Every few days she shares a brief anecdote (and often a charming photo) about French life. She incorporates a smattering of French words into the text and ends with a list of all of the vocabulary words used in the anecdote, their English translation, and a list of expressions that use said word. You can even download a small mp3 file to hear proper pronunciation. What's most brilliant about her writing is that whether you are "un débutant" (a beginner) or "parfaitement bilangue" (perfectly bilingual), you're sure to find an old word, a new expression, or a discerning observation that tickles your fancy. Kristin writes about how the French only says "Bonjour" once per person per day (after that it’s "Rebonjour"—Hello again). She explains the intricacies of grocery shopping in a French grocery store with the word "comptoir" (counter). And she shares a delightful slice of life with her pre-teen son in an entry called "Toquade" (crush).
If you’re looking to improve your French vocabulary, or just to understand more of the French and their mysterious ways, then I encourage you to sign up for Kristin Espinasse's French-Word-A-Day blog. As for me, my thrice-weekly "rendez-vous" with different French words and their derivative expressions have definitely spiced up my linguistic love affair. It has helped me "retrouver l'oiseau rare—Monsieur Lemot, Juste". (A little play on words in French best translated as "It has helped me rediscover my Mr. Write").