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Parlez Français Comme une Grenouille (Speak French Like a Frog)

A green Frog

A few weeks ago, Expatriates Magazine published an article by language teacher, Sandrine Durand, about a story that was the hardest to pronounce for expats to read aloud. The story is about a “vieille grenouille insaisissable” (an old uncatchable frog). Geoffroy is trying to catch “le grenouille,” but it’s tough without damaging his “chèvrefeuille” (honey suckle).

First off is the word “grenouille.” It’s one of the hardest words for us Anglophones to pronounce, much less spell. First you have to get the GR in your throat, so you actually do sound like a frog. Then, you have push your lips way out front to get that OOOO sound, ending with a short YA, kind of like saying “hallelujah.” That’s the same pronunciation for words like “nouille” (noodle), “ratatouille” (ratatouille) and “citrouille” (pumpkin).

You can go online and listen to a a dozen different renditions of “grenouille” but my favorite is by Learn French With Vincent

The story is about the brilliant surgeon Geoffroy Lefebvre who was picking holly in his garden near Rouen one day when he saw, with horror, an old elusive frog. The batrachian (another word for frog), despite his old age, kept jumping from plant to plant and Geoffroy’s honeysuckle took a hit. He tried to frighten the frog, staring at it wide-eyed, but without success. At the same time, the famous locksmith of Rouen, who was going to offer locksmith services, saw him and thought: “What is this quack!?” With his friend Gaëlle, Geoffroy tried to catch the frog by attracting it with a creamy mille-feuille (a pastry similar to, but slightly different from a Napoleon), then with a linden infusion (tea) and finally with a glass of Brouilly (a Beaujolais wine). But Geoffroy failed and he ended up empty-handed every time. Finally, vanquished, he decided to leave Rouen to settle in Rueil Malmaison. He knew he would be well received in the Paris region and especially, the prospect of taking the RER every day delighted him.

Here’s the story in French if you dare try to read it aloud yourself:

Le Vieille Grenouille Insaisissable

Alor qu’il cueillait du houx dans son jardin près de Rouen, le brillant chirurgien Geoffroy Lefebvre vit avec horreur une vieille grenouille insaisissable. Le batracien, malgré sa vieillesse, ne cessait de sauter de plantes en plantes. Et le chèvrefeuille de Geoffroy en avait pris un coup. Il essaya d’effrayer la grenouille en la fixant de ses yeux écarquillés , mais sans succès. Au même moment, le fameux serrurier de Rouen qui passait proposer des services de serrurerie, le vit et pensa : « qu’est-ce que c’est que cet hurluberlu !? » Avec son amie Gaëlle, Geoffroy tenta de capturer la grenouille en l’attirant avec un mille-feuille bien crémeux, puis avec une infusion de tilleul et enfin avec un verre de Brouilly. Mais Geoffroy échoua, il finissait bredouille à chaque fois. Finalement, vaincu, il décida de quitter Rouen pour s’installer à Rueil Malmaison. Il savait qu’il serait bien accueilli dans la région parisienne et surtout, la perspective de prendre le RER tous les jours le ravissait.

And if you want to hear a native French speaker recite it, click here.

My favorite word in the text is “serrurerie.” If you can pronounce this word filled with R’s, then you can pronounce almost anything in French! When I first lived in Israel on a kibbutz (1972), we had half-day Hebrew classes (called “ulpan”). Our teacher’s name was “Drora.” The first words out of her mouth were, “If you can pronounce my name, Drora, I will consider you successful in Hebrew!” Drora has those same in-the-throat R’s, but even deeper than the French R. Learning how to pronounce her name served me well more than 20 years later when I came to France and had to learn how to pronounce “serrurerie!”

Anytime an R gets involved, it can get treacherous for us Anglophones. Try “fourrurier” or “RER,” for example. Expect a lot of throat action.Then, there’s that U sound, that’s not an OO sound. To make the sound correctly, it helps to push those lips out far as far as you can, raise your neck so your chin is high and then say “uuuu!” It helps, I swear it!

If you have the habit of saying “oy vey” like I do (thanks to my Yiddish roots), you might do pretty well saying words like “mille-feuille” or “accueilli” (welcomed)” or “l’écureuil” (squirrel).If you Google “French phonetics,” you’ll find tons of sites to help you learn pronunciation. I always thought that it didn’t hurt to “have a good ear” — that musicians and singers have a propensity for learning languages, that their fine-tuned ears were generally better at picking out sound patterns leading to better pronunciation. Not necessarily so. Psychology Today had plenty to say about that in an article posted in July 2017. Their conclusion is that like I thought, it doesn’t hurt, but listening well is still the key.

I hate to admit that I do very little myself to improve my French pronunciation. The moment I open my mouth, even saying one word like “Bonjour” is a clue that I’m not a native Francophone. Is there hope? Probably not!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - Nice, France

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John G. Jones with Adrian Leeds on the set of House Hunters International

Artwork by Liselott JohnssonArtwork by Liselott Johnsson

Femme, A Celebration to Woman

P.S. If you didn’t have a chance to see the latest House Hunters International episode, Season 139, Episode 8, “Finding a Voice in Nice, France” you can watch it on Youtube NOW and for a limited time. Click here today

P.P.S. For lovers of contemporary art, mark Sunday, April 14th on your calendar for a private one-day exhibition of the works of six artists (including the works of Liselott Johnsson), from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Moving Art Gallery. The exhibition is sponsored by Yoyo Maeght in this new gallery opened by Véronique de Lavenne, a prominent curator in Paris and on the Riviera who spent 17 years at the Galerie Maeght. You must register for the opening in advance at which time, the exact location (in a southern suburb of Paris) will be given to you. It will be worth the effort as this is a very special exhibition!

And if you happen to live in the Housto, Texas area, as part of the 2019 French Cultures Festival coordinated by the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in Houston, visit the special exhibition “Femme, A Celebration to Woman,” on until May 26th, sponsored by the Yvonamor Palix Fine Arts Gallery at HCC Southeast, 6815 Rustic, Houston, Texas 77087 in the Learning Hub Building-2nd Floor Gallery. For more information, contact Yvonamor Palix at [email protected]

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