If you haven't yet delved into the world of French TV, Claire Winterton helps you discover your favourite shows and finds out how they can improve your language skills.
We spend over eight years of our lives on average glued to the box, so there’s no doubt it’s a popular pastime and part of our national identity. But when we move abroad, language and cultural differences make it difficult to tune into local TV.
It can feel like too much effort when you don’t know which programmes to watch or who anyone is, but it’s a fun way to experience ‘real’ life. Plus, it helps with making small talk when you’re chatting to the neighbours.
Just like in Britain, popular TV shows are common topics of conversation in France and it’s great to know what they’re talking about – even if you don’t understand every word. Knowing that last year’s winner of Le Meilleur Pâtissier (France’s version of The Great British Bake Off) was Australian-born, Paris-living Chelsea Wilson will earn you big brownie points with cake-loving locals.
SPEAKING IN TONGUES
But can watching your favourite shows actually help you learn the language? According to the blog ‘10 best French TV series to learn French’, from the website FluentU.com, watching en français is “guaranteed to be useful, regardless of your level of proficiency. Let’s face it – French isn’t an easy language to learn for the beginner, especially because of its pronunciation and complex grammar rules. By watching French TV shows we can pick up the pronunciation and increase our vocabulary as well.” But, beginner speakers of French, beware. Founder of FrenchToday.com, Camille Chevalier-Karfis, fears that, for people with a low level, watching TV can be a frustrating way to study the language as they won’t understand anything. “I believe most students should ‘enjoy’ TV in French, and may pick out a word or two, hear the accents, and simply enjoy the process, rather than use it as a tool for learning,” she said. However, she recommends it for more advanced speakers. “They can learn a lot of new vocabulary this way, hear lots of different accents, have fun – and it’s free! If you are an advanced speaker of French, I’d recommend watching the same show over and over until you understand everything. Watch without the subtitles, pause, repeat, write it down and then learn the new vocabulary and expressions. TV can be a great learning tool if you go the extra mile and actually study with it.”
CULTURE CLUB There are also cultural benefits of watching French TV – and not just culture with a capital C, according to Gaëlle Planchenault, Associate Professor in the Department of French at Simon Fraser University. “When I mention the ‘cultural’ aspect of the language, I do not only refer to arts, literature, history, or other cultural artifacts that are often attached to French,” she explains.
“To me, culture is also a part of the language itself, what makes it tick, what makes it alive. A language is more than the fixed forms in textbooks; it is constantly evolving. Manners of speaking say a lot about speakers – their background, the context of communication as well as their moods or the nature of the relationship. Knowing all this makes learning a language truly exciting. When we watch TV, we are exposed to naturalistic ways of speaking that are often totally different from the French spoken inside the classroom.”
So what would Gaëlle recommend as a good TV programme to get us started? “The recent TV series Dix Pour Cent is a good way to familiarise yourself with French programmes,” she says. “It was very successful in France and was held as an example of good quality television. It is also humorous, fast-paced and features well-known French actors.”
If you’re looking for something a little more familiar, read on for our suggestions of programmes you might recognise.
If you like Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, you will love Cauchemar en Cuisine, M6
Michelin-starred chef Philippe Etchebest takes a less expletive-ridden approach to helping troubled restaurateurs than his fiery counterpart Gordon Ramsay, but he’s not shy to point out their mistakes in his bid to steer them away from bankruptcy.
If you like The Great British Bake Off, you will love Le Meilleur Pâtissier, M6
Regular viewers of GBBO will immediately feel at home with the theme tune and opening credits of the French version. Le Meilleur Pâtissier follows a similar format to the British one, with one presenter, currently Julia Vignali, and two judges – Michelin-starred chef Cyril Lignac and food blogger Mercotte. The challenges are very similar to GBBO, but for the showstopper ( épreuve créative), a distinguished guest is invited to help judge.