Chan­nel hopping

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.

Living France - - LIFESTYLE -

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.

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