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Lesson Transcript

Virginie: Bonjour!
Eric: Eric here. The Top 5 Most Common Phrases. I am joined in the studio by...
Virginie: Hello everyone, Virginie here. So today, we are thinking about those of you who are going to travel to France for the first time.

Lesson focus

Eric: And those of you who’ve already been to France.
Virginie: And were clueless about what to say in everyday situations such as how to say “please” when ordering a glass of wine.
Eric: Or how to say I don’t know when someone wants to talk to you about the French 18th century philosophers.
Virginie: Oh yes all right. This one can save a life.
Eric: You know how French people can be when it comes to politeness.
Virginie: What do you mean if I may ask?
Eric: Well French people can get upset if you don’t get their daily thank you’s, please’s.
Virginie: I think anyone likes politeness and is entitled to it.
Eric: That’s why we selected for you the top 5 most common phrases that will help you get around Paris without looking like a tourist.
Virginie: And French people absolutely love it when you try to speak their language.
Eric: And they are going to definitely appreciate you getting into their culture.
Virginie: Okay so first thing first. Here is the situation.
Eric: That you have a French friend.
Virginie: A French friend who has plenty of French friends himself.
Eric: So there are French friends everywhere. To celebrate your arrival, your host organizes a dinner party at his place and a few guests are coming over.
Virginie: Right. 8 o’ clock they are here, ding dong!
Eric: They pass the door and say hi to your hosts.
Virginie: So far so good. You know how to say hi, right?
Eric: Bonjour.
Virginie: Bonjour! But all of a sudden, you hear a series of sounds you never heard before. You hear “Ca va? Oui oui, ça va ça va ça va. Oh Ca va? Oh oui ça va.”
Eric: So what is this “ça va?” thing. What does it mean and how should we use it?
Virginie: It’s actually quite simple. In France, when you meet friends, the first you will ask after a short greeting is, how they are doing, right?
Eric: How are you?
Virginie: Uhoo and the question how are you in French is “ça va?”
Eric: Ca va?
Virginie: Now watch out. Since it’s a question, you need to have the right intonation. In French, it’s often the only way to distinguish a question from a statement.
Eric: Right. So it’s “ça va?”
Virginie: You need to stress the end of the sentence and raise your intonation: ça va?
Eric: How do you spell it?
Virginie: C with a cédille-a-blank-v-a-question mark.
Eric: You said “cédille” what’s that?
Virginie: The cédille is little mark on the letter C to indicate that it should be pronounced “s” and not “k”.
Eric: Ah okay, I see. So how do I answer the question? What do I say?
Virginie: You just say “ça va”.
Eric: So I just said the same thing.
Virginie: The exact same words but different intonation. It’s an affirmation, it’s not a question.
Eric: Ca va.
Virginie: So Eric, if I ask you “ça va?” you answer:
Eric: Ca va.
Virginie: Right.
Eric: Okay I have a question now.
Virginie: Of course.
Eric: You know how I hate to look socially awkward. I want to get the gist of this phrase “ça va”.
Virginie: I understand.
Eric: So my question is, would I ask to anyone, to the baker when I ask for my baguette in the morning, should I say “ça va?”
Virginie: That is a good question because actually you shouldn’t. It would sound bizarre.
Eric: Why?
Virginie: Because when you meet a complete stranger like the baker for instance and someone who is not related to any of your friends, you are not supposed to enquire about his or her health or her mood or….
Eric: Umm because it is like none of my business.
Virginie: Right exactly something like that.
Eric: But I just want to be friendly.
Virginie: Well sweet of you Eric but in France, you need to keep your distance at least with strangers. Otherwise it will be seen like a violation of their personal space.
Eric: Well okay, well I don’t need a friend that is getting mad at me. What about when I go into a store. Should I just stick to the basic greeting like “bonjour”.
Virginie: Yeah.
Eric: Okay.
Virginie: Let’s move on to our next phrase.
Eric: Wait! Wait! Wait a minute! What if I want to ask you how you are after you ask me?
Virginie: Okay go ahead and ask me.
Eric: Ca va Viriginie?
Virginie: Ca va et toi?
Eric: “Et toi”, and you.
Virginie: Right. Et toi. It’s spelt e-t-blank-t-o-i “and you, what about you” and don’t forget again to raise your intonation here! Et toi?
Eric: Okay now what’s next?
Virginie: An important one. How to say please.
Eric: Do French people say please a lot?
Virginie: They do. It’s almost like a punctuation mark.
Eric: So when do you use it?
Virginie: Actually we only use it when asking for something.
Eric: Okay. So how do I say please in French?
Virginie: There are two forms for please. The formal way and the informal way. There is “s’il vous plaît” which is the formal way.
Eric: S’il vous plaît. When asking somebody that you don’t know right?
Virginie: Yeah. When the person you are talking to is not a friend or family but also when asking something to more than one person like to two people for instance, you will use “s’il vous plaît”.
Eric: Okay. So again, this is the use of the word “vous” the formal or the plural form of “you”.
Virginie: Yes. Let me spell it for you: s apostrophe-i-l-space-v-o-u-s-space-p-l-a-i with accent circonflexe and t.
Eric: The “accent circonflexe” is a little “chapeau”.
Virginie: A little “chapeau” on the “i”, a little “hat” on the little “i”.
Eric: What is the informal way of saying please?
Virginie: The informal way is “s’il te plaît”.
Eric: Okay. So this is like two.
Virginie: And you will say that to your friends and family.
Eric: S’il te plaît.
Virginie: Let me spell it for you.
Eric: Please spell it.
Virginie: s apostrophe-i-l-space-t-e-space-p-l-a-i accent circonflexe-t.
Eric: Now what do I want to say if I meet someone on the street and then I’d have a random question to ask. How do I say excuse me?
Virginie: Oh you certainly don’t want to grab someone by the shirt and say straightaway, “Where is the Louvre?”. Well it’s just like in English literally. We say “excusez-moi” for excuse me.
Eric: Excusez-moi. but that’s the formal form of the word right?
Virginie: Yes.
Eric: Or when we are addressing several people.
Virginie: Yeah exactly.
Eric: So what about if I just – I am speaking to a friend or a close co-worker or something like that?
Virginie: Then you will say “excuse-moi” it almost sounds the same. There is “excusez-moi” for the formal way and “excuse-moi” for the informal way.
Eric: Okay so it’s “excusez-moi” formal “excuse-moi” informal.
Virginie: Exactly.
Eric: Say I see somebody who is like fainting on the street, can I say: “Excusez-moi, s’il vous plaît, ça va”?
Virginie: Yeah absolutely. It will show your concern and it will be a good way to practice your phrases. You have three phrases right in there. You have “excusez-moi” excuse me, you have “s’il vous plaît” please and you have “ça va?” how are you doing. That’s perfect.
Eric: What if they really need help, what are they going to say?
Virginie: Oh that gets us to our third phrase. Help me or can you help me please which is: Vous pouvez m’aider?
Eric: And what does that mean?
Virginie: Can you help me?
Eric: Vous pouvez m’aider?
Virginie: It is vous.
Eric: formal you.
Virginie: pouvez.
Eric: Can you.
Virginie: m’aider.
Eric: Help me.
Virginie: Vous pouvez m’aider?
Eric: What about if I am like in emergency situation where there is like a French lady who is going to beat me up or something.
Virginie: In that case, you need to scream “au secours” help.
Eric: Au secours.
Virginie: It’s spelled a-u-space-s-e-c-o-u-r-s
Eric: So I guess we are pretty sad if there is an emergency situation in France right. What’s going to be the last phrase of the day?
Virginie: Okay, our last phrase is “je ne sais pas” I don’t know.
Eric: That sounds very useful.
Virginie: And do you want me to spell it out for you?
Eric: Please.
Virginie: So it’s j-e-space-n-e-space-s-a-i-s-space-p-a-s, Je ne sais pas. I don’t know. That could be very useful.
Eric: I think I am going to use that if I ever travel to France.
Virginie: Right. You will say “Je ne sais pas, je ne sais pas”. Don’t talk to me. Je ne sais pas.


Eric: It’s going to be perfect. Okay, thank you very much everyone for joining us today.
Virginie: Okay thank you for listening and have a great day. Au revoir!
Eric: Au revoir!