Diving into French c. 1913

I spent a couple of days on the intro of the Shorter French Course. It had the alphabet, a guide to accents, and an extensive pronunciation guide. It was a good reminder for how those nasal vowels are formed in the mouth, and now I’m less lazy about it. Or maybe more lazy, actually, in letting them remain vowels and not adding a more definite m or n sound to the end. I am the right amount of lazy for pronouncing French nasal vowels now.

Interestingly, SFC recommended using a kind of Spanish-style r, the one where the tip of your tongue touches the top of your mouth behind your front teeth. This is a “lingual” r, according to the book’s authors. The “uvular” r is the one most Americans probably associate with French. It’s formed with the tongue in the back of the throat so it trills the uvula, which sounds dirty. “This r is usually more difficult for English-speaking people to acquire.” My uvular r is not great, but it’s the one I learned in high school, so I’m sticking with it.

Une Ecole, Un Livre

On to the lessons! They are short. Lesson I has the kind of vocabulary you’d expect in a teaching text: un crayon, une ecole, une table, un livre. I am realizing now that I’m going to need to find an easy way to do accented in blog posts. You can watch for that exciting development soon.

Anyway, there are a few grammar and usage rules too. In lesson I, we learn about genders for nouns and the indefinite article un/une. Then there are exercises translating English into French and vice versa. That’s the part I like. Lesson I gets as difficult as translating “a brother and a sister.” Un frere et une soeur. Nailed it.

Take Deux

Lesson II adds the definite articles le, la, and les, and some more school vocab, like la classe and le papier. More translations. There’s a real pattern here, and I like it. Next we pick up the “to have” and “to be” verbs, avoir and etre, and numbers up to three. By the end of lesson III, I can translate “The women have the keys”: Les femmes ont les clefs. Very handy for nunnery dungeons or what have you.

There are few notes in these early pages from my great-grandmother Velma Rose Smith. She notes homework assignments in French: Prenez vendredi lecon cinq (5). Traduise par ecrit la partie 3-7. Apparently this was not Grandma Smith’s first brush with French, as this vocabulary has not been introduced in the text yet. Her professor (professeur, according to lesson II) probably used these words and wrote them on the board. Velma used both the vous form and the tu form of the verbs in this penciled note to herself.

I had to put a pretty heavy filter on this so the handwriting at the top of the page would be legible.