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Tune Up Your FrenchTitle: Tune Up Your French
Authors: Natalie Schorr
Copyright: © 2004
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
ISBN: 0-07-143229-9

Relevance: Tune Up Your French is ideal for reporters, photographers, and others who know French, yet can't speak it. This seeming paradox is common in those who have had formal training yet absolutely no real-life experience in speaking a foreign language. The book features over 100 "top ten" lists of key French phrases and expressions making it an important tool to hone your French skills and to speak the language like a French native.

Review: Hands up now, who has studied French, perhaps for years, but when faced with asking simple questions or formulating simple answers, breaks into a cold sweat in fear? Perhaps you're one of those people who get all fuddled when having to formulate an off-the-cuff response to a waiter, taxi driver or airline clerk. Tune Up Your French can help immeasurably.

The book starts off with something the author calls The Zazie Effect. The Zazie Effect explains why French expressions -- especially street French expressions -- are uttered as one long connected sentence. Although author Schorr does not delve into a complete description of French phonetics (thankfully), she does highlight ten essential features of French pronunciations that contrast with English.

For instance, pronouncing French takes more energy than pronouncing English. In French, you use your nose, as well as your mouth and throat. French syllables start with consonant sounds and end with vowel sounds and there's no pause between words and syllables in French. And so on.

Through some interesting examples, and dare we say it, a bit of humor, she proceeds to illustrate the ten key points of The Zazie Effect -- and why native English speakers can have such a difficulty in French. Interestingly, these kinds of verbal tricks become second nature when one is immersed in the language perhaps after two or three weeks after maintaining a sharp ear and a quiet mouth. However, it's nice to have a short-cut and a framework with which to accelerate one's French language learning.

The book's "Quick Fixes" are aimed at people who are impatient to start speaking in French, with the goal that it is better to say some things right away than to stand silent like a lamp post when asked a question.

Top Ten Ways to Show Enthusiasm, Top Ten Ways to Say "Yes", Top Ten Ways to Say "No", Top Ten Ways to Slow Down the Conversation, Top Ten Terms of Endearment, Top Ten Ways to Describe Someone, Top Ten Abbreviations for Talking About Education, Top Ten Slang Expressions That Will Never Get You Into Trouble, Top Ten French Euphemisms, and Top Ten Things You Can Say to Make a French Meal Less Expensive.

One of the main problems that beginning speakers encounter is that native speakers move so quickly from thought to thought, and slur words together as discussed in The Zazie Effect. Therefore, we particularly liked Schorr's list of Top Ten Ways to Slow Down the Conversation: Hein? (Huh?); Comment? (What was that?); Pardon? (Excuse Me?); Vous Disiez? (You were saying?); Je n'ai pas compris (I didn't understand); Repetez s'il vous plait? (Could you repeat that please?); Qu'est-ce que vous avez dit? (What did you say?); Je ne suis pas sur d'avoir compris (I am not sure I understood); Plus lentement s'il vous plait (Speak more slowly please); Pourriez-vous me l'ecrire s'il vous plait? (Could you write that down for me please?).

Cues, non-verbal cues
Another part of learning a language is understanding its non-verbal cues, sound effects, and interjections. To this goal, the book spends its first chapter illustrating the importance of body language and simple expressions. When counting on your fingers in French, which finger do you start with? How would you gesture that someone is drunk? Do the French tend to stand closer or further away than Americans when having a conversation? What do the French say instead of "whoopsy daisy" when helping a child over a puddle?

These are the kinds of non-verbal cues and interjections that are important in the French language and very important to ameliorate proper communication. Further, since none of this useful stuff is taught in formal French class, it is no surprise that even if you got As in French all through high school and even into college or university, you may not be able to communicate with someone in an appropriate way. The upshot of all this? You may inadvertently insult, malign or otherwise get on the bad side of someone.

Other so-called “tune-up” chapters follow. In Manners, we learn all about the French manner system – and why French kids seem to be better behaved than are their American counterparts. In Idioms to Go, Schoor shows readers how to get extra mileage from the French you already know with easy (and automatic) idioms that make you sound oh-so-authentic.

In Practical French, you can master key phrases for handling specific situations. In a public place, for example, how do you ask in French where the bathroom is? Another: what do French speakers say when they ask if you have the exact change? One of the best aspects of the Tune Up Your French is that there are hundreds of these small narratives, each explaining how true French is spoken – and what the appropriate reply might be.

The chapter continues with ten expressions for taking the train; ten more when driving a car in France; ten directions to give on a street or a car; and ten great expressions for getting around town on the subway (the metro) or the bus. Also included are ten sales expressions (may I help you?; it’s on sale; and so on); and ten things one might say in a store and ten more in a market.

Other chapters are packed with yet more expressions and idioms presented around logical themes such as eating and drinking, starting a conversation, slang, attitude, wit and humor; and, interestingly, improvisation.

A useful audio CD is included but it merely whets the appetite of the reader. Since the book is so completely filled with great suggestions to improve one’s spoken French, no single CD could possibly live up to the same standard. In a perfect world, we would have enjoyed an additional CD (or even two) to go over more of the key points in greater detail. This small point aside, we were very impressed with Tune Up Your French.

Tune Up Your French is an impressive book that does exactly what it claims it will do: get you speaking French more like a native and less like someone who has studied the language as an English-speaking student. It uses humor and interesting stories to illustrate key points. Although the text can move rather quickly, it is packed with useful French idioms, expressions -- and, perhaps most importantly, responses -- to what French natives will say, do, ask and otherwise interact with you on your visit to France, Belgium, the French speaking parts of Switzerland, Canada and much of Africa. Highly recommended.

End of Review

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