It’s no secret that there’s an abundance of excellent French-language music. From timeless vintage classics by stalwarts like Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet to more modern French-language tunes that have infiltrated the mainstream (Stromae, anyone?), there’s really nothing quite like French music. But in addition to producing deep, memorable, and marvelous songs, these French artists have also — albeit inadvertently — given learners of French a great opportunity to practice their grammar.
Here are two excellent French-language songs that will help you tackle some of the trickier aspects of French grammar.
Photo via dianaros2015 / Wikipedia
Cracking Conditionals with Diane Tell: Si J’étais un Homme
The grammar point: Second conditional = Si + imperfect + conditional
Especially for English speakers, memorizing the conjugations involved in the several different conditional tenses can be a struggle. Luckily, French-Canadian singer Diane Tell is there to help us. Her 1981 hit “Si j’étais un homme” (“If I Were a Boy”) earned her international recognition, and to date, it is her most popular song. In it, she talks about what she would do if she woke up and found herself transformed into a man. Specifically, she says:
Ah ! si j’etais un homme / Oh! If I were a boy
Je serais romantique… / I would be romantic
Thus, we encounter an instance of the second conditional, which is used to describe impossible or hypothetical situations (like waking up as the opposite gender). In French, it’s formed by using the imperfect first-person tense of “être” — ètais — to indicate that the situation described is not real. Then, in the subsequent clause, the conditional form of “être” — serais — expresses the same meaning that “would” does in English. The song is filled to the brim with more examples of the second conditional — have a listen below.
Memorizing the Future Tense with Celine Dion: Je Chanterai
The grammar point: Future tense = main verb + future ending (-ai, -as, -a, -ons, -ez, -ont)
In English, the future tense is relatively easy to express: you simply use the modal will and the base form of the verb. In French, however, the future tense comes with an entire set of conjugations, which differ by person and number. French-English bilingual Celine Dion, however, is not fazed by the future tense, and uses it with aplomb in her popular song “Je Chanterai” (“I Will Sing”). In it, she proudly proclaims:
Quand l’amour aura d’autres goûts que la passion, le désir / When love has tastes other than passion, desire
Je chanterai, je chanterai / I will sing, I will sing
Et je t’aimerai, je t’aimerai / and I will love you, I will love you
Indeed, the song has plenty of examples of the future tense in action. Celine Dion is singing about her own emotions, and therefore she uses the first-person conjugations. But make sure that you also know the rest of the conjugations, listed below:
First person singular: Je chanterai
Second person singular: Tu chanteras
Third person singular: Il/elle/on chantera
First person plural: Nous chanterons
Second person plural: Vous jouerez
Third person plural: Ils/Elles/on joueront
These two songs are great examples of great French-language tunes from which you can extract both musical and grammatical value. Given that French is a language whose grammar is as rich as its musical culture, you can find important grammar points in almost all French music — have a look at other French-language songs for learners, and listen to your heart’s content.
Add them to your iPod when you’re taking the metro on your way to work, when you’re riding your bicylcette down a streetlamp-lined Parisian road, or when you’re simply at home with a bottle of champagne, dreaming about France.
And don’t forget to sing along — that way, you’ll get in some valuable speaking practice, too!
Paul writes on behalf of Language Trainers, a language tutoring service offering French classes in Montreal, as well as other language classes all over the world. You can check out their free French level tests and other language-learning resources on their website. You can visit their Facebook page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.