It is possible to do quite well in your French class in the United States without actually sounding very French. In particular, there are a number of discourse connectives that are quite common in my workplace, but that we are not taught in school. I spent a lot of this summer trying to get a handle on these expressions, all of which I found to be quite common.
En fait: One that threw me for quite a while was en fait. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which that it is not pronounced the way that you would expect. Specifically, the t at the end is pronounced, as if it were spelt en faite. (See here for a discussion about this divergence between spelling and pronunciation, specifically with respect to this expression.) My Collins French-English dictionary translates it as “in fact, actually,” and gives the example En fait je n’ai pas beaucoup de temps “Actually, I haven’t got much time.” As in the example, it seems to mostly show up at the beginning of sentecnes. I have been working hard on using this one, and I estimate that I am now starting 35% of my declarative sentences this way–probably a bit much, but I need the practice.
En effet: This one has multiple uses, which adds to the difficulty of figuring it out. My dictionary translates it as “indeed,” and gives these examples:
- C’est plutôt risqué. — En effet! “That’s rather risky. — It is indeed!”
- Je ne me sens pas très bien. — En effet, tu as l’air pâle. “I don’t feel very well. — Yes, you do look pale.”
- On peut en effet se demander si… “We may indeed ask ourselves if…”
- Il est assez arrogant, en effet. “He is rather arrogant, you’re right.”
Ben oui: I’m still not clear on this one. In fact, I don’t even know how to spell it. I first started hearing it at a conference this summer, and suddenly it seemed to be everywhere. It comes from bien oui; it can be used as a hesitancy marker, but I think also as an indicator of confidence in your assertion. More in the future, if I ever get it straight.
Quand même: This is the grand-daddy of all of the French expressions that I don’t understand. I found a video about it here, but still don’t begin to understand it, as it has at least four uses. My office mate Brigitte uses it all the time, leading to lots of puzzlement on my part–something to work on.
So: master these four expressions, and you will sound totally French–at least to me, and at least for this summer!