Learn French from Timothée Chalamet

Timothée Chalamet speaks French. The Hollywood actor is American but, as his name suggests, has French in his blood. In fact, he is French on his dad’s side, but was raised in the US.

Alors, what can we, as French learners, learn from the French of Timothée Chalamet? Does having a French parent mean you grow up speaking both languages perfectly? Well, I watched an interview with him and noted several things he does well and not so well so that you can come away more confident in your own French.

Either click here or below to watch the video or read on.

Welcome back to French in Plain Sight with me, Alex. I aim to help you, as an English speaking French learner, not only learn new words, expressions and grammar, but also see that progrès is more important than perfection when speaking a foreign language. I do this by breaking down the good things celebrities say and how they say them, as well as the mistakes they make.

This week is the turn of Timothée Chalamet so let’s watch the first clip from an interview in which he’s talking about his career so far. Let’s get into it. C’est parti.

Good things 1

Émouvant

A nice and simple adjective to start things off. I find that intéressant is far and away the most commonly used adjective when giving an opinion here. Timothée opts for émouvant which is the literal translation of moving. It’s this kind of thing that can add more variety to your French. Do you find yourself using intéressant a lot in French? I know I do. Let me know in the comments.

Pronunciation of Un de mes

It isn’t super easy to understand him because of the way he articulates it, but when he says un de mes he smushes the sounds together and it comes out something like undmé. Odd but that’s what he’s saying! It’s really hard to get first time around. 

Même

And at the end of the sentence he says même aujourd’hui, which can mean both even today or still today. Même is a nice little word you can use like that to give your French a nice natural sound.

Saying English words with a French accent or keep them as they are?

I want your feedback in the comments on this because he’s so into the French flow that he starts to say Matthew McConaughey’s name in French but stops himself and switches to English.

Have you got to this stage where you do that yet? Do you carry on and say an English name in French with a French pronunciation, or do you say it in English? Let me know down in the comments. 

Mistake 1: Ce que j’expecte

There’s a lot of franglais in modern day French.

When it’s accepted it’s known as an anglicism. Wen it’s not, well it’s considered incorrect French.

In the interview, the interviewer doesn’t let a particular piece of franglais slip by uncorrected.  that I’ve not heard before.

He says ce que j’expecte and then before he could say what he expects, he was corrected: ce que j’attends. This is the correct phrase because the verb expecter doesn’t exist in French, and it’s not one that has been normalised in franglais. Not yet, anyway.

The correct verb is attendre which we learn means to wait. But maybe you can see how waiting and expecting are related. There’s also the verb s’attendre, which is usually the first one that comes up when looking up expect’s translation. But attendre is valid, too, and it’s easier for English speakers.

Good thing #2: A way to avoid c’est v il/elle est

First of all, depending on where you are in your French journey, it might be more normal for you to say noun + est + adjective, and the adjective can take its masculine or feminine form, depending on the gender of the noun. So, in the case of Timothée, the example is être émouvant

Timothée says Cette scène, c’est émouvant instead of Cette scène est émouvante. Why does he do this? Well, there’s two possibilities in my opinion.

One is that it’s a tendency in spoken French. You put a noun and you put c’est and then the masculine form of the adjective, because ce/c’ is gender neutral, so we use the masculine form of adjectives. This is incredibly common, and if you want to speak French like the natives, I recommend you start doing it.

Second, there technically is a difference in the meanings of cette scène, c’est émouvant and cette scène est émouvante. I won’t go too deep into it here, but to my knowledge, cette scène est émouvante refers directly to the scene itself being moving, and cette scène, c’est émouvant is much more general the feeling from watching the scene and, for example, the feeling he gets from memories of making the film.

I’m releasing a video soon on when to use C’est and when to use Il or elle est, which is very, very relevant to this. So make sure you subscribe to the YouTube channel in order to not miss that when it comes out.

But the difference is subtle, and he wouldn’t have created any confusion whatsoever had he said cette scène est émouvante

So it helps you if you don’t like changing the form of the adjective, because if you just whack c’est in there after the noun, you can use the masculine form, which is what most of us learn first. 

Mistake 2: J’avais juste fini les Oscars

The host didn’t pick him up on this one because it’s not as serious as j’expecte, but I can tell immediately that it’s a word for word translation from English.

He says, J’avais juste fini les Oscars. He’s trying to say, I had just finished the Oscars and it’s only really one word away from conveying the message he intended. J’avais juste fini les Oscars means I had just finished the Oscars word for word, but the French wouldn’t use just in this sentence to mean recently, even though juste translates to just in a lot of cases, J’avais juste fini les Oscars does not convey this recency, however.

To get across the point that it was recent, you would use the special construction of Je venais de finir les Oscars, which is specifically for I had just. For I just or I have just you put venir in the present instead of the imparfait. Je venais de finir les Oscars because it’s something easy to pick up in your own spoken French. It’s really common in everyday French, and it’s not a word to word translation from English.

By the way, by picking out these mistakes, I’m trying to help you avoid making them yourself and also have fun analysing sentences to understand how they came about. It’s not in any way to put him down. 

And just to finish up on this sentence, a more natural one for the French to say would be something like Je venais de participer `la cérémonie des Oscars. But Timothée got his point across with finir just fine, in my opinion. 

Good thing 3: Perfect intonation

The next thing that Timothée demonstrates really well is how French pronunciation puts the most emphasis on the end of a word on the final syllable. Specifically, he pronounces l’enthousiasme, la positivité, l’optimisme, and le cynisme really well, to highlight this for us. Listen here.

You’ll probably want to check out the video to hear it.

It’s more obvious on those words ending in asme and isme, but it’s still true of positivité, and this is a hallmark of French pronunciation. So if you struggle with imitating the sound of French words, focus on putting more stress or more weight at the end of it. In English, we tend to put the stress earlier in the word. Think about how you say positivity, enthusiasm, optimism, cynicism. The stress isn’t at the end.

This thing of putting the weight at the end of the word in French is also particularly true with words ending in tion(s): organisation, réalisation, recommandation, félicitations. Whereas in English we put the stress in the middle or at the start, the French are more consistent in putting it at the end.

Organisation, realisation, recommendation, congratulations, with my UK spelling. 

So it’s nice that Timothée demonstrates this difference so clearly for us.

Mistake 3: plus de plus

In this next one, he tries to say, As I grow, I appreciate my French side more and more when he says de plus de plus, it should be de plus en plus.

The cool thing about this construction is that it’s reusable with any comparative:

  • De moins en moins – less and less.
  • De mieux en mieux – better and better.
  • De pire en pire –  worse and worse.

And whereas in English we have words like easier, you can’t do that in French you have to say plus facile and plus difficile but this fits the format as well. So say de plus en plus facile – it’s easier and easier or de plus en plus difficile – it’s less and less difficult.

I love the way Timothée’s French flows so naturally. He definitely has picked that up perfectly, at least to my ears, which is normal since he’s been speaking since he was a child. 

But as is clear, he makes a lot of small mistakes like getting the gender of nouns wrong and mistranslating things from English. This isn’t obvious at all.

When you’re a beginner or intermediate, you can easily hear someone’s flow in pronunciation and think they’re perfect when often that’s not the case.

So I hope with this analysis you can take confidence in your own ability knowing that celebrities do interviews and make tons of mistakes, but in the grand scheme of things, they hardly matter at all.

Focus on #progrèspasperfection for your own French and appreciate all the little steps forward you make. Merci beaucoup to Timothée Chalamet for educating so many of us through both what you say and how you say it.

You can get your free copy of my guide to speaking French here.

See you in the next article or video. 

Ciao ciao !

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