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Learning French

How to Argue with a Bit of French Fire

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How to Argue with a Bit of French Fire

I have previously written about how I have found that the culture of debating is quite strong here in Montpellier and if you come to do a French immersion course at the ILA Language School you will probably experience a similar thing. I can only describe my own experiences but I have met person after person who had no qualms with raising grand subjects when we were just sipping coffee. It one of the things I’ve really loved while learning French in France and if you are coming to take the DALF/DELF exam preparation course it will be a huge part of your syllabus but every immersion course that ILA offers has a big dose of debating. So, I thought it would be fun to give some phrases that will add a bit of punch to your arguing skills. These have the potential to be quite inflammatory if you use them tactlessly or too often but with a sense of timing they have a serious impact.

  1. Vous êtes dans la caricature – I’m a big fan of this phrase. It’s a great one for keeping arguments within the realm of reality and not letting your opponents get too carried away with hypotheticals and unanswerable ‘what ifs’. The literal translation is something like ‘you are in the caricature’ and as the name suggests it’s a way of expressing that you think your opponent’s argument is particularly extreme. Although this might seem like quite a ridiculing thing to say it’s actually not considered to be hostile and is still fairly polite.
  2. Laissez-moi finir! – This is a particularly useful phrase as almost everybody in a debate cuts people off when they are in the middle of speaking and when it’s a subject they feel particularly passionate about they seem to find it even harder to let other people pose their point of view. So, if you receive any of that on your French immersion course just chuck in this phrase with some strength and continue with your point. Literally it means ‘let me finish!’ which you have a right to do (as long as you have been letting others finish their points) so you can feel confident that you will have your chance to say something.
  3. N’importe quoi – On the other hand this is one you have to careful with. This literally translates as ‘whatever’ which sounds perfectly harmless in English. It’s something you might hear a teenager say to their parents when they have lost interest in what they were talking about. In French however, it’s considered a lot stronger and has the potential to be very badly received. It is equivalent to telling someone that their argument is completely worthless and absurd. So, it can be a bit of a trap for English speakers who use it with the desire to move away from a topic without causing too much hostility.
  4. Vous permettez que je termine? – Again, another way of letting someone know that they have cut you off and that you are not going to stand for it. It’s pretty much the same as ‘are you going to let me finish?’ so of course as it’s framed as a question it has a little less sting than the second phrase so if you want to be a bit classier about things this is the best choice.
  5. Vous plaisantez, j’espère! – A good way of of throwing in a bit of sarcasm. This is the equivalent to saying ‘I hope you’re joking’. If you think someone has made an argument that is ripe for ridicule this is a good opener before unleashing some cutting criticisms.
  6. Vous allez me laisser parler? This one can be used in two ways; when an opponent might have not stopped talking the whole way through and you haven’t had a chance to counter or in a similar way to the 2nd and 4th phrases.
  7. C’est scandaleux de dire ça – This is when you really disagree with someone and believe their argument is downright obscene. You better have a good reason before chucking this one in.

Hopefully these will provide you with some weaponry for either the mock debates in your French Intensive course for adults at the ILA Language School or even in real life. I’d reserve a few of them for special occasions though as they can be taken as quite hostile and you will need to get a feel for them before firing them off at any moment. Your French host families will love that you’re getting involved in the debate though and a bit of sass is respectable, but not too much!