Those of you who have been at the ILA French Language School for a few weeks will have probably figured out that a big part of the syllabus involves arguing. It’s a great way of taking what you have learnt and putting it into practice, in the context of a debate you are forced to think fast about what your arguments, responses and re-responses will be whilst also doing so in French. This multi-tasking is amazing for your progression as you are likely to be thinking more in French as there isn’t time to translate. At the same time, you get to learn and discuss current topics that you are just as likely to hear around the dinner table at your host family’s house. In this article, I want to talk about a few phrases to make your debating a bit more natural sounding and give you some weapons if you want to get a bit sassy with someone during an argument.
Some Ways to Make Your French Debates More Complex
Tout à fait (complètement, entièrement) Adverb – This is a quite positive agreement, a lot like ‘absolutley’ in English and you hear it a lot in interviews as people are often asked questions that lead them on to talking about what they are there to discuss. I hear this all the time: on the radio, in my French class and in day-to-day conversations, it’s very wide-spread and often lies at the start of a very positive response.
Justement (précisément) Adverb – Another very positive response to express that whoever has just spoken has identified the exact point you are hoping to make or build off. It expresses more precision than the phrase above so it’s good to use when someone has said a less obvious point, something you think is particularly important or they have worded an argument in a way similar to how you would have. These first two are not just limited to positive agreement of course. You will be expressing agreement with a particular point but you can then use your opponent’s agreement on that point to create traps (e.g exactly (justement)! If you accept that than you must accept this………).
These are highly underused by many French students and it’s important to understand why. Many students instead opt for ‘certainement’ or ‘exactement’. These words work fine and people will always understand you are trying to express certitude but in an argument the two above are more fitting.
Attendez, je développe – This a very useful phrase that you can use to avoid being misunderstood and cut off. When you make an initial point that you will qualify and add conditions to but before you can your opponent jumps in with a rejection of that point you can use this phrase to let them know you are going to say more which re-contextualises the initial statement. So, it’s pretty much ‘wait, I will develop’. I find a lot of people when they are debating are in a rush to cut you off so I hope this will give you something in your arsenal to stand your ground which is very important when debating in your French immersion classes.
Certes, mais – This is used to express that you agree with a point someone has made but do wish to counter it. Maybe you have a point that renders the previous one benign or outweighed. This is one of the most common ones used by the students on my French course. Unfortunately, it is the one most readily used to cut people off but remember if they do you can use the previous phrase above to keep firm.
Je vous l’accorde – Nice and simple this one, just another way to say you agree!
So, there are a few to give your debates in your French lessons a bit more penash. Debating is quite a common feature amongst the host families I have stayed with and many of the French people I have met. Getting involved in this amateur debating whilst you are learning French in France is fantastic because it makes you feel closer to the culture, you are living it, not just learning about it. Get these phrases memorised and get in the ring.