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Causons un peu

Conversations and Discussions

in French

Hélène Cattanès

Docteur de l'Université de Paris
Assistant Professor of French Language

and Literature, Smith College

Line Drawings

Walter de Maris

Garden City

New York
Doubleday, Page & Company







First Edition


This book is a collection of lessons in conversation which have been given to the students of the French department at Smith College.

In the preparation of the lessons we tried to reproduce the conditions in which a student finds himself when visiting France for the purpose of improving his powers of conversation. No one would think of contesting the immense advantage to a student of a modern language, of a more or less prolonged period of residence in the country where that language is spoken. What happens during such a visit? Does the student spend his time learning lists of words grouped according to some well defined method? Evidently not! Finding himself suddenly in a strange environment, he first listens to conversations and discussions, then--often by the aid of a very restricted vocabulary—he expresses, as best he can, his own opinions and ideas, trying to make himself understood. And that is not accomplished without a great deal of effort, for he is attempting not merely to repeat what he has heard, but to express his own personal views. In the course of a conversation, he has often to gather the meaning of terms which he then attempts to use, thus enriching his vocabulary. Those terms, learned at the moment when he needs to use them, and often repeated in the course of a conversation, are impressed for all time upon his memory. That is why, during a visit abroad, a student makes such rapid progress.

But to how many students will such an opportunity come of increasing their knowledge of a modern language? To very few indeed. It is to furnish, within the limits of what

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is possible, similar advantages to those who must pursue their studies at home, that we have prepared the following lessons. Those who intend to go abroad will, we think, find them useful as a means of preparation for their trip.

We have therefore given to the lessons a real conversational form:i. e. we have wished them to be real exchanges of ideas and opinions, not merely a series of set questions asked to elicit answers embodying the use of such and such words. When a student has spent an hour answering such questions as: “Quel âge avez-vous?” "Quelle est la couleur du ciel?”“Combien d'étages a cette maison?” — “Quel temps fait-il?” what has he learned? A few nouns, a few adjectives which he will probably forget very soon; for there seems to be no reason why he should remember them. But he will not have learned to speak, for he will have formulated no sentence which really expresses an idea, and the moment he wishes to express a personal opinion, he will become conscious of his incapacity to do so. The vocabulary is not an end in itself, nor is it the most important part of the conversation. Naturally we need words to express any idea, but the student for whom these lessons have been prepared, is not supposed to be a beginner, and it is legitimate, therefore, to suppose that he has already at his disposal a certain amount of vocabulary. To help him in his work by refreshing his memory, we have placed at the beginning of each lesson a list of words of which he will probably wish to make use in the course of the discussion; but we have not aimed at providing him with all the terms that it is possible to use, for no one can ever forecast all the ideas that may come to the mind of another. We think it very likely that the earnest student who desires to express an opinion, will desire it sufficiently to take the trouble to consult a dictionary, as occasion may require, to find for himself the terms that he may need.

The discussion does not pretend to exhaust nor even to introduce the irreducible minimum of vocabulary that one is supposed to know who claims to have mastered a language.




No one has ever learned - even after a prolonged period of residence abroad-all the words and expressions that are usually introduced into conversation books. As a matter of fact, it is better to work for a long time with a fairly restricted, but every-day vocabulary, and to learn it well, than to halflearn expressions which one necessarily uses wrongly. The essential aim of a lesson in conversation is not so much to increase the vocabulary of the student as to drill him in the arrangement of words, the manipulation of forms, and the use of constructions, and to lead him to acquire thereby the ability to express his own ideas clearly and simply, by means of a small vocabulary to which he can easily add, little by little.

The essential part of the conversation and that to which we have given most of our attention, is the discussion or exchange of ideas. We have chosen subjects which we think are interesting to everyone; subjects which are naturally brought up in any social gathering, and during the discussion of which the student will learn to handle with ease what words he knows already, and make of his acquired knowledge a living instrument to express his thoughts in any circumstances which may arise. We have tried to create in the classroom the atmosphere of the reception room, so that the student may spend there, as it were, an hour in a French salon. We have tried to make the conversation lively, for if the student is bored, he will learn nothing.

Our method has been to define the subject for discussion, and to mark its limits by a series of questions which might perfectly well arise in the course of a conversation. The questions are not an end in themselves. Their purpose is to suggest ideas and to provoke discussion.

Moreover, we have avoided choosing subjects with a view to imparting information regarding French institutions or the people of France, and their customs. It stands to reason that the student who has not resided for some time in France, -and it is for his use that this book has been prepared,-can

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