I have long considered myself a francophile, which is defined as someone who loves ballpark franks, because my son-in-law Guillaume is from France.
So it was only natural that I decided, during a recent car (voiture) ride with Guillaume, who was on a hands-free phone call with his mother (mere) and father (pere) while I ate a bag of French (francais) fries, to learn French (ditto).
Guillaume has been teaching Chloe, his 7-year-old daughter (fille) and my granddaughter (petite fille), the beautiful language (langue) of his homeland.
This is being done with an app called Duolingo. It features Duo, a little green owl (chouette vert) who helps monolingual (I am not even going to look it up) people such as me (moi) learn French, Spanish and many other languages, including the most wonderful of all: Pig Latin.
Guillaume downloaded Duolingo on my cellphone, which also has apps for the weather (meteo), the news (actualites), a calculator (calculatrice), a camera (camera) and my bank account (empty).
I started by answering several questions, the first being: “Why are you learning a language?”
The answers included: family and friends, culture, brain training, school, job opportunities and travel.
Because I get my culture from yogurt, I don’t have a brain, I don’t go to school, I don’t want a job and I can’t travel, I chose family and friends, even though, for what must be obvious reasons, I don’t have too many of the latter.
Then I had to pick one of four goals: casual (five minutes a day), regular (10 minutes), serious (15) and intense (20).
“Pick casual,” Guillaume suggested. “You should start slow.”
“Merci,” I said, thanking him in French, before adding: “I’ve always been slow, even in English.”
But I got off to a fast (rapide) start when I was given questions such as: “How do you say croissant?”
The choices were: le garcon, le homme, le chat and le croissant.
I hesitated a minute (une minute), figuring it was a trick question, before answering: “Le croissant.”
A musical flourish — ta-da! (French translation: ta-da!) — burst from the phone.
“Amazing!” it said under my correct answer.
After correctly answering several other easy (facile) questions, I finished the day’s lesson with a perfect (parfait) score.
“Great job!” it said on the screen. “You reached your daily goal! Lesson complete!”
Duo himself popped up and, with his tiny wings (ailes), applauded me.
I felt like a million euros.
I felt even better (meilleur) the next day, when I breezed through Lesson 2 (deux), translating such sentences as: “Je suis un chat.” (“I am a cat.”)
This meant, of course, that I was the chat’s meow.
On the third (troisieme) day, I was asked this question: “Tu es un cheval?” (“Are you a horse?”) I was glad that after horse, it didn’t say “derriere.”
The next day I was informed that “34 hours on Duolingo teaches you as much as one semester at a university.”
I hadn’t learned enough French to ask if I would go bankrupt paying tuition. Fortunately, the app is free (gratuit).
The last day was so easy — at one point I was shown pictures of an orange, a croissant and a pizza and was asked to identify the pizza — that I would have tipped my hat to myself, except I don’t own a beret (beret).
When I told Guillaume I did well in my first week, he said, “Yes.”
“You mean oui,” I corrected him.
When I spoke with Chloe, she was even more impressed.
“Tres bien (very good), Poppie!” she said.
In looking back on a memorable (memorable) week, I can truly say that, at least on my cellphone, I’ll always have Paris.
Jerry Zezima writes a humor column for Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is the author of five books. His latest is “Every Day Is Saturday.” All are on Amazon. Email: JerryZ111@optonline.net. Blog: www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com.