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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

VIDEO: Did you know all these stars spoke great French?

VIDEO: Here's a collection of celebrities who have mastered the language of love... But how fluent are they really?

VIDEO: Did you know all these stars spoke great French?
The late Carrie Fisher even did interviews in French. Photo: AFP

Carrie Fisher

Yes, Fisher, who died at the age of 60 on Tuesday, spoke impressive French indeed with a fantastic accent. Here's a 1977 clip of her talking about Star Wars. We give her a 9/10, only losing a point for throwing in the occasional English word. 

Tom Hiddleston

British actor and heartthrob Tom Hiddleston caused quite the stir when he slipped into French while talking about his character of Loki, from the movie Thor. He only had to ask for help with one word “deep down”, which we admit is a tough one. And his accent was impressive. So, although a little refresher on his vocabulary mightn't go amiss, we give Hiddleston a 8/10.

Johnny Depp

Although Johnny Depp didn’t ever get around to marrying his French ex Vanessa Paradis, it seems that he did manage to pick up some language lessons from her along the way (perhaps around the pool of their multi-million euro pad on the French Riviera). In this quite moving little speech, he showcases his talents to a French audience. Yes, he is speaking French, but no, it's not very fluent. 5/10 for effort. 

Jodie Foster

One of the best French speakers on the list, Jodie Foster is so fluent that she has starred in a number of French films and also dubs her own films for French audiences. To be fair, however, she has been speaking the language for a long time, she went to a French-language prep school. Still, she's a standout star pupil – 10/10.

Bradley Cooper

In the video above, Cooper tells his interviewers that he learned French because he loves the language. And we're impressed. Sure, he did spend six months living with a family in southern France's Aix-en-Provence while he was at college, so he does have some good first-hand experience. And he certainly managed to retain charm his interviewers at this radio station; enough to receive a dinner invitation anyway. As impressed as we are, we can only give him a 9/10 – his comprehension saw him one step behind a few times. 

Diane Kruger

The German goddess that is Diane Kruger is known for her roles in both French and English films, neither of which are her native language. Indeed, she moved to Paris as a youngster to learn French (and start modelling). Her five-year marriage to Frenchman Guillaume Canet must have given her a helping hand in mastering the accent so well, because to our ear, it sounds like her French is perfect. 10/10.

Gwyneth Paltrow

No need to be so modest Gwyneth. Not only does she speak fluent Spanish, it turns out she also is very good at French, too. While she isn't as quick as Kruger of Foster (above), she certainly knows what she is doing. 9/10.

Kristin Scott-Thomas

Having lived in Paris since she was nineteen, British actress Dame Kristin Scott-Thomas sometimes even considers herself more French than English, and could you blame her with that wonderful accent? Truly, elegante. 10/10

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Even the interviewer compliments Gordon-Levitt’s French in this interview, admitting that he is ‘very impressed’. It might not be perfect, but to hold almost an entire interview in French is impressive work. A solid 8/10. If he spent two months in the French countryside, we'd see a ten out of ten for sure. 

Jonny Wilkinson

A man of many talents, it would seem. There is certainly no mistaking his British accent, but that probably makes rugby star Jonny Wilkinson’s French all the more charming for a francophone audience. But it loses him points from us – 7.5/10. 

Kylie Minogue

Although we only get a few glimpses of her French in this clip, that’s good enough for us. Although Australia's favourite ‘pint-sized princess’ has previously described her abilities as ‘Emergency French’, her performance throughout this quite lengthy scene of the film shows that she is being a little humble. Still, it's scripted (and when she gets interviewed on French TV, she prefers to answer in English). 6/10. 

Audrey Hepburn

Actress, fashion icon and humanitarian figure; just when we thought the charming Audrey Hepburn couldn't get any more perfect, we find out that she spoke not one, not two, not even three… but five languages. And yes, French was one of them. She was born in Brussels, of course, which surely had a lot to do with it. 10/10

Tony Blair

People may have disagreed with him on a number of things, but there is certainly no faulting his efforts in French. In this clip, he is able to discuss complicated topics in presque parfait French. Mastering a language at this level means an automatic 10/10.

READ ALSO: World Leaders who mastered French 

Queen Elizabeth

And finally, Her Majesty the Queen. Not only has she taught us the ‘Queen’s English’, she is also apparently rather familiar with the language from over the Channel. Enough to chat with France's President Francois Hollande, anyway. While the Queen's official website describes her as fluent, we took a closer look at these claims to mark her 90th birthday. Considering she is the Queen (and 90 years old), we'll giver her an honorary 10/10. 

By Hattie Ditton

Another version of this article appeared in April 2016.

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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