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  • Fun material
  • Suitable for a range of activities
  • Classroom and individual use
  • No vocabulary list
  • Language features and origin of proverbs not discussed

Book review:
101 French Proverbs

Proficiency in a language involves the acquisition of idiom. One form of idiom are proverbs, set expressions in a language that encapsulate popular 'nuggets of wisdom' shared by its speakers. Getting to know a language's proverbs is a way of tapping into both the language and the culture of its speakers. 101 French Proverbs presents a selection of common French proverbs, with an explanation and lively illustration of each proverb.

One page is dedicated to each proverb. After the proverb (presented according to the author in its most usual form) comes an illustration, a literal translation, an equivalent English proverb and a short dialogue in French that includes the proverb. The illustrations, drawn by French satirical cartoonist Luc Nisset-Raidon, are generally amusing and give a depiction of the literal meaning of the proverb. The literal translation in English will prevent learners from rushing to their dictionary, and may help with some of the unusual language features of proverbs. The English proverbs given are generally reasonable equivalents, although some may be more familiar to US speakers than British speakers. Only one possible equivalent is given. Then at the bottom of each page is a short dialogue which contains the actual French proverb plus a paraphrase, each in bold. A slight but understandable disadvantage is that the dialogues are (assumedly) made up rather than from actual examples of recorded conversations and hence sometimes appear somewhat contrived. However, they are generally coherent nonetheless and do explain the meaning of the proverb.

Also consider...

101 French Idioms
In the same series, this book offers a similar treatment of other idiomatic French expressions.

The proverbs are organised into themed sections such as Les bêtes sauvages, Les Métiers and Les Gens. A slight disadvantage of this organisation is that similar-meaning or contradictoary proverbs can be placed in separate sections.

Two other ommissions from the book are more surprising, although thus leave room for learning and research activities based around the book:

  • The book avoids any outright discussion of the language features of proverbs. Certain constructions and features (qui ... to mean he who...; the frequent absence of determiners where nowadays they would be necessary; the use of il est... for il y a...; the use of standalone ne rather than ne ... pas) set proverbs apart from everyday French. A possible learning activity based around the book could involve picking out and discussing these unusual features.
  • The book does not contain information about the origin of the proverbs. A possible activity for more advanced students would be to research, possibly via the Internet, the origins and first dates of attestation of the proverbs and see how these dates relate to the unusual language features of the proverbs.

Finally, at the back of the book come translations of the illustratory conversations, followed by an index; I can't really envisage how either of these would be put to much use, and a straightforward French-English vocabulary list might have been more useful. The proverbs are indexed on the first word of the proverb (barring determiners) which has the unfortunate consequence that various unrelated proverbs are listed under il, qui, tout and tel. If the authors thought that an index would be useful, they might have come up with a more sensible system such as indexing thematically or by nouns occurring anywhere in the proverb. These are minor niggles, however, and do not detract significantly from the book's value.


101 French Proverbs will provide a worthwhile addition to an intermediate to advanced learner's material. In the classroom, the material could spark some light-hearted reading and discussion activities (students read the paragraphs and try to come up with equivalent English proverbs; students try to match up the pictures with the proverbs then explain what they mean; students pick out unusual language features in the proverbs then suggest equivalents in English proverbs; students research the origins of the proverbs).

Buying 101 French Proverbs:

US 101 French Proverbs
GB 101 French Proverbs
CA 101 French Proverbs

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