How do you say « … » in French?
This is a question every student will have asked and that we, as teachers, often hear.
Unfortunately, teachers do not know all the languages in the world so can sometimes struggle to understand what original word is referring to.
So if you do not know a word in French, why not try to describe the object?
Here is some simple and general vocabulary to describe an object in French without to rely on your own language.
First of all, you may want to describe the size or how much it weights:
He is short ≠ tall (petit ≠ grand)
He is slim ≠ fat (fin ≠ gros)
It is long (long)
It is heavy ≠ light (lourd ≠ léger)
You can also tell if it has a particular shape:
It is round (rond)
It is square (carré)
It is rectangular (rectangulaire)
It is triangular (triangulaire)
It is star-shaped, trapezoidal (forme d’etoile, de trapèze)
And then, where would you find it?
It is found in the house/the bedroom/the kitchen/the bathroom
(la maison, la chambre, la cuisine, la salle de bains)
It is found in the town (la ville)
It is found in the classroom (la classe)
Finally, try to explain what it is it used for?
It is used for writing. (on l’utilise pour)
It is a device used for measuring. (un appareil)
It is a tool. It is used to cut wood. (un outil, on s’en sert pour)
Here are some example scenarios:
Your friend François tries to explain to you what a lighthouse is.
A lighthouse is a tall tower.
It is in or near the sea.
It gives out light.
It is used to guide boats at night.
François’ friend is coming back from her favourite furniture store where she bought a beautiful clock. A clock? What is that?
A clock is a device that I can put on the wall to show the time.
François, his head in the clouds, has lost his wallet again. You want to help him but what is it like and, above all, WHAT IS IT?
A wallet is used to hold your money, credit cards and papers such as your identity card or driving licence.
François’ wallet is rectangular in shape.
It is not small but is not too big to fit in his pocket.
So, the idea is to always try to be as descriptive as possible and look at the very basic qualities and functions of the object you are trying to describe. Little by little you will be able to convey the idea and finally find the word!