Could you please explain the meaning of the phrase "Tu es Français, pourquoi besoin d'un cours?" to me?

I was told that this has a certain zen koan-like quality, and my French isn't enough to understand all the nuances.

Thanks in advance!

4 Answers 4


You are French, why do you need a lesson ?

By the way, it is not strictly french. I mean every french would understand what you say, but you should say something like : "Tu es français, pourquoi as-tu besoin d'un cours ?"


The "zen koan" sense you're searching for may suit a native french speaker. In a situation where a teacher would ironically tell him to skip lessons to make him learn the difference between knowing and applying rules and practice habits

BTW : I agree both translation and grammatical improve from vekah


This is a complement on the "zen koan-like quality" of the quote as opposed to its meaning. I was curious since I wasn't familiar with the term koan so I had to check(in French):

Un kōan [...] ou koan est une courte phrase ou une brève anecdote absurde, énigmatique ou paradoxale, ne sollicitant pas la logique ordinaire, utilisée dans certaines écoles du bouddhisme chan[...]

Exemples de kōan
Un disciple ayant demandé au maître Joshu : « Un chien a-t-il la nature de Bouddha ? » Maître Joshu répondit : « Mu ! » – Mu ! est le wato de ce kōan.

[ Wikipedia ]

This is used as a meditative device. It is rooted in Buddhism, its concepts and the languages involved - it does not appear to be mainly a stylistic device imho - and the examples provided use proper French throughout. My reasoning is to the effect that since I believe the sentence you present feels broken(even somewhat derisive), and certainly not idiomatic, stylish or evocative - once again imho - therefore the koan-like quality someone might have referred to must have been about the meaning itself.1

1. Surely there are challenges with translating such material. Outside of the religious sphere, this is somewhat akin to "proverbes" and "maximes", which may provide insight into "coining" something more idiomatic than what you have. Otherwise standard French along the lines of what other answers suggested should do:

Langue maternelle, dispense du cours (?)
Pourquoi un cours si c'est ta langue maternelle ?


The possible grammar issues in the original "Tu es Français, pourquoi besoin d'un cours?" could perhaps also be addressed, if absolutely necessary, by simply giving “besoin” a definite article (and maybe by adding “donc”):

Tu es Français, [donc] pourquoi [le] besoin d'un cours?

The literal translation of this variation would be more like

You are French, [so] why the need for a lesson?

Although this version means essentially the same thing as vekah’s good translation, there might be just enough of a difference (by depersonalizing/generalizing the “need”) to help discover additional koan-like senses/qualities beyond the one already astutely discovered and described by ry81.

Regardless of the accuracy of and possible nuance in my alternate variation and its translation, one additional koan-like sense that comes to my mind (based on my admittedly very weak understanding of Zen and koan) is that this phrase was possibly designed to be studied and analyzed with the goal of helping us reduce our dependence on reason and logic by making us question (and hopefully resist) the tendency to naively jump to seemingly logical conclusions based on stereotypes or other faulty/premature assumptions.

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