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We were having a conversation in English, and someone passed some remark about the mind-numbingly steep learning curve involved in mastering the Arabic language:

I constantly thought my brain was going to melt. (hyperbolically)

I was wondering how I would express in French what she said, and I'd probably say something like:

L'arabe me faisait toujours me creuser la tête comme une folle ! À tel point que mon cerveau était à deux doigts d'en fondre...

Is it better to use "méninges" than "tête/cerveau"?

How do French speakers commonly express this idea? No need to stick to a literal translation; something that springs to mind in the flow of conversation.

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  • D'habitude en français, quand quelque chose est utilisé au point de surchauffer, ça ne fond pas, ça fume.
    – mouviciel
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 10:33

4 Answers 4

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To express something difficult for someone to understand I sometime use the sentence which means thinking a lot about something.

Se faire des noeuds au cerveau en étudiant l'arabe

The same idea can be conveyed this way too :

Se prendre la tête en étudiant l'arabe

With the sentence se creuser les méninges you get the idea, but the meaning is not pejorative

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  • 1
    nice ways to translate it. however, the version "se prendre la tête" shows that it is not only difficult, but also painfully annoying on top of it. a bit pejorative in the meaning.
    – Ty Kayn
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 10:38
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Suggestion :
A apprendre l'arabe plusieurs heures par jour, j'avais le cerveau en fusion.

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Inspiré par une autre réponse, un peu différent, mais au lieu de qualifier le niveau de difficulté ou d'évoquer métaphoriquement la réalisation d'un résultat, simplement l'énoncer familièrement :

À chaque fois que j'étudiais l'arabe j'avais le cerveau en compote (meurtri, détruit).

Ou évoquer la folie :

Étudier l'arabe, c'est à s'arracher les cheveux.

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It is a little too strong and colloquial, but an expression that comes to mind is:

péter les plombs (to freak)

Otherwise, you might say:

avoir le cerveau en surchauffe

Méninges is old fashioned and fondre isn't very idiomatic when applied to the brain.

Here is how I would arrange your sentence:

Apprendre l'arabe m'obligeait à me creuser la tête comme une folle ! Mon cerveau n'était pas loin de la surchauffe...

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  • How would you weave these expressions into a sentence in this Arabic context? Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 20:46
  • Answer updated with a suggestion
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 21:14
  • I see. If "cerveau" and "fondre" don't go so well with each other, what's your take on "exploser" or "craquer" apart from "surchauffer": "mon cerveau était à deux doigts d'en exploser / craquer"? Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 21:35
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    Mon cerveau était à deux doigts d'exploser would be fine. OTOH, craquer apply more to people than their brain so that would be j'étais à deux doigts de craquer which is close to j'étais à deux doigts de péter les plombs..
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 21:56

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