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We use "faire" for sports and activities. The exact meaning of these phrases isn't 100% clear to me. When you see a sentence that goes:

Elle fait du judo.

Does this sentence mean only that she practices judo regularly, or is it equally possible for this to mean that she's doing that right now? As in "Que fais-tu?" "Je fais du judo."

Could it also mean that she's a professional judo player?

Another example:

Elle fait de la programmation.

This can be maybe interpreted in three ways:

She practices programming regularly. She is a programmer, that is her profession. She is doing that right now.

Are all these supposed interpretations correct and are they all equally possible or is maybe one of them "default" and the other ones depend on context? When a native speaker hears something like "Je fais de la programmation." what is his or her immediate understanding?

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    In my experience, "elle fait du judo" would be an unusual way to say that she's currently practising judo, "elle est au judo" would be what I'm used to (although that might be a regional phrasing?). I mean, unless she's in front of you and you're wondering why the hell she's dressed like that. – Aaron Mar 29 at 12:35
  • Please note: in English, we do not practice sports and professions as a translation for faire x. And if a person does programming, generally, today, we say coding (write computer programming). I'm a programmer: I write code. Also: She is sitting at her desk programming right now. – Lambie Apr 1 at 14:42
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The context usually tells what elle fait du judo means, e.g.:

– Elle est où ? Elle fait quoi, en ce moment ?
– Elle fait du judo. (she's doing it right now)

– Elle fait quoi le samedi ?
– Elle fait du judo. (she practices judo on Saturdays)

– Elle est sportive ?
– Elle fait du judo. (she practices judo)

– Elle fait quoi dans la vie ?
– Elle fait du judo. (still ambiguous, might be her job or her passion)

I usually hear (or say) Je fais du développement instead of Je fais de la programmation but in either case, that would be primarily understood as something done professionally. Another way to say it would be je programme (similar to je fais du judo regarding to the possible meanings) or j'écris des programmes (unlikely to be "right now" because you rarely write more than one program at the same time).

Note that this issue is not restricted to faire + activities but to all situations where French simply uses the présent tense while English has to choose between simple present and present progressive. We have a way to express present progressive but this is rarely done, e.g.:

Pourquoi elle ne répond pas au téléphone ?
Parce qu'elle est en train de faire du judo.

See What does “en train” mean?

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    As @Aaron comment in the OP's question, at the question "Elle est où ?" I would instinctivly answer "Elle est au judo" instead of "Elle fait du judo". – Julien Mar 29 at 15:56
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    @Julien C'est vrai, encore que là aussi le contexte pourrait influer sur le sens. Elle pourrait être par exemple au judo sans en faire mais comme spectatrice. – jlliagre Mar 29 at 21:21
  • C'est le contexte parce qu'on peut imaginer un instructeur à la maison et là je réponds à une autre personne et bien oui, elle fait du judo mais elle n'est pas au judo. – escarlate adamantine Mar 29 at 23:19
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    @AmandeAdorable Oui, d'ailleurs en ce moment, même si elle fait du judo, ça ne peut pas être au judo, vu que c'est fermé depuis des mois... – jlliagre Mar 29 at 23:28
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    Heureusement que tu ne l'as pas vue, c'est l'intersection des réponses ou une opération similaire qui stimule l'intellect et nous rapproche peut-être de la vérité. – escarlate adamantine Mar 30 at 2:12
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Yes, faire is used for sports and activities (usually with de + l'article défini), and like most verbs in the present tense, the translation of « Je fais du judo » or « Je fais de la natation » in English can be expressed generally in three ways:

  • What you do regularly, like a hobby: I do judo. I swim.
  • What you're doing right now (if it's not clear): I am doing judo. I am swimming.
  • For emphasis: I do practice judo. I do swim.

It does depend on context. For jobs and professions, it's more clear than with sports, like your example with Je fais de la programmation, I would interpret that as your job if you were introducing yourself.

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  • As I said in my comment above, I can't get my head around practice judo. It's really do judo. practice is used only rarely. – Lambie Apr 1 at 14:39
  • @Lambie Good point, perhaps because it's common to say practice martial arts, and I took "practice judo" straight from the question. "Do judo" comes in higher on G Ngrams, but "practice martial arts" is much higher than with "do." Also "I do do judo" doesn't read as well, but it could work; what do you think? – livresque Apr 2 at 0:30
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    Ngrams for these phrases – livresque Apr 2 at 0:30
  • ngrams is not the point. It is not that it does not exist. It is that in writing about what sports one does, we don't say practice. Ask any English speaker and s/he will tell you. – Lambie Apr 2 at 13:04
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    @Lambie I agree that it's less common to say "practice judo" and appreciate your comments. As a native speaker, I see how often practice gets used for sports when it shouldn't. I hoped Ngrams might shed some light on usage. Perhaps "practice martial arts" affects this one, but that's a question for a different stack. – livresque Apr 4 at 23:34

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