While I’m in France I’m supposed to be learning French and I want to, I really do. I’m spending a lot of time here, and it would help in so many ways if I could speak French.
First I had the idea of doing an intensive French course at the local university in St Etienne. I went to talk to the course controller and he advised that there was a class starting in ten days time, but that it was a group of young Brazilians, and they would learn much faster than I would and I might not enjoy it. Perfect! A good excuse, and probably a big mistake because he talked me out of it.
Failing that I told myself that I would do at least one hour of studying French each day, via DVD, and would talk to someone in French each day – mostly the shop keepers. My DVD player broke. Then I enrolled as a volunteer for the World Athletics Masters in Lyon which will be in August, then and got a short term contract back in Australia which means I’ll be away for the Athletics. Fail.
I had the idea of studying French when I first went to university. I didn’t enrol in French classes, but I asked a friend who was studying if she could teach me, and she did teach me the basics of the grammar.
Then I went to live in Chile and I became reasonably proficient at Spanish. So I have a fairly solid grasp of the grammar – the subjunctive, the genders of nouns, conditional, past participle …
I thought I should expose myself to French people. (fnar, fnar). I went to live in Vietnam, appreciated French Colonial architecture in Hanoi, and visited some of the famous French colonial locations e.g. Dien Bien Phu. My flatmate (host of #allaboutfrance) had a French boyfriend and so we had French people at the house. I was mainly intimidated by their savoir faire, and their French speaking ways.
But of course I got sidetracked by trying to learn Vietnamese, which is a tonal and mono-syllabic language. Each one syllable can mean up to 21 completely different things. My Vietnamese teacher gleefully explained to me that ‘chua’ could mean pagoda, not yet, repair, midday and perhaps another 17 things. I was never as good as my friend Ruth who could talk about communist party propaganda in Vietnamese.
I joined a French conversation group in Perth, with a fairly eccentric teacher who is half French and half Mexican.
This was going ok until I got a job in motorsport started working long hours, frequently missed classes, and ended up in Japan.
Well! Four different alphabets and not only is there informal and formal ways of talking to people, but the whole construction of a sentence can change depending on if you ARE a woman/man/foreigner/old person/child, or if you are TALKING to a woman/man/foreigner/old person/child.
To be fair, I didn’t worry too much about the subtleties of Japanese grammar, the fact that I am a woman and a foreigner and am making an effort caused so much hilarity I got away with it. But it did take me the whole three year stay to be able to write my own address.
Which is all a big fat excuse as to why my French is not more proficient. I can’t even blame the famous, (fabled?), aloofness of French people. Anyone that I interact with is very patient and tolerant. People stop me in the street to talk to me, they are so friendly.
Now I’m going to give myself some achievable targets. You heard it here first!
Goal #1: In Japan, I said to one of my colleagues who was dying of embarrassment because his English grammar was not perfect – “I can understand you, and that means you can already speak English, the rest is just nice to have. You have won the battle”. So I really need to take my own advice and keep talking and keep trying until someone can understand me – and that’s not too far off. Sigh.
Goal #2: To speak in sentences.
Goal #3: To understand and to memorise the conjugations of a couple of complicated verbs.
Goal #4: To throw myself into French speaking situations. To assist with Goals 1 & 2.
Any advice on how to learn French in France or suggestions for goals gladly accepted.
The subject of this blog, which is my life-long quest to learn French was inspired by Lost in Lyon’s Double Dutch blog post and the references to Chinese language. An entertaining read as always.
Thanks also to Phoebe at Lou Messugo for hosting the All About France link up. Click on this link to get back to it.
Thank you very much for the link. I am in awe of your attempts to learn all these very difficult languages. For a Brit, French is a very wussy option. I can’t even imagine trying Vietnamese! It’s oddly grounding, though, to find yourself in a situation where you don’t understand even basic things.
No problem! I enjoy reading your posts. I agree that it is grounding – when I was in Japan I had to memorise how to use an ATM, because I couldn’t read the screen. It made me realise how difficult it is anywhere, in any country who can’t read the front of a bus for example, or need to take people with them to the doctor to translate.
Phoebe @ Lou Messugo says
You can do Sally! Don’t they say the best way to learn a language is in bed! Stay a while with V and make sure he doesn’t speak English to you!!! Easier said than done, I should know… (Not sure who “they” are though!)
Phoebe @ Lou Messugo says
You can do it Sally! Don’t they say the best way to learn a language is in bed! Stay a while with V and make sure he doesn’t speak English to you!!! Easier said than done, I should know… (Not sure who “they” are though!)
Yes I know, I should speak to V in French but it makes the conversations so laboured … But I’ve got a couple of ideas for when I come back (cooking classes, yoga), to put me in situations where I have to speak French. I’ve identified them but now of course everyone is on holidays ! Thanks for another great link-up.
Well done Sally – keep attacking! Don’t end up like me, speaking “school girl French only” at age 68! I admire you for even beginning to understand Japanese or Vietnamese, I’m sure if you can do this – in spite of the attitude set out in Lost in Lyon’s Double Dutch – you will crack French, no problem!! By the way, I’m sure we do conjugate verbs in English, we just don’t know we’re doing it!!
Hi Lisa, thanks so much for the encouragement. I didn’t know (or recognise) any English grammar until I started learning Spanish. Now I wish that Latin was still on curriculum at schools. Thanks for dropping by 🙂