Chances are you’re not one of the 80 million people out there who speaks the French language as their native tongue. Or perhaps one of the lucky 50 million who speak it as their second language. Oui ou non?
Don’t worry, neither am I. As a matter of fact, I am still waiting for the board of education of Hudson County, NJ to knock on my door and demand I surrender my high school diploma. Porquoi you ask? Well, I must confess that I never took a single foreign language class during high school and it was a graduation pre-requisite. Now that I think about it, perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I speak, read and write Spanish muy bien. I’m pretty sure by now the statute of limitation has run out and I will be able to remain a high school graduate.
I always loved the sound of French and I always dreamed of France and particularly of Paris. However, it wasn’t until I was planning my first trip to Paris in 2004 that I took the initiative to learn this très sexy language. So like every good American, I enthusiastically marched my derrière to my local mega bookstore and purchased a French-English language dictionary, French for Travelers pocket guide and the Baron, Pimsleur, Berlitz, Living Language and Michel Thomas audio CD’s. Mon Dieu! Armed with this arsenal in my shopping bag how could I not learn French, non? [INSERT LAUGH AUDIO TRACK or all the LOL, ROFL and LMFAO you wish] Of course, I didn’t learn French.
Besides the basic bonjour, au revoir, je m’appelle and s’il vous plaît, I learned how to ask for directions, the toilet, the bill at a restaurant and most importantly how to order un verre de vin. There is so much more to this language than what you “listen and repeat” in these “Learn Quick French” CDs. Verbs, gender of nouns, liaisons, accents, nasal vowel sounds and let’s not forget those insane numbers, which make this a difficult language to master.
Traveling back and forth to France multiple times a year over the last decade, for both business and pleasure has definitely helped my comprehension and language skills a bit more. Last year I finally broke down and decided to get a French tutor to help me master this language. She has been a true blessing. When I’m not traveling, I see Mireille (she’s from Lille) 3 times a week for a total of 4.5 hours. I watch plenty of French films sans subtitles every opportunity I can and I try to read Le Monde and Le Figaro newspapers online almost every morning. My goal for the next year is to join Mireille’s French book club and be able to participate in the weekly discussions of this très avancé group.
Today, my French is still far from perfect and some locals still give me a hard time about my pronunciation, but that’s okay. I recall the last time I was in Paris a taxi driver blatantly telling me “madame votre français est terrible” when I give him the address of my destination. I laughed it off and responded, bien sûr monsieur, je suis Américaine pas française (of course mister, I am American not French). C’est la vie! I continue pressing on speaking my bad French to anyone who listens. I embrace all the people who correct my grammar with a grain of salt and a polite merci. When I’m at a loss for words I go into my Franglais and when there’s no hope, I fall back to Spanish and sign language. Somehow along the way I always get to where I need to go, get what I asked for and forge friendships along the way.
I thank my lucky stars everyday for my amazing tutor Mireille and the countless hours of straight conversations we have. For all the times she corrects me and for making me say those damn large numbers (je déteste every number above 60). For teaching me the irregular verbs and the much hated passé composé.
My advise to anyone looking to learn French or any other language for that matter, is to take each lesson for what it is, a step closer to being better. Always remember that it is not your native language and you will make mistakes. With time you will get better, and if it’s not 100% perfect, it’s okay. Speak it to anyone who will listen and my final advise is, a little courage in the form of wine always helps me lose any apprehension of speaking to the locals. Voila!
Have you tried to learn another language? What are some of the hurdles you’ve had to overcome? What is your funniest story about learning another language?