Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Parler-ing in French

      One of the reasons we came to France was for me to learn how to speak French. I know, what a silly notion going to a country that speaks the language you want to learn.  The problem is that I am not naturally good with languages.  Unless you count gesturing and charades as a language. I can do a decent “call me” “I don’t know” and “this way”.  I am pretty fluent as well in the language of driving in Boston. Which if anyone has done then you know you speak a whole different way when trying to maneuver a city built without a grid, no respect for street signs, and a whole bevy of people who don’t seem to know that the stick on the side of the steering wheel offers help when trying to say, turn.

     I digress.  I have been trying to learn French.  I find that the experience can best be compared to driving cross country with only a radio.  Imagine: you are driving and scanning the stations- getting a few words to come in clear every so often.  You get lucky and catch an ENTIRE song-no matter that it is a song picked out by Delilah- it is a SONG.  But then… you drive on a bad patch of road and find yourself suddenly listening to sports, or is a political discussion? You may catch a few words here or there- but you make up what is said in between.

     This is what gets me in trouble. I have an incredibly active imagination and therefore assume I can just story-tell my way through most conversations.  So what I thought was a conversation on three priests from Holland who came to France to enjoy the beautiful cost along Brittany…was actually about thee brothers from Ireland who were escaping repression.  See what I mean?  There is a bit of the truth- but not really.

     Talking is even worse for me. I find my confidence is so low when it comes to speaking that I prefer being assumed mute.  It is incredibly frustrating to me that I will spend ten minutes practicing a sentence in my head only to have the topic of conversation pass me by.  I imagine the look on my face whilst I try to conjugate a verb in my head must make me look a bit deranged.  I have been practicing an impassive face that will not give away the immense internal distress I am going through. I find that it is much easier to sit back and observe an entire dinner without saying anything except “C’est bon!”.
Which it usually is.  French food is tasty. 


  1. I feel your pain and admire you for even trying to keep an impassive face as you struggle. Remember my "briefmarken, bitte" moment in Austria, in which the mailman looked at me with disdain and said, "I speak English." Remember, it took David Sedaris a long time to adjust, and now he's fluent. And even if you never learn, at least the stories you tell in your head are interesting!

  2. If you don't take into account the _very_ few people who are natural-born language leaners, I think it's the same nightmare for the rest of us!

    As part of my good-french being, my english is horrible. Even though I'm supposed to have been learning it for more than 10 years... the slow learning curve may have many origins, one of them coming for some teacher-student incompatibilities :)

    Anyway, I feel the same way about the listening/speaking problems. Somehow I usually seem to understand the conversation, until some weird interpretations comes in... and I realize I've just missed quite everything of the point.
    I won't talk about people with strange accents, mixing slang and idioms...

    Speaking is even more frustrating. The sentence sounds so great inside my brain... until I have to spit it out!

    Spent 3 months in Brasil, and still don't know anything about portuguese but "hello", "thanks", "goodbye"...

    I think if you forget annoying grammar and conjuguaison, nobody will blame you... if you want to be able to express something, focus on the vocabulary!

  3. Please do not be surprised Jackie ! It is the same for everybody everywhere (and I do not dare to say it is even worse for people almost deaf as I am !!!)
    In fact we know you have made huge progresses and will make again. Just listen to a French radio (when not cross driving, it will help), or to Matthieu when speaking quietly.
    And do not dare to speak, even with mistakes.(According to circumstances, ask people to point them or not). If YOU speak, you will keep the topic yours. So do I sometimes, as you may have noticed !
    You are doing very well and will do better. No problem !!! Pierre-Henri