In case you don’t already know this little fact, they speak French in France. Not the kind of French that Pepe La Pew spoke on morning cartoons, but real French. The kind that is rather difficult to understand if you don’t know the language. And even if you do have a background in the French language, you will still struggle!
Kerri: Studied 4 years of French in high school and college. Visited France during high school and stayed with French families to help her learn French. Practiced French daily before leaving Portland using the Pimsleur language program.
Jason: One year of French in High School. Still suffering traumatic flashbacks to that event. Did not practice French before leaving and thought he would “wing it.”
Sydney: Knows how to order “pain au chocolat” and “croissants” in French.
Parlez Vous Francais?
We arrived in France 2 months ago. You would think that 2 months of being surrounded by a foreign language would help us learn French and we should be fluent, right? Wrong! The first thing we discovered when coming here was that the French they taught us in high school is not the French they speak in France. We had “assumed” that we knew how to read French, but we were wrong again! We have books that show us the spelling of French words and their English meaning, but we couldn’t pronounce them. We try, but the French people look at us confused. We pantomime and they understand and then correct our poor attempts at speaking their native language. We have even had locals give us impromptu language lessons on the street after hearing us mangle their beautiful, but confusing, language.
To be honest, I have been letting Kerri do most of the talking and she seems to really enjoy learning French again and taking an initiative in trying to communicate with the French people in their own language. Hardly anyone speaks English, so not knowing French can be a struggle.
The longer we are here the more I am starting to understand the language. I can’t speak it very well, but I am starting to piece together words and sounds and can now understand some of the conversations and can usually answer in a “oui” or “non” in reply.
In hindsight, I should have studied French more before leaving and continued to study during our stay here in France. Just being surrounded by a foreign language does not mean that you will quickly pick it up through osmosis. I had assumed I would, but it is happening at a much slower rate than I had hoped.
Tips for Learning French
During our 2-month stay in France I have discovered a few things that really help in learning the French language. Everyone learns differently, but this has been what works for me and I wish I had been using these methods before we came to France so that I could have been more fluent in the language.
- Buy a language program: The biggest struggle has been learning how to pronounce everything. French is not a language that you can easily just read and know how to pronounce it. Having a language program where you can hear how words and phrases are spoken can make a big difference and will lessen the frustration. We highly recommend Pimsleur French.
- Have an English/French dictionary AND phrase book with phonetic spellings: Once again, knowing how to pronounce the words and phrases is the hardest part of learning French. We purchased a small phrase book, but it is not enough. We really needed a full English/French dictionary to look up harder words.
- Watch TV and movies in French with French subtitles: I stumbled across this one accidentally. Television in France is in French, obviously. The options are listening to it in French, or listening to it in French with French subtitles. By listening to it in French with the French subtitles, you quickly learn how to pronounce the words you see on the screen. So, go rent a movie you know well, change the language to French with French subtitles and enjoy! This is surprisingly effective!
Melanie Murrish says
I am chuckling at you thinking you would learn by osmosis, as I have thought the same thing countless times about Spanish. Talk,talk,talk is the answer. Have you checked out italki? It’s a free resource and you can study by yourself and/or talk to people in the language you are learning. I am determined to get out of my comfort zone which I think is scary but crucial! Bonne chance!