Learning French in France

Learning FrenchIt’s been two months since I started learning French in Montpellier and I have improved a lot. I can now function with ease in most social situations like at restaurants or while shopping (very important 😉 ). More recently, I even started participating in political discussions and debates in class! Started from the bottom now we’re here!

A bonus is that I now understand where my francophone husband gets his strange English expressions. Like when he calls shredded cheese ‘raped cheese’…Yes, you read that correctly. Well, in French that is correct! C’est du fromage râpé.

When I decided to do this, I had a lot of expectations about how things would be and how things would go. Well, expectations and reality can be very different…dun dun dun…below are some of my expectations versus realities of learning French abroad.

Expectation #1:

I only have 15 hours of class a week, which means I could hangout at coffee shops all afternoon, paint in the park and blog about France.

Reality: Luckily, I actually do hang out at coffee shops often 😀 but I’m not always free to do whatever I want. There are tons of vocabulary to memorize and grammar to digest after class. I also have tests every Friday so I can’t just be lazy for a whole week then catch up. On top of that, I’m super motivated to become fluent in the shortest time possible since I had given up a lot to be here.

Expectation #2: 

I would continuously improve with time. It’s only logical, right?

Reality: Not really! It’s more like a rollercoaster. Three hours of lessons a day may not seem like a lot, but it’s surprisingly intense. When you’re learning a new language non-stop five days a week, your brain first goes into overdrive and then simply gets overloaded because there’s no time to assimilate the new things.

Did you know that French has over 20 grammar tenses? When you learn them slowly everything is fine, but eventually you start learning multiple at a time and they all start looking the same. Throw in a bunch of exceptions for every rule, you have the perfect recipe for how-to-go-nuts.

It’s so frustrating and demotivating when you feel like you’re getting worse week after week (it can happen for 2 weeks in a row), but then it’s so rewarding when you suddenly speak French like a pro. It’s the best feeling when I see my husband’s face on those good weeks where I wake up and start conversations in flawless French.

Expectation #3:

If I memorize all the words in the dictionary I will have no problem with my vocabulary.

Reality: Even if I did memorize the dictionary (which I don’t plan to do anytime soon), it doesn’t cover the slangs. Every language has slangs that you need to get used to, but have you ever heard of le verlan? They are words that people made up by inverting the syllables of the actual word. Yes, it’s a thing and it’s used in everyday life, on TV, etc. So not only do I have to learn the words, I have to learn le verlan version. I mean, I wouldn’t want to talk like a grandma in France 😉

Expectation #4:

I’ll pick up the language because I’m surrounded by it

Reality: This is true to an extent but conscious efforts are really important to integrate. I listen to the radio, watch political debates (which is ALWAYS on) and most importantly, minimize English speaking. Easier said than done though! When your brain starts getting bombarded, you just need to switch back into English before it blows. Sometimes my Chinese comes out when I struggle to express myself in French – talk about a confused brain!

Even with all these challenges and more, I’d have to say that I’m loving every second of it. If you ever get the chance to do something like this, I highly recommend it! I still have a long way to go but I’m proud of my progress.

Have you had similar experiences while learning a new language? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear some!

Thanks for reading, et à la prochaine!

xo

Mary

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12 comments

      • Karen says:

        Ohhh! I tried a couple variations and gave up trying to figure it out. It’s funny how you can get the right sound but get thrown off because the spelling doesn’t look right. I like this slang though, let’s start a trend in English! Down edis up!

  1. Daniel says:

    Mary, Karen Laskowska just shared this post on her Facebook wall, and I loved reading it.

    My parents came from Poland, so I grew up bilingual (which has helped in learning new languages), and pretty much like Asian parents, they were quite traditional in planning a path for me: go to University, become an engineer, get married, work, die. Oddly enough, instead of going to University, I decided to join an international Catholic organization and study to become a priest. I never became one, and I’m now working for an accounting software company, while crossing my fingers, as I’ve just interviewed with McMaster Medical School.

    While studying for the priesthood, I lived in Rome for four years. And just like you, I went through all of those experiences you’ve mentioned in this post 🙂 The official language in our seminary was Spanish, but our classes were in Italian, so I had to learn both languages, WHILE beginning philosophy. It was a classic triple mind bender!

    Spanish came to me quickly, but Italian took me a while. I would use a lot of my free time to study vocabulary, grammatical nuances, and that beloved slang, so I could actually understand the people my age. There was one time when I had reached one of those points of saturation – nothing new was sticking, and everything I had learned was all jumbled – and I walked into our kitchen, heard our cooks talking, realized that I didn’t understand them AT ALL, and decided to give up trying and surrender to my discouragement. The next day I found out the cooks were speaking Romanian! Ha ha ha… oh, that was a consoling moment. I’m now fluent, and when I visited London, UK, just a couple of weeks ago, a waitress from Rome asked me where in Italy I was from when I started speaking in her native tongue. So the hard work paid off.

    I also spent a summer running camps in Bordeaux. THAT was fun! It certainly allowed me to develop my French, I often had no idea what they were saying because of the slang, but I learned the swear words in order to maintain some discipline. I gave them English classes, and during one of our sessions, I said, “Ok everyone. Grab a sheet of paper.” They all gasped, and said, “You said a bad word! You said sheet.” It took me a couple of seconds, but I quickly realized what they were referring to. I chuckled and said, “No, no, no. The good word sounds like “heat”, and the bad word sounds like “hit”.”

    Well, there’s a lot more I could comment on, like how awesome it is for an Asian to learn French because of the vast linguistic differences and what all of that training means for your brain. I have Rosetta Stone Mandarin, and I’ve been slowly making my way through it, but it’s definitely challenging.

    All the best. Au revoir 🙂

    • Mary says:

      Hi Daniel, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share your inspiring story! I really enjoyed reading it 🙂 LOL at the ‘sheet of paper’ incident! I have a few of those moments but a little more embarrassing, like mispronouncing ‘baisser’ with one ‘s’, which you probably know means something entirely different…haha!
      My next language to learn is Spanish, but once I have French down…I can’t imagine learning 2 languages at the same time! How do you maintain being fluent in multiple languages by the way? I find that it’s so easy to forget languages when you’re not using it.

      • Karen says:

        I’m interested in knowing how you maintain fluency as well. Pat and I are planning to learn Spanish when we’re home and I want to make sure I don’t end up losing a lot of it like I have with my French.

  2. Emmanuel says:

    Glad to hear that you’re picking up the language. Next time you’re at a café or restaurant and someone says “merci”…you should reply with “bienvenue” and see their reaction, it’ll be priceless. Or ask them for directions to the “guichet” 😉

  3. John A says:

    Great post Mary! Came here through your comment on ouicesta.com. I am super duper interested to learn French, but before that I have my own classes to take.

    However I would like to share a secret of mine for fluency. Never hesitate to speak whatever language you are learning, keep talking and soon you’ll become perfect.

    • Mary says:

      Hi John, thanks for the tip! It’s hard to get over making mistakes all the time but I agree, it’s definitely the best way to learn!
      Thank you for dropping by and good luck when you decide to start learning French!

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