Parlez vous français?

By Jill Hanby

French is a hard language isn't it?

You have to make your verbs and subjects agree, you have to put your verb into the right tense (of which there are apparently many!) and then, possibly most bizarrely, you have to decide if the object you are talking about is masculine or feminine? So, dear readers, is a table a boy or a girl!? Hmmm..;

I have lived here for more than two years and am still ashamed to say that my French isn't fluent - in fact I am not sure how close to fluent it really is. I suppose I have to qualify this by saying that I am an expat in France, living with another Brit ... so yes, a lot of my daily life is in English and of course, I work in English too by teaching the language. Now this might all make my life here a lot easier, but it doesn't make speaking 'la langue' any easier at all!

Do you live with another non-French speaking expat or are you one of the lucky people I often meet who lives with a French boy or girl and therefore find yourself speaking French more and more and picking up the difficult language as you go along? (If so, I am green with envy!)

The all important 'tricolore'
Have you had French lessons whilst in Bordeaux? Taking lessons is something I am still not sure about and this is coming from someone who teaches a foreign language!! I had French lessons when I first arrived here at one of the big French schools. I had two weeks of intensive lessons, a great start you might think, but I wasn't convinced.

The class was made up of foreign students all in Bordeaux ONLY to learn French - not quite an opportunity to meet like minded people or talk to people in similar situations to me... it made me feel quite old and even somewhat unambitious.

We spent our time working through text books - which if I am cynical, I possibly could have done at home on my own. I am sure for some, more positive people than I, that lessons are great to cover the detail and technicality of the language as well as making a great start into learning and finding your 'mojo'. Have you found a school with good lessons? How have you approached learning 'la langue'? Do you have a secret you can share with us?

I then tried to take telephone lessons in French. I found these more focused, practical and possibly even useful. I listen to French, I watch French TV but I don't speak the language enough - so telephone lessons MAKE you speak French - for thirty minutes in total - without a choice.

However, this time (another complaint I'm afraid), I wasn't sure what I learnt?! Yep I practiced French but I didn't really learn and I decided that the cost vs improvement ratio was definitely not good enough, I could speak just as much French in the pub/restaurant....

So, I seem to have learnt French by watching TV, developing my vocabulary from different series, the news and even the odd film here and there. I also read the newspapers and try to make some effort everyday to develop my vocabulary and 'think in French' I am also lucky enough to teach French people English so I often learn some fairly random vocabulary through these lessons, for example, who knows what 'tricoter' means... ?

After two years, I can write the emails necessary to get by, I can complete the million documents required by the French Administration, I can answer the phone and 'get by' (if I HAVE to - because in honesty, I still hate the phone!!) and most importantly, I am fluent in menu!! Yes I can order meals in a restaurant, I can decipher the menus (sometimes even better than the restaurant translations!) - and this I have decided, is one of the most, if not the most important thing to learn when living abroad - how to order your food/drinks and enjoy it!

"Un demi pression s'il vous plait"
Oh by the way, are you still wondering about 'tricoter'? It is the verb 'to knit' - see I told you - useful vocabulary!!

Also, if you fancy looking at it from the other side, learning English is not all that easy, especially for our French friends - take a look at this blog and how the French President himself hasn't quite mastered the English language just yet... Joseph Bamat's blog
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