This following conversation might sound familiar to those of you who’ve lived in France for a while…..
‘Wow you’ve lived in France for 8 years, you MUST be fluent then?‘ When you mumble something to the contrary, its closely followed up by ….’my friend was fluent after a couple of weeks’…then yah de yah about how they did this.
I often had the urge to inflict a nasty injury on anyone who said this but instead I’d smile sweetly, say how clever their friend must be, accept the hidden message that I just wasn’t trying hard enough and hide my face in my wine glass in shame.
I was spurred on to write this article from a post I read on an expat forum the other day. The writer of the post was feeling pretty useless because she’d been in France for 6 weeks and yet still couldn’t speak the language fluently. This was followed by lots of useful advice about how to go about it, with everyone tip-toeing around the obvious. So eventually, led by my frustration, an admittance by a few brave souls that it takes years…..yes many years to learn to speak French fluently! Sorry to bust that myth but its true and anyone who tells you otherwise is quite frankly a deluded soul!!
Why is it so hard for us expats to admit how hard it is? Well its human nature really isn’t it? When there’s a whole industry out there peddling this myth and making a lot of money off the back of wave after wave of would be expats….. and we (myself included) buy into it. So to admit after 2-3 years you’re still only at passable spoken French, can feel like you’re saying either I’m too damn lazy, or basically a bit on the dim side.
Why am I so certain that learning French in 6 weeks is a myth? Well Lets just apply a dose of common sense and think about the English language for a moment….How many ways do we have of saying ‘I’m not sure how to do that’: This is just a random statement but I can think of; ‘ooh I don’t know’, ‘I don’t have a clue’, ‘Ah good question, I’ll need to think about it and get back to you’, ‘you’ve got me there’ …..and so on. Then you have abbreviations, slang and local dialect added to the mix. I come from the West Country and totally baffled my husband when I first used the phrase ‘diggered’, meaning covered in. So I think its actually insulting to the French and their beautiful, complex and colourful language to continue to perpetrate this myth about being able to learn it in 6 weeks, when we often struggle even with our own.
So we buy the Michel Tomas, Rossetta Stone DVD’s, or enrol for weekly evening classes and after a while we start feeling pretty sure of ourselves. Then we move to France and ‘BANG’ a massive dose of reality slaps us round the face and we feel even less fluent than we’ve ever done in our life.
Now I’m not saying all these learning aids are terrible in fact this is quite the opposite, some are brilliant but c’mon really! 6 weeks, or even 6 months to learn any Language…..!!
There will be some of you who’ll read this and will say ‘no that’s not what’s meant and I could communicate well after a few weeks’. Yes this can be true but there’s a huge amount of sign/body language, grunting and good will on the part of the poor French person at the other end, in wanting to understand.
After all, all the French speak English anyway…..hahahah I love that one almost as much!
So let’s start being kinder to ourselves and future expats by not setting us all up to fail and admit that it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to learn any language but its a wonderful journey, with a lot of fun along the way. The day my husband asked our next door neighbour if he could put a dustbin on our roof (he meant to say satellite dish) will be etched in my brain forever.
Someone should write a book called…..how to lean the beautiful French Language in your lifetime!! With a subtitle of ‘and how to enjoy doing so’. It might not sell so many copies but it would be far more honest.
Ahh I feel better for getting that one off my chest…