Speaking in French

I’ve decided that I need more opportunities to speak in French. It is far too easy for Scotty and me to revert back to English when we’re at home, so I’ve signed up for an additional two hours of class each week. The twist is that these two hours are supposed to be entirely conversational. Yesterday was our first class and I am definitely on the lower end of the conversation skill spectrum. Anyway, after watching our instructor spend the first ten minutes of class writing our names on a piece of paper (there are nine of us in class), and then copying them again on to another piece of paper, we were instructed to answer a few standard questions about ourselves: How long have we been in Paris? Why are we here? What do we like about the city? What do we not like? Your usual stuff.

After seven students introduced themselves and said that what they like about Paris is that there are “beaucoup de museums et beaucoup de jardins” and the pastries are delicious, I knew I had to come up with something a bit more original. But my vocabulary isn’t varied enough to talk about the relaxed pace of life, the walkability, the Asian markets, the friendliness. No, I had to think of something that I could actually say. So I settled on Paris at night. And it really is one of my favorite things about this city. I mean, where else is light so effectively used to create an atmosphere of pure romance, mystery, and beauty? I tried to say that I loved the way the bridges are lit at night. Well, the instructor could not understand what I was saying, specifically the word “pont” or bridge, so that made it all quite confusing and I turned all red. Oh well. I think I eventually got my meaning across and she suddenly burst out with “Ahhh, PONT!” Which is what I thought I’d been saying all along.

In fact, that is one of the most frustrating things about being in a country where you don’t know the language. I often find myself met with looks of complete bafflement when I say something in French. So, I think about it, repeat what I’ve said. It sounds alright to me. But, again, the only response is a blank stare or a furrowed eyebrow. So, I repeat myself, two, three, four times. And then suddenly, you hear, “Ahh…..oui!” And then I hear my words repeated back to me. And it sounds the same to my untrained ears.

I was telling a friend that I wished there was a device that recorded what I was saying and then repeated it back to me in a literal English translation – that may be funny and possibly helpful. For example, the phone rang a couple weeks ago and I’m pretty sure that instead of saying that our landlord wasn’t here, I’m pretty sure I said, “No, he is not sleep.” And while I haven’t ended up with anything I haven’t wanted at the markets and grocery stores, I’m sure I’m bungling the pronunciation of epinards when I ask for spinach, or that I end up requesting 5 grams of “the beans, the green ones” instead of 500. So far, confused looks aside, every has been very helpful and willing to make an attempt at comprehension. And I’m really grateful for that and a bit humbled by it. I mean, it is a bit humiliating. I now have the vocabulary of a young child. And I’m talking 2-3 years old. I’ll be thrilled if I ever reach the proficiency of an 8-9 year old. I’m just waiting for that day, when it all clicks, the lightbulb flashes, the pin drops, and everything comes together. That will be great. In the mean time, my lack of language proficiency will not prevent me from enjoying the beautifully lit pontes.

About Rebecca

Hi! After five years in Europe, I'm adjusting to life back in the US. I use this blog to record my adventures, post photos, organize recipes, and post about things that interest me.
This entry was posted in Cultural Difference, Favorite Things, Language, Life in Paris and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Speaking in French

  1. I’ve been in Paris 6 weeks and had lots of good intentions about speaking French which haven’t quite materialised – though my food ordering and supermarket French is now excellent! It’s much easier to speak English at home though, but the exposure through reading and seeing it all around me has helped my understanding. A good tip I got was to join a Paris French Meetup group where you can practice your French but it’s a bit more of a social thing so not so much pressure as a language class. Good luck!

  2. POP says:

    You get an A+ in my book just for having such a “teachable spirit.” Between the two of you, your classes, and daily exposure to the French it will happen sooner than you expect and will catch you by surprise. I mean, in just a little over a week, I had ‘bon jour’ down flat and was mistaken for being ‘French’ several times! How great is that. BTW yours pics tell the story of how great Paris is at night….beautiful.

  3. marty says:

    Bec, way to go…this is great…and I know what you mean about the pronunciation…

    Once I asked a friend here in Slovakia what it was like here when Communism fell in ’89. He said, “It was ch(a)OS”…”Cows?, I said,” About 5 min. later I realized he was saying ‘chaos’… 🙂

    The main idea is, “KEEP TALKING” 🙂


    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks Marty! It’s so good to hear other people’s stories about language difficulties. Reminds me I’m not the only one to struggle! How is Slovakia this time around?

  4. Sloane says:

    Becca, I’m so happy that you’re learning French in such an amazing way! They say your first breakthrough is after a month of living in the language….I don’t remember that happening but that’s what they say! I do remember a harrowing experience trying to get my host-mom’s umbrella back from the hair salon where I had left it. The memory of the blank look on the snobby french hairdresser’s face when I repeatedly asked for my “parapluie” still infuriates me!! Even my professional level charades were not enough to get my point across, and he finally had to go get someone else who understood me right away and when they said “parapluie”(exactly the way I said it, I swear!!) Mr. Snobface said, “aaahhhh….parapluie!” Now there were 3 of us saying exactly the same thing. In case you were wondering, that was after I had been in France for about 3 months and had been studying French for about 7 years. 🙂 Ah well, at least I got the darn parapluie back!
    Si tu veux practiquer ton francais en ecrivant des emails avec moi ou en ‘gchat’, je serais tres contente! Mais pas des histoires des parapluies! 😉 bisoux!

    • Rebecca says:

      Sloane!! Your parapluie story had me cracking up. I know exactly how that feels. One day, hopefully, I won’t sound like a child and can make myself understood. Would love to practice with you!

  5. Gina says:

    I think you are very brave. 🙂

  6. Bethy Manor says:


    I think that this is your best blog yet! I’m so proud of you and good for you for taking 2 additional hours in order to learn the language better. By the time we get there you will be the very best tour guide! Keep practicing and keep up the good work!

    Also, I LOVE your pictures of Paris at night. They are STUNNING!

  7. Joy says:

    Sounds like you are doing amazing. I’ve been in Germany for 2 years and still speak like a small child.
    The pictures are beautiful. We finally get a trip to Paris this month (my first time there). Can’t wait!

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