We are closing in on the end of the third week of our year in France and my quest to better my French. While this may seem like the predawn hours of the experience, and I don’t deny that it is, I’m consumed by the feeling that I’m not doing enough soon enough. Some may think that it is easy to pick up a language when living in the country, and in some situations it would be easier – say I was married to a Frenchman and had three kids attending a French school. But I’m not and I don’t. I live with my English speaking husband and have no kids to send to school. We must venture out to speak French, and even then it’s not as easy as it used to be. The world is learning English and is eager to practice with you. Even the telephone repair man is learning English so that he can better negotiate buying car parts for his Dodge pickup truck on American web-sites. To make matters worse the south of France is flooded with expat Brits claiming their stake in the sun. They’ve created an English speaking culture that provides nearly every service without needing to speak a word of French.
And yes, I paint too bleak of a picture or I’m making too many excuses, depending on your perspective. With a little effort you can break through and get the French practice you desire. It helps a great deal to already have a working knowledge of and functionality in the language. Even so, when spoken to you can’t hesitate. Hesitating a fraction of a second doubles the chance that your opportunity to practice French will disappear. Guess if you have to, but respond immediately. Second, don’t take it personally if someone does switch to English. It often has nothing to do with your perceived ability in French. They may want to practice their English or are simply trying to better serve their customers. I also get the feeling that certain French don’t believe that a non-French person or worse yet a native English speaker could possibly master French well enough conduct a simple transaction. If you really want to speak the language continue in French and more than half the time they will switch back to French. A little game I’ve started playing, a sort of battle of the wills and confidence. The more confidence I project the more often I win.
There are good days and better days. Language learning is a long hard haul. In order to persevere you must congratulate yourself on your successes, consider your small failures as learning experiences, and keep moving forward.