Parlez-vous français

The one piece of advice I’ve been given over and over again is learn to speak the language! If you want to make a success of living in France, then learn to speak French. But how many books have a I read recently where people make the decision to buy a house in France without speaking a word? Admittedly it usually ends in social and cultural isolation, tears and a swift return to the UK but why not make the effort? Even if you don’t have an aptitude for languages surely a few words and phrases make life so much easier?

My own French language education ended in 1979 when I failed my French O Level, so I’ve got some catching up to do. On a recent trip to the Limousin we made the mistake of trying to get Amazon to deliver some books to a remote holiday rental. Despite being in in all day the package was returned to the depot as they were “unable to deliver”. The next morning the four of us rushed to the Post Office ready to try and recover the Game of Thrones box set only to be struck dumb when faced with the, not surprisingly, French speaking person behind the counter.

Determined not to be caught out again I have set out to become, if not fluent, at least able to have everyday conversations with neighbours, shopkeepers and tradesmen – perhaps leaving out some of the more technical vocabulary. There are obviously a number of ways of doing this… evening classes, audio courses, local language groups and online applications or apps. Not being able to commit to an evening class and, to date, lacking the confidence to attend a language group that leaves the courses.

The first thing I did was download the Michel Thomas Beginner French Lesson 1 from Audible. I have a 15-minute walk to work every morning which would be the perfect opportunity to listen. However, Michel is adamant that one needs to be in a relaxed frame of mind to absorb the lesson and, as I am invariably late leaving the house, I’m not sure how quickly it is going in. What I have discovered is that I have a bigger vocabulary than I thought, and now probably know enough French to get drunk, very drunk.

The other thing I’ve done is download the DuoLingo app to my smartphone and start the French course on that. It is free if you don’t mind some adverts and whilst mistakes are punished by a loss of ‘health’ on the app, interrupting your progress, this doesn’t apply on a laptop. I usually manage the recommended 15 minutes a day, often more, and have found it fits nicely into time spent waiting for my daughter’s karate class to finish and other hiatuses. The advantage that this has over the audio lessons is seeing the words written down and beginning to understand how the language works.

It’s hard to know how much progress I’ve made, though the other day I was able to translate most of the details of a house sent via a PAP.fr email so something must be going in. The best test will be when we go to France in January to cat sit for a couple in the far South West, though I’m not sure either course has a setting for the Pays Basque and its dialects and accents. Some people swear that they speak more fluently when they’ve had a couple of drinks. I’m looking forward to testing out that theory too!

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