Hello all! I thought I’d add a wee article here about the ups and downs of learning another language. It’s rarely smooth sailing! For me, this language was… and is, French.

When I first arrived in France I was fascinated by the balconies!

I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with French. Since I’m Canadian, I’ve had French in school since I was 6 years old, and it terrified me! I still remember having to say that date in French at the beginning of every school day, and having no idea what it meant! When I finally understood, it was the end of the year and I felt embarrassed that it took me so long to understand.

Fast forward to high school. I wanted to take Spanish, which was the popular language to learn, but my mother insisted that I continue learning French. I was the only person in my small class who didn’t actually speak it, the rest of the students who continued studying French in grade 11 had some sort of connection to either France or Quebec. Again, although everyone was supportive and lovely, I felt like an idiot.

When my mother once again insisted I take it in my final year of high school, I rebelled!

I took French once again in university… This time, my years of high school French helped me; I knew the grammar well enough and it became a bird course, a class I actually enjoyed taking… What a surprise! It didn’t help me learn how to speak, though.

When I finally moved to France, after graduating from Edinburgh, I saw that I really didn’t understand anything anyone said to me, and so I enrolled, once again, to learn French. This time I really got out the elbow grease and knuckled down. I went to every party the locals invited me to, didn’t understand a thing and sat quietly all night, trying to catch at least a word or two. So many times I just wanted to leave! I didn’t, though… I stayed. Then I kept on going. My friends and I at the CUEFA in Avignon (where we studied 13 hours a week) spoke only French amongst ourselves, even though we were all fluent in English. We often thought it must be strange for the people around us to hear their language being butchered by a bunch of foreigners.

Paris, 2013!

I bought books in French and started reading them with a little electronic dictionary that I used A LOT. I read Twilight in French, all four books, and found that by the end of them, I understood a lot more about how the grammar worked and learned a bunch of everyday words I would not otherwise have come across with my expat group of friends.

Then, I started to see results! I got bumped up a level at the French school, took the B2 DELF exam and moved to Nice, where I worked in a bar and made sure to surround myself with locals who didn’t speak English. I had made it! And made a fool of myself on several occasions, I might add, because of the silly things I had said by mistake.

Since then, I have been more or less learning, stagnating, learning, feeling like I’m stagnating, etc. I’m told I’m getting better, but old people still don’t understand me, even when others can barely place my accent. This irks me, of course, but it’s important to embrace your accent. We’re more or less stuck with it, unless we want to make a gargantuan effort, and even then, in anger or sadness, our accents will inevitably reemerge.

So how am I doing now? I still have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it, even after 13 years of life in France. Now I can speak English everyday with my son, though, and I can rant a bit about how French grammar doesn’t make sense to my English speaking friends. All in all, things are ok. I still make silly mistakes, and not so silly ones simply because I don’t understand a particular concept. I do take comfort, however, in the fact that many native French speakers themselves don’t understand the very same concepts!

So if you’re learning, hang in there, knuckle down, you’ll manage it in the end!

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