Hard to believe but I’ve just passed the first anniversary of living here in Paris. What an experience it is; the fulfilment of a long-held wish for both of us (me and my dearly beloved).
Amongst the items on the wish list of things to do and see during our time here I included my aspiration to be able to speak French. I’ll be brave and tell you that my actual goal, written down in black and white, is to be able to speak French fluently by time I am 60 years old. I have a few years, ( 4 and a half to be precise) to keep practising yet, but they will go fast so I’m making the most of the chance to immerse myself in the language now. It seems a good time to give you a little review of my progress.
When I arrived, although I had been having lessons and could manage a classroom conversation, putting my language skills to the test “in the wilds” of urban Paris was pretty damn daunting. Out and about at the market, or shopping at the supermarket, I often couldn’t hear the words distinctly enough to understand what was being said to me. On the Metro other people’s conversations were just background noise that I didn’t tune in to, and speaking on the telephone was a nightmare. I had to pluck up courage to make a call and rehearse my spiel beforehand.
Twelve months on I have definitely progressed. Hurrah. Sometimes I surprise myself when vocabulary pops out my mouth that I didn’t realise I knew. Other days my brain denies any knowledge of even common verb conjugations and all French grammar rules. However, I can now understand snippets of overheard conversations and at the market and in shops it’s not very often that I don’t know what is being said to me. I can even reply and although I might not always get the response grammatically correct, at least I can answer on the correct topic without breaking out in a sweat.
Just recently we took the TGV train to the Burgundy region for the weekend. On board the train, a man sitting near us made a funny comment in relation to an announcement by the train manager. Everyone within earshot laughed, including me – I had understood the announcement and his comment and I got the joke! Woohoo.
Occasionally though, I am caught short when I don’t know the word for an everyday item – like breadcrumbs. I had put breadcrumbs on my shopping list and only realised at the supermarket that I didn’t know the French word. My phone with its handy online dictionary was charging at home. I asked a chap stocking the shelves for help, explaining en Francais that I didn’t know the word but I was looking for “breadcrumbs.” No, he didn’t speak English so my next step was to try and describe breadcrumbs en Francais. How would you do that? I went with explaining I wanted le pain concassé (literally crushed bread), I didn’t think I could get through the whole Hansel and Gretel trail of breadcrumbs routine, but hoped he’d get the gist. He directed me to an area that looked hopeful. I found the breadcrumbs and now know the word is la chapelure.
I can have short conversations with people; the hairdresser, the beautician, the sales staff at yarn stores and fashion boutiques. No surprise; that’s because I’ve had plenty of practice with the latter ones!
I have made restaurant bookings over the phone and been satisfied with success when we turned up to find that we were indeed expected. I can ask vendors on market stalls for help, like how to cook the great big cèpes (mushrooms) that are in season right now, and understand the instructions, imparted with generous detail and accompanying actions, for cleaning, preparing and cooking these monstrous things that look like they could kill you.
So, I’m reasonably satisfied with progress. Listening to French TV and reading the headlines on the French newspaper feel very ordinary, everyday things. There’s plenty more practice required though and I shall enjoy the next 12 months living life en Francais.