Non, mon français n’est pas bien, mais je peux survivre…je pense…
I haven’t talked much about this goal since the summer since I really should have checked it off back then, but it’s the end of the year so better late than never. I studied french formally in a classroom from 7th grade until the end of college – in fact, I had so many credits that if I had taken just two more classes, I could have majored in it. But could I really speak French fluently at that level? Meh, not like you would think.
Regardless that I could get by in conversation, I still didn’t really have anyone to speak French with (since Portland, Oregon isn’t exactly brimming with French speaking opportunities). Also, it’s not like I’ve really had the money to travel to France – so that left me with a slowly diminishing language base.
This year, when my mom offered to take me to Paris, I thought it would be a good goal to refresh what I knew and try to put it into practice. I prepped by listening to hours and hours of podcasts on my work commute, and subscribing to some French news on Facebook.
When we got to Paris, my French was definitely rusty. Like I knew what people were saying, but at the same time it took some real brain power to listen, comprehend, and possibly respond. That being said, I felt my reading skills were off the charts. Things like street signs and menus were child’s play, but in museums, pieces of artwork are accompanied by passages that describe the scene, as well as the history or unique perspective of the artist. I was impressed that I could accurately read most of them.
Listening to peoples’ conversations was hit or miss. Interestingly, children were the easiest; their pronunciation was so specific (and vocabularies limited). Although there were times when I was like, I don’t know what the hell that person just said. There was still validation when one Parisian shopkeeper did respond, “Your French is very good!” after I had explained that we were Americans who were sort lost, but thought her shop looked interesting so we stopped in.
I learned it can be high pressure (and high exhaustion) to be the translator for a traveling partner who has no experience with the native language. After several days, I was reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story, Tender is the Night, when he describes a mother and daughter traveling in France: “After lunch they were both overwhelmed by the sudden flatness that comes over American travellers in quiet foreign places.” Truly, I needed a power nap after navigating us through the streets, responding to testy cashiers, and then reading about tellement d’histoire en francais.
Although I’m certainly not a fluently speaker, that was never my goal anyway. I went to France, spoke some French, and learned some more. Oh, and I can definitely understand this: