Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How I Learned French

I studied French for 4 years at a university and 1 year in France. I became a fanatic about learning French and maybe it was from the methods of my professor Monsieur Yperman. I don’t remember.

Outside of French class, I would put up French vocabulary words on the wall next to my bed, on my mirror in my bedroom, on the mirror in the bathroom, and even on my steering wheel. I didn’t leave them on the steering wheel for very long because that was a hazard, but I put them there to make use of the time when I was waiting at a red light.

I would watch a lot of French movies, record the audio, and listen to the audio as I was going to sleep at night.

When I got to France, I was embarrassed to speak because I was afraid my grammar would be all wrong. I stumbled along as any newcomer to the French speaking world.

I was put in a high level French language class while I was in France. It was scary and exciting at the same time.

In my Phonetics class, I was put in a room full of English speakers from the UK and the US. Each of us said something about ourselves in French on the first day so the professor could gage our accent level. One American girl had a horrendous accent. I was embarrassed for her and more embarrassed that she was from my state. The others snickered at her. I could hear the Irish accent of the guy that sat next to me.

When it was my turn, the professor asked me if I spoke another language besides English and French. I told her no. She said that my accent was not like any of the other Anglophone accents in the room and it was not because I am Asian. I don’t speak any Asian languages, so I don’t have an Asian accent. She said it was very good and wanted to know what I did to speak so well. My only guess was that I used to listen to a lot of French on audio as I would go to sleep every night. I guess it paid off.

A few months later, I was at a party and a guy asked me how long I had been in France. I said that I was there 7 months. “Sept mois?!” he said. (Seven months?!) “Oh, et tu es nulle,” he said jokingly. Which is like saying, “Oh, and you suck” or “Oh, and you’re lame.” “Nulle” literally means “zero.” He couldn’t believe I had only been there 7 months. He said it sounded like I had been there for years. I was surprised because I really wasn’t that confident with my speaking abilities.

The ultimate compliment was when I was reaching the end of my stay in France and met a French woman who said I sounded like a French native. She was genuinely surprised that I was American. I was thinking, “Yeah, well, if I keep talking you’ll hear the errors I make.”

My French friend once told me I speak textbook French and her boyfriend told me that I don’t always “make the liaison” between words.

Many years later, I’m still studying French on my own, but I’m learning more slang and idiomatic expressions as opposed to proper textbook French. French Etc. is an awesome podcast that I listen to now. “Where you learn everyday French every day.”

The funniest error I made was when I was standing at a crossroads/intersection in France with a French friend and I wanted to show off that I knew the road for “crossroads.” I said that it was called a “croisement.”  He looked surprised, but laughed. He was surprised that I knew the word, but laughed because no one in France would use that word unless they were in a play or reading literature. It was an old word. I guess sort of like Shakespeare kind of old. Now they use “carrefour” like the supermarket chain in France. From that experience, I learned not to study too much vocabulary from old French literature. lol

Eh, you win some, you lose some.


  1. What an accomplishment! I took french in HS and have since lost most of it. I did get to Paris about 7 years ago and had a blast, and that is when I realized how dreadful my lack of french skills are! I did say hello, goodbye, thank you and tried to people were kind since I tried. But, I think if life ever gives me time, I would love to learn again if I am fortunate to go back.

    1. French Etc. has good free podcasts. Also, there is an iPhone app called Memrise. It's awesome! I'm learning a bunch of languages on that. German and Danish are my main focus right now. If I can read at least a kids book in one of those languages, I'll be jumping for joy.
      If you study now, you'll be prepared by the time you go back to France. ;o)