Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why I will never be able to speak French

When is a pièce not a piece? When it is a morceau.  And so went the discussion at the dinner table when I asked "How do you say 'a piece of chocolate'?"

It is these inconsistencies that make it so difficult for me to speak French.  Reading comes easy; a few familiar words and context clues aid in making a passable translation.  And though listening to French is more challenging than reading, I can usually get the gist of a conversation if I pay very close attention.

But speaking French eludes me.  I don't mean exchanging a few lines with the cashier at Carrefour or placing an order at a cafe; I mean real conversation with tenses and articles and vocabulary that goes beyond phrasebook French.

I'm sure much of it comes from a fear of making a mistake--calling something a pièce when it's really a morceau.  A fear of attempting to speak the language and failing, as when I asked tried to ask the bus driver in Annecy a question and he looked at me like I had two heads.  Equally frustrating for him and me, n'est-ce pas?

So what about you?  If you speak French, how did you learn?


  1. Well, I started at school. I didn't really like it, but stuck with it because I wanted to like it. What really changed my ability was a high school teacher that was strict as hell on grammar. I went from basic conversational to almost fluent because knowing the grammar just connected the dots. I'm going into my second year of college now, and will be doing a French module alongside Politics which helps it stay "fresh". But don't give up, it's a great thing to have!

  2. Well, I started in a French immersion program when I was 5, and did that for a few years, so I've got the building blocks down. Continued with it throughout school. But now we've got the whole Rosetta Stone program for my husband and I'll be using it to advance my vocabulary. I think part of the finesse of it is to simply be okay with making mistakes. Even attempting it is appreciated!

  3. I would love to know another language but I have a hard enough time with English. Also, without regular use I have great trouble retaining the skills. This is what has happened with all my sign language classes.

  4. I feel the same. I never studied French, which is part of the problem, instead "absorbing" it from various boyfriends, fiancés, their families, reading, etc. And after so many years away from France, my French is a horror show now. Sigh.

    I'm thinking to get a French graduate student to give me lessons. Maybe that will help me just get back into the feel of using my mouth that way.

    PS: Thanks for the tip about "morceau"!

  5. I feel the same way too. I took 4 years of French in High School and 3 years in college. I can get the gist of something reading but speaking or even hearing French spoken is a whole other story!! It's sad really!!

  6. I took French throughout high school and college (I have a minor degree in French). Back then, and to this day, I can tolerably read French but freeze up if I actually have to say something more than "merci" or "bonjour". My brother is fluent in German but has a harder time reading it, and his tip is you have to be willing to make mistakes over and over again and accept correction humbly. Not my personality style!

    I received the fleur de sel and posted an entry on my blog. Thank you so much! Summer continues in central Texas for 2 more months, and there are lots of veggies, fruits and simple fish dishes that the fleur de sel will accompany.

  7. I learnt a (very) little at school, more at college and then, living in France for almost 5 years , a lot more. But still I'm not fluent and able to join effortlessly in conversations, but I make an effort and am pleased to be corrected sand learn.

    It takes a while...

  8. I'm not great- but I can get secret? Get the audio tapes from Michele Thomas...there's a beginning and advanced. They are INCREDIBLE!!! I had so much confidence when I went to Paris this last Christmas....and a few times even the storekeepers didn't even use English. I think you can buy them from Amazon. You will be amazed...And his story is pretty incredible- he was a Polish refugee who fought with the French Resistance during WW2, was captured, escaped, and when the war was over, relocated to Beverly Hills or Hollywood or something and started a language school. The CD's were recorded when he was in his 80's... they are so logical and intuitive and I was astonished...he made French speaking Easy!
    You can TOTALLY learn to speak French, and you will have fun doing it too!

  9. There are a number of French words already in English, like café. Always good to challenge yourself.