Sunday, January 31, 2016

learning French

When in college I thought I might be a language major, until I realized that I am totally incapable of speaking a foreign language.  Despite living in Spain for two years as a teenager my speaking ability in Spanish is at a survival Spanish level, although I can read reasonably well and can hold forth on the concept of honor in 14th century Spanish literature with the best of them.  Even though I was hopeless at speaking a foreign language I loved the idea of it and so I plunged into intro to French.  I lasted two semesters until the morning I was rendered totally mute when called on in a Spanish class which immediately followed a French class and realized I was unable to even pronounce a word of English.   At that point I realized I needed to be a literature, not language student, and I should just give up on French.  Especially since my almost two semesters of French  had only gotten me to the level of counting and saying "my name is J..." and "I don't understand."  It was pretty clear that French was a lost cause.

Now, move forward almost 50 years.  We are going to Paris and I really do need at least a basic tourist level of French to get some directions, find the bathroom, and read a menu, so we've started Duolingo on our phones.  I remain hopeless.  I can do the reading, can't conjugate any verbs and have decided that if I can just put a few nouns in sequence they'll figure it out.  I can't get the speaking thing down at all.  All the words sound the same regardless of their endings.  The plurals and singulars are all pronounced the same as are all the verb endings.  I believe that the way to speak is to pronounce the first part of the word and then just THINK the ending without saying anything.  Someone recommended that you push your lips out a la Donald Trump and pronounce the words from the front of your mouth, not the center or back.  That helps a bit only because I can't really pronounce anything that way so it sounds very French although it may not actually be any word.

Last night we watched a French movie on Netflix and if I had played a drinking game where I took a drink whenever I understood a word I would have remained sober. Luckily I could recognize  "bonjour', "merci", "d'accord", "de rein", and "pardon" which may be the most important words for me.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

Not your fault. You were poorly taught. This made you too anxious about performance when you needed just to open your ears and listen for a while.
The French are used to tourists, and you will have no problems there.