To speak another language is to possess another soul – Charlemagne
So hang me, I cheated with the title. This post is, however, very much about language and therefore I do not feel at all guilty in having done so.
Firstly, Sam (one of the other assistants here in Le Havre) has written two absolutely brilliant blog posts, one on how to sound French and the other on how to sound French Havrais-style. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind I had an idea for a similar post but it couldn’t possibly be as accurate or as amusing as these posts are. If you want to have a go at sounding French, give them a read – they’re very entertaining and very true to life.
I am now, as you quite possibly know, safely back in France having had a lovely Christmas at home filled to the brim with family, friends and theatre. We were told that la rentrée (the French name for back-to-school) would be difficult and that we should expect to feel homesick over the first few weeks back. Bizarrely (or perhaps true to form!), I haven’t found this at all. Over the last week and a half, I’ve appreciated France far more than when I returned in November or indeed than before leaving for Christmas when I was feeling tired, low and headache-y ALL OF THE TIME.
I expected the most difficult thing about returning to France to be once again starting to tackle the infamous French language. Whilst it may not be as complex as languages such as Mandarin or Arabic, French is not an easy language to learn, particularly for English speakers. It has incredibly particular rules of pronunciation, a vast and unyielding system of grammar and an army of natives who are quite rightly very proud and protective of their language in a way which English people often are not. We all live in fear of ‘the squinty-eyes’ when we say something and the person we’re speaking to screws up their face in a desperate effort to not have to ask us to repeat ourselves. I have to say, though, that I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how difficult I’ve been finding the language since arriving back. I've included a small list of useful phrases at the end of this post, all of which I've picked up since first arriving here.
On Tuesday night, I went to the language café at Café Victor in town with one of my friends from work. Having had the best intentions of going every week since arriving in France, I am somewhat ashamed to admit that this was actually only the second time that I’d been. We spent the whole night just talking between ourselves but as I need to improve my French and Céline needs to improve her English it was a really good opportunity. We worked really intensively on my pronunciation (the French ‘ou’ sound still gives me away as an English person every time, sadly it’s really common – nous, vous, beaucoup, tout) and also on which expressions I need to stop using to ‘blend in’ a bit better (c’est bon is apparently utterly wrong which is a shame because I say ‘That’s good’ all the time in English). We met up the following day to do some more language practice – I’m determined that this is the term to really work on sounding more natural in French.
“What is the biggest hindrance to your language learning?” I hear myself imagining you all asking. MUMBLERS. Anyone found to be mumbling in any language must be shot. There is absolutely no excuse for it. Teenagers are the worst culprits. Take your hands away from your mouth, look up from the floor and, for the love of all that is mighty, ARTICULATE. God, I’m old.
Common Real-life Expressions
Ça va aller (It’s fine, that’ll do)
Ça bug (It’s frozen – useful for school computers)
C’est dard (That’s cool)
C’est chaud (That’s difficult, that’s tricky)
C’est trop/archi-bien (That’s awesome, that’s so good)
Ça a été (How was it? How did it go? – heard in restaurants a lot. Pronounced more like 'Ç'a été')
De même (The same to you)
On s’occupe de moi (I’m already being served)
Je regarde (I’m just looking)