I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and I’m the proud owner of two master’s degrees with 4.0 averages: one in education and one in theater -all from highly respected, private universities. I’ve even been awarded the Phi Delta Kappa key (huge scholastic honor for educators). I have had the pleasure of teaching Fine Arts in private universities for over 25 years. And, in fact, am considered very intelligent and highly capable by both peers and students alike. In short…I am not a stupid person. But, I will tell you that at the age of 51, I realized with glaring certainty that I am not NEARLY as smart as I thought I was.
It’s been almost a full year since my husband and I moved to Paris. During that time, I have taken French language courses for weeks and weeks. I have practiced my grammar with our “oh-so-patient” Parisian friends. Even our wonderful neighbors from the fifth floor have helped with this process. We have dinner with them about once a month or so, and for entire evenings we speak roughly 80% French and 20% English. And I am still hopelessly confused by the French language.
Why is French so difficult, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you. French has nine different verb tenses, each one with six different conjugations depending on the subject (I, you-familiar, he/she/it, we, you-formal or plural, and they). Each conjugation changes depending on the gender of the subject being referred to -as well as whether it is singular or plural. Even items have genders in French. They don’t simply say “the book” or “the purse.” Every single item has a gender. And there is no sense whatsoever to which items are masculine and which are feminine, so you just have to memorize every single noun in the entire French language to know whether it is male or female. For instance…high heeled shoes? MASCULINE. So the conjugation must include the ending for a masculine verb. As I said, there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to it. No wonder the French need to drink wine at every meal.
There are many rules in the French language, and for every rule there are many exceptions. This only adds to the horror. I now despise the film “Eat, Pray, Love” because after having seen the lead characters becoming fluent in Italian within three months, I was convinced I could do the same with French. Hey…I had even learned Dutch -one of the least-spoken, funniest-sounding, weirdest languages on the planet. French had to be easier, right? Not on your life.
Learning French is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I’m constantly humbled and sometimes even humiliated by how wretched my French actually is. My accent is excellent, they tell me, which oddly enough, adds to the problem. Whenever I start a conversation with someone here, they assume I’m fluent because of my accent. So, they begin their rapid-fire French in response. I call this “Firehose French” because it shoots out at 1,000 miles an hour with no pauses or punctuation of any kind. I start to feel strangely “out of body” and see images of Charlie Brown listening to his school teacher “Wah wah wah wah wah wah wah.”
Of course, I ask the person I’m speaking with to slow down. I apologize. I tell them that I’m an American and speak French like a Spanish cow. Fortunately, this makes them laugh, and we stumble and bumble our way through the conversation until I’ve gotten my point across. There are times when I actually understand French, but only when the conversation is slow and uses tiny words. Little French kids can out-language me in seconds. It’s a humbling thing to be this bad at something for this long…and every day to wake up knowing that you have to face it again.
I start French language classes again next Monday. I am praying that they will help me to be better, faster, and even funnier in French. And God willing, it won’t take the rest of my natural life. But I’m not holding my breath.
As we ease into 2016, and you start making goals for the new year, please use this embarrassing confessional tale of mine to remind you, “No matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping everybody on the couch.”
And say a prayer for me. Remember, I start school again on Monday.
4 thoughts on “Learning French Is Hard, Y’all!”
You couldn’t have said it better Grace , french language is very difficult . From experience .. all my study growing up was in French , till we moved to England then to the US , and now I don’t think I can carry a decent conversation in French 😞
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You are an inspiration!
I have been playing with learning a few words and short sentences here and there, while you are doing the real thing, even though it is difficult and will never be completed.
It’s time I committed to learning the beautiful language.
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I was fortunate in that I took Latin in high school and Russian in college. Both of those languages have more complex grammar than French, so when I took French years later the grammar did not seem bad. Still, there is no way I can keep up with firehose French, as you put it. I need simple French as well.
And since I really never studied a language with any disciipline befor now, my 51 year old brain just starts to melt!