Can you tell that I’ve been reading an article about creating compelling headlines? Did the headline grab you? What I really want to say is "When you’re ready to buy property in the Aude, PICK ME! PICK ME!" but I will share my time proven method to learn to speak French.
I’ve lived in the Aude permanently for 4 1/2 years.
I owned a vacation home here for almost two years before that.
I have a bi-lingual daughter. Every time we came to France I ‘let’ her do the talking.
Lose the fear – just talk
In 1999, on a flight from Toronto to Paris, my then 23 year old daughter leaned over and said "you really have to learn to speak French"
"Yeah, yeah, I know."
"I’m serious, you have to learn. So on this trip I’m not talking. If you want to know something you have to ask. I’m not saying a word"
And she didn’t. I had to ask prices, get direction, order meals, buy food, all the things she had done for me since she was 6. Of course after I had the information she’d start talking. Everyone wanted to know why, when she spoke such good French, it was me asking the questions. "She has to learn" Meg would say. And they would nod approvingly.
You have to talk.
Be determined to communicate – it doesn’t have to be grammatically correct
I met a woman who would practice everything she wanted to say in her head until she was sure that it was grammatically correct French. She worked hard on her pronunciation. She was going to be perfect. The thing she didn’t account for was the reply. She’d say her perfect French sentence. The other person – a French person – would reply. She had absolutely no idea what they said or what to say next.
In the same vein I learned to say "Je m’excuse, je ne parle pas francais" I said it so well and with such a good accent that no one believed me.
Don’t worry about being perfect, just talk, and listen.
Oh the delight of sitting in a cafe and eavesdropping on the conversation at the next table. Oh the joy of following it when it’s in French.
Communication is never effective when it’s just one way. You need to listen and learn to understand.
Understanding is half the battle
Accent, what accent
Tune your ear to regional accents. There is more than one regional accent
in the Aude but they all have one thing in common, letters are
pronounced at the end of words. Here a baguette is a baguettuh. If you
want bread you might as well pronounce it that way.
You don’t need to worry about your accent being perfect. Worry about pacing, emphasis, and cadance. Think of it as singing, if you get those right people will probably recognize the song even if you can’t carry a tune. Same with an accent.
Your ability to speak French will grow exponentially as your ability to understand French grows.
Every new situation is a learning opportunity
The first French I learned was ‘bricolage’ – DIY, do it yourself, renovations – a good place to start if you’re renovating a house in France. There are still tools that I only know in French, never did know the English word.
Right now I’m in the process of getting a divorce so am learning ‘avocat’.
I speak ‘immobilier’ quite well. Well enough to make cold calls in French asking people if they want to list their houses with me. I’m sure that in the beginning they said yes just because they admired my guts, they probably didn’t have a real clue what I was saying. Keep talking, all those situations build on each other.
Eventually it all comes together even if you don’t feel like it is.
You’ll think your French is getting worse but really it’s getting better
Suddenly you become aware of gender and conjugation as well as vocabularly and you realize that your French is merde. You apologise to everyone you talk to. You become so conscious of the aforesaid gender and conjugation that you are rendered almost tongue-tied.
This is progress! You have to know what you’re doing wrong before you can do it right.
You’ll say to someone you’ve know for a while – a French someone – that you feel as if you’re losing your French. They’ll say "Au contraire" Your French is getting better and better.
Just keep talking. You’ll know you speak French when you drop 6 eggs on the floor and they all break and you say "Merde!" ("Merda" if you’re in the Aude)
2 caveats – menopausal women and/or Canadians
If you’re menopausal you may be experiencing loss of nouns. (An aside, I wanted to see if I could find a link to something about this so I googled Sandra Shamus loss of nouns and found this post. Cool) In my experience you’ll lose words in English and French on the same day. Just go with the flow. Shrug your shoulders and say "c’est l’age" It’s a good way to get people to tell you you don’t look old enough to be menopausal, not a bad thing on a loss of words day.
If you’re Canadian you’ve been reading French labels for most of your life. You know way more French words that you know that you know. Impress everyone by saying ‘canneberge’.
Bon courage, bon chance!