“I am your French Papa and you are my babies.” Those were the first words uttered by one ever-so quirky French teacher during my first French class. His theory was to immerse yourself in the language in such a way that the language becomes a part of you. While that’s a great concept, and learning French has been heaps of fun, here are three reasons why putting it to practice has been just a little bit tricky.
1. People respond back in English
A few months ago as I entered the Doctor’s clinic, I went up to the receptionist and confidently said, “Bonjour Madame. Je m’appelle Chandni Gupta. J’ai rendez-vous avec le docteur à dix-neuf heures.” It sounded so on-point (I was so chuffed), but instead it invited a quiet giggle from the receptionist who then responded, “You can wait outside waiting room no. 2”. Yes she replied in English! When I returned back to the reception after my appointment, she smiled and said, “At least you tried”. But this is not an anomaly. From the receptionist to the guy at the newsstand or a taxi driver, many people now speak enough English that when they hear someone like me trying to speak French with what’s clearly a non-French accent, they’ll automatically switch to English. It’s almost their way of being helpful and friendly, and possibly trying to undo decades of stereotypes relating to French arrogance (which, by the way, we have experienced so little of since we’ve been here – people have been super lovely).
2. Working in English
I always find that between Friday evenings (just after my French class) and Monday mornings, my French improves dramatically but then, come Monday morning, it starts to take a sharp nose dive. Working in an international organisation means that everything from meetings to papers and emails are all mostly in English.
3. Weekends outside of France
Whenever our little family gets a free weekend or some time off, we travel. Living in Europe, we are just a hop, skip and a jump away to a new country, new culture, new experiences. And of course on those weekends we’re tourists from down under, not visitors from Paris. Any French gets left behind on the train or the plane.
So those are my excuses but I keep at it and so does Navneet, who attends French classes four days a week. Another reason to keep practising is that we’re completely being put to shame by our four-year old who is now almost fluent in French.