I had a basic understanding of French before I moved to Paris and was confident I could be fluent by the end of our posting. My strategy was to buy Rosetta Stone with the objective to get a solid vocabulary and grammatical grounding/throw money at the problem first and then follow it up with lessons (a far more scary prospect for me). I think Rosetta Stone is a great concept but it requires self discipline, which I was using up every day by working from home....and also trying not to gorge on beautiful bread, cheese, Macaroons and Fois Gras at every opportunity.
After a day working, I opened up our huge floor to ceiling windows and let the steady murmur of Les Marais fill our little apartment, (you'll have to indulge me for a moment there - I really miss those windows and that sound) and sat down to make yet another half arsed attempt at my studies. Five minutes in and I kept on getting stuck on one word...Poisson (fish). I sat talking to the computer for half an hour and no matter how many times I said Poisson, Poisson, Poooisson, Pwaasun, Pawwwason, PWAHSOH, PWAHHSON it wouldn't let me proceed to the next step. Can you imagine what people thought on the street? Me, shouting fish fish fish at the top of my voice in between English expletives?! This brings me to the other failing of Rosetta Stone....it doesn't aid confidence which is needed so much when learning a language.
I love the Parisians and learnt a lot from them but they aren't exactly forgiving when it comes to hearing their beautiful language butchered. Nor did it help that my Essex accent made such graceful words sound so harsh and that I am naturally quite shy. Matters were worsened when I walked into the Orange shop to get credit for my phone with my little speech planned...I thought I would start by asking in French if the guy spoke English (this is a MUST if you want to have a conversation in English with the Parisians). However, I proceeded to ask "Parlez Vous Francais?" (Do you speak French?) to which the guy obviously laughed out loud and responded with "errrrrr OUI Madame?!".... I was too embarrassed to carry on the conversation and walked out of the shop in horror. My failure in French became a running joke in my family after a visit from my Brother a year in to our posting, I made a basic order at a cafe for an orange juice and a coffee but received two coffees and three orange juices (most probably because I repeated my order over and over again in the hope I had said "jus d'orange" correctly).
I would like to tell you that I overcame this and ended the placement with a great understanding of the French language but alas no, I was fractionally better than when I arrived in Paris and a great deal less confident. My next posting was in Vancouver, Canada and I remember getting overly excited at the prospect of ordering ham at the deli counter without a great song and literal mime dance. Although I did learn that there is still some form of a language barrier even between the English and North Americans when I asked where I could find the pencils that had "rubbers" on top of them in Michael's (a stationery store). I meant eraser and they thought I was asking for pencils with condoms on top of them...
My lesson? In my next non English speaking posting....I will get LESSONS immediately. I know that I should also really push myself and get group lessons.
What are your thoughts on the best way to learn a language? Have you had any funny experiences with language barriers?
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