This week I started school. At the age of 27 I became a student once again, although this time around will be a little different from my university days, no staying out drinking late and then rolling into lectures hungover. I’m going to have to concentrate, really concentrate if I’m going to learn French as well as I want to.
Lessons kicked off on Monday and there was no hanging about, our teacher got straight to it. She had laid out postcards on the tables and we all had to take a look and choose one. Then in turn we all had to describe the postcard (en Français) to the class and say why we chose it. A little daunting to say the least but I’m here to learn and I’m trying not to get worried about making mistakes. No one in the class is fluent (although some are more advanced than others) so we’re all going to mess up from time to time, it’s just really important not to let it stop you making a contribution. Lessons are carried out solely in French and we’ve been working on verbs; how to conjugate them in the present tense with the relevant pronoun…yeah I know. I felt the same way.
We continued with verbs for the next two lessons and I felt like I was getting more and more lost. I came home each day and went back over everything we’d done in class, completed my homework and also did some additional grammar work. It’s been a good ten years since I studied French and I’m not going to lie and pretend it’s been a really easy week. After my last lesson on Thursday I felt very deflated. It was like everything I’d learnt had gone in one ear and straight out the other, the rules we had covered all have exceptions and that’s difficult to get your head around. It’s a bit overwhelming and I’m in a class with some very good French speakers which means I’m catching up most of the time. HOWEVER, I keep reminding myself that I’m only in week 1, it’s only been 6 hours of lessons and in time with hard work and perseverance I will get there. I’m not going to give up at the first hurdle, if it means I have to put in even more work on my own time that’s what I’ll do.
I’m quite lucky that the family I’m au pairing with speak fluent English and the dad is somewhat of a French grammar whiz. Both parents have offered to help me with my school work and said I shouldn’t hesitate to ask any time I have a question. They’ve switched to speaking to me in French more often which will help too. I’m trying really hard to be more confident and say things in French as much as possible…sometimes I finish off in English if I can’t find the words. It’s a process and I’ve still got a long way to go but I’ve started and that’s the main thing. The more time and effort I put in the better results I’ll see, I’ve got a really nice teacher and she’s very encouraging which makes it so much easier to try during class. All in all I’m managing to get by most of the time but I haven’t had to do anything too difficult yet like go to a bank and open an account, or make a phonemail in French. Those situations feel little too scary for the moment but I’ll have to give it a go at some point!
Something I’ve found that makes speaking French whilst out and about more difficult is the number of people who automatically switch to speaking English. 9 times out of 10 as soon as they detect you’re foreign they stop speaking French and automatically continue in English, it’s quite frustrating and also throws you off a little. I know they’re only trying to help and makes things easier for you but sometimes it’s nice to be given the chance to have a go in French first. The worst experience I’ve had of this so far was in a bar on Saturday night. One of my friends went to order, in French and the barman literally laughed at her attempt. She hadn’t said anything wrong but he laughed at the fact she was English and attempting to speak the language. When he brought our drinks over to the table we asked him if he doesn’t like it when people try and speak French and he said (in English) ‘no, it’s annoying when I’m busy and they take a long time or say it wrong.’ I thought this was SO rude and completely stopped us from attempting to continue in French. He’d destroyed our confidence completely in that short space of time. My friend said she was once told you should never mock someone who is trying to speak your language, you should respect it. I whole-heartedly agree with this, it’s daunting enough plucking up the courage to try. You could knock someone back several steps in just a few seconds by making them feel small and stupid. Note to self, next time make sure to tell them that…just got to figure out how to say it in French first!
The first week of real learning is over and done with and hiccups aside I’m going into next week with a positive attitude.