Language Learning

French: From Failing to Fluent

paris-french

It was a random Parisian afternoon. The streets in the 11ème were particularly quiet because it happened to be the first Sunday of the month where no cars are allowed on the streets until the late afternoon. I took advantage and snuggled up for a much needed moment to myself, trying to suppress the guilt of standing still with all the life buzzing outside.

Luckily, the guilt level wasn’t so high as it was a Sunday. Here’s something to note: a Sunday abroad is basically like a national holiday, you can expect most things to be closed, so I couldn’t be too hard on myself for not planning the most adventurous Parisian day ever.

I also kept the guilt away with the following reasoning: there’s a sense of laziness to explore in a city you feel could be considered a second home. If I can chill at home, I can chill in Paris. Sometimes, at least.

The last reason might shock you:

I was also not bummed (you see how I’m really trying to sell myself on this) because I have to admit, I’ve fallen slightly out of love with the city that twinkles in many people’s hearts. Paris, isn’t all there is. At least not to me.

*cough* Damon *cough*

Why wouldn’t I be in love with Paris, like most people? Maybe it’s because even as a child, I never really did like the main character. I was always against Mickey, Bugs Bunny, so why, of all places, would I consider predictable Paris my favorite? It’s almost as though we’re brainwashed into thinking we have to like the most loved thing, because that’s what was planned for those characters.

And while I’m positive there are so many things I’ve yet to discover that would make me fall in love with the city like the rest of em’, I’m positive that my realistic relationship with Paris is healthy. After all, what fun would life be if we all wanted the same things?

It’s like I find true joy loving the unwanted and underrated.

But one thing that never did turn me off was the French language

Sure, my tongue would cramp up from time to time while attempting words like “arbre, internationale, and écureuil,” but I was always attracted to the challenge.

Anyways, back to the blasé and basic afternoon I spent in our perfect little airbnb in Paris, completely alone.

There I was, fully committing to sweat pants, no bra, with a plate of chocolate cookies and milk on the IKEA brand orange side table, laptop keeping my milk and cookies company. Feeling like a local, I did what locals do. I shamelessly typed in “Netflix.com,” into my browser, and started scrolling what international titles they could offer me. Because after all, even a trip down Netflix’s recommended section while abroad can feel like a cultural lesson.

Suddenly, I see a title splashed across a rather serious looking picture, “Call My Agent.” Although it didn’t seem French, I liked the idea of learning more about the world of agents, since that’s one I currently find myself engulfed in. With half of an eaten cookie on my left hand, and crumbs on my chest, I clicked play to be surprised as the opening scene was in thickly fluent French.

I clicked on the tiny square box to try and get some subtitle assistance, only to find a “French” option. Shit, I was now fully sucked in to try and get through the first hour-long episode of a French show, with no English floaty to bring me towards comprehension.

paris-french

Now let’s take a step back. You may be wondering why I speak about my French with such hesitation. Here’s why:

The process of learning a language is a living and breathing thing

If you stop nurturing the thing, it withers. My French has been pretty much in hibernation, only coming up for food during our weekly filming sessions for “French Fridays.” The last real French class I took was when I studied abroad in 2012 for one semester, and aside from that, I’ve not learned French formally since. So now, with these impromptu rendez vous in France, I get to put my rusty skills to the test.

Just like any living thing, you give it love, food, water, it grows. I didn’t know it at the time, but clicking play helped jumpstart my excitement about Paris, and French in general.

By episode two, I was hooked. My notebook filled with expressions I had learned from the context in which the characters used them, I started responding to emails we receive in French with excitement, and on the second day, by the end of season one, a strange thing happened to me.

paris-french

I found myself lucidly dreaming in French

During the day, we were busy filming, meeting friends, eventually having those typiquement French soirées where wine and cheese are never forgotten, and franglais is the language of choice. But directly after all the tiny (by American standards) wine glasses filled the (also tiny) sink, it was time to keep up with my new favorite show: Dix Pourcent (come to find out, the title was originally 10%).

I had binged watched all the way to 3AM, and figured I should probably turn away from my computer to finally sleep. Especially because ya girl can’t bounce back from those four hour nights like she used to anymore.

My eyes, hot from the sizzle of the bright screen. Neck tense from the strain of an overly flufly pillow, and my brain buzzing.

While I slept, I heard sentences, phrases, words, all flying around both audibly and visually as if each phrase was a commuter trying to get somewhere during rush hour. I may or may not have been sleep talking as the sentences made their commute to my conscious, good thing Damon was sleeping in the other room. Tosses and turns were now extra busy with all the French seemingly being downloaded into my brain.

The nighttime language download is a real thing

If you’ve ever thrown yourself head first into a culture where a new language is spoken, you’ve most likely experienced the fatigue that comes with simply living an entire day’s worth of the language. The brainpower used to update mental “French” folders is no joke, mes amis. I’ve had this happen with Italian before, as I basically started from scratch, but was now experiencing the same “downloading” phenomenon in French, even at an advanced level. That’s the thing, it’s a living thing, there are no limits to it.

The next day, I was 10% more fluent

I kid you not, the next morning I woke up needing to use French expressions, feeling as though my sentence were lacking something if there wasn’t a French word crammed in between seemingly bland American expressions.

Suddenly, French just flowed better.

 

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  • Love this post! I think one of the most reassuring things to hear from other people when learning a language, even if I’m beginner and they’re advanced, is that it’s still hard as hell and mentally exhausting (oh my gosh, is it exhausting!). Thank you for all your posts on the topic of language learning!!

    • Rebecca,

      Thanks for reading, we’re going to have more language-related blogs now!

  • trish trish bish

    Aw Joe this is lovely. I’ve been a tad inconsistent with my french studies, I mostly do it only when I get short outbursts of energy and then I go back to ignoring my french books again after a long while haha. This post and the French friday vlogs are like gentle reminders; I get motivated whenever I watch you guys! Bisous from the Philippines <3

  • I’m learning this with my German. 🙂 I can’t wait to fall in love with Paris!

    • You have to fall in love with it for the language to really sink in! DA PASSION!

    • Ludi Schemak

      Heyy if you’re looking for some German TV shows I can recommend ‘Tatort’ and ‘Vier Blocks’! Tatort is typically German, basically everyone here watches it lol and ‘Vier Blocks’ is just a really good show 🙂 thought this might help you even more with learning German
      Viel Spaß!

      • I’m actually currently living in Germany and have heard of both shows! I’ll have to actively look into them! Vielen dank!

        • Ludi Schemak

          Aaah how cool! Where do you live? Kein problem haha 🙂

  • Taste of France

    The French say the best way to learn the language is “sur l’oreillier”–on the pillow. That means get a French lover, and you’ll be fluent in no time. I can attest it’s true.
    Although I had taken French classes (the New School in NYC used to have adult ed classes for $25 a semester!) and had lived in Brussels for six years (where everybody spoke English, so it was hard to practice), I honed my skills watching TV with the subtitles for the hearing impaired–because the subtitles were in French. If you have the subtitles in English, you are just staying in English. But with the subtitles in French, I heard the French and saw it written (more or less–not the greatest, and they were way more polite with cursing than what I heard), and it helped enormously to see the words spelled out.

    • So true! I learned English by watching good shows also. Should come to me as no surprise that French would be the same!

  • Catherine S

    This is my ultimate goal in learning French!. I have to go find me some french shows maintenant because although I’m taking a French class, sometimes it’s hard to be 100% in love with a language when memorizing 20 different grammar rules and sentence structures.

    • I HATE grammar and all the book stuff, so I’ve learned pretty much from blabbing, and listening, and listening, then blabbing! You make more mistakes, but it’s in your brain as if you were learning the language at infancy!

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