When I was in Spain last year, one of my favorite things (along with this bar in Madrid, our Flytographer photoshoot, and all the art of my favorites) was communicating in Spanish. I hadn’t been to a Spanish-speaking country in years and the language came back to me quickly. Though it seemed to be default in restaurants and hotels for us to be addressed in English, I made a point to speak in Spanish with each of our cab drivers. I asked each one for restaurant recommendations and told them all about how our trip was going. I loved it.
Contrary to the Spain trip, when I was in France and Switzerland just two months later, I felt lost with French. I knew “Bonjour” and “Merci,” and Kater and I made a point to say “C’est bon” whenever something wasn’t going quite as expected. But beyond that, we didn’t know much, which was a struggle when I was on the train without Euros and credit cards that weren’t working (as I mention here). We had a great time and survived all the language barriers, but I couldn’t help think how much more awesome it would have been had I’d known some French.
I’ve wanted to take French since middle school, but I’d started with Spanish and didn’t have time in my schedule to take both. In college, all the beginner classes were at 8 am and I was a silly college student who allowed this to be an excuse to not pursue the language. When I learned about Fluent City (through my friend Erin’s connection with them, last year’s NY Travel Fest, and by applying for a writing contest with them), I knew the excuses had to stop.
This fall, I signed up for French 1 on Monday nights, from 7-9 PM in Times Square with Fluent City. The first few classes were a little intimidating because we were learning so much more than I remembered in my first few weeks of Spanish, back in 7th grade. I eased into it after a few weeks and got more comfortable. It helped that we were assigned homework each week to become more familiar with the material. I was definitely comfortable writing sentences when I had plenty of time and resources. It became harder a few weeks in when we were asked to think on the spot to create sentences in class, but if I am in a foreign country and need help (or a beer) quickly, I’m not going to have time to look everything up, so this was good practice.
Over Christmas break, we were assigned homework from our book and packet, but also to check out a French language film on Netflix and write a scene between two of the characters. I chose Amélie, which I’d never seen before, and loved it. I wrote a scene between Amélie’s mother and father about a garden gnome. The mother was quite mean to the father in the scene and others in the class reacted to her insults. My awesome professeur Leemore said, “You made people feel emotion in another language!” and I felt like I was finally getting it.
I tried to supplement my French by listening to Coffee Break French and the News in Slow French podcasts and by playing the Duolingo app on my phone, but I learned the most and the best from my Fluent City classes themselves.
What I struggled with the most was pronunciation. I kept wanting to say words how I would say them in Spanish. But in French, you don’t say the last letter or letters of the words unless they are followed by a vowel (or unless the word ends in c, r, f, or l – for the most part). Your “j” sounds like “g” and your “g” sounds like “j”. There are often several vowels in a row to figure out. There are weird characters on letters that don’t necessarily change the pronunciation of the word. The accents go every which way on the a , e, and o. And sometimes the C has a tail (Ç). I’d say a sentence aloud in class and be asked to repeat certain words and become flustered. I found several times where I would hear a word and then repeat it, thinking I was saying what I’d just heard but realizing that everyone else heard it in a different way. I definitely have improved, but I still have a long way to go.
Luckily, I’m not stopping with French 1. That’s right, I loved this class and whatever part of my brain it awakened so much that I am starting French 2 next week. I’ll also get to practice in real life with my family’s trip to the Guadeloupe Islands in avril which I’m so excited for, for the sun, the beaches, and the volcano, but also for the opportunities to speak français!
À bientôt & xx
Merci beaucoup to Fluent City for the special rate. Opinions are always my own.
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Love this, Erin! My French is not up to much, but I took it all the way through high school, so when we went to Puerto Rico I had the opposite problem to you – I kept pronouncing the Spanish words as if they were some weird mix of French and English!
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Haha! That means together, you & I could do well in any Spanish or French speaking country!
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