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Posts tagged ‘France’

Pardon My English

I came to Paris without having studied French other than a month or so before I left. Before then, my knowledge of French didn’t extend much beyond silly phrases from childhood cartoons– such as this:

We all loved this guy back in the day...

We all loved this guy back in the day…

I think it would be informative for me as well for others for me to recount what methods are working for me and which ones are not.

If you or someone you know is trying to learn another language, particularly French, then perhaps you’ll find this useful– and also, I’d love to hear from you.

What I have found to make this process difficult is the following:

Paris is inundated with English.

Paris is a #1 tourist destination and receives something around 20 or so million visitors per year. In result, English is everywhere. It’s the language of business and commerce, and therefore, it is the language world. Most locals and tourists can speak decent English and often use it on  a daily basis. This is great when you’re a tourist visiting for a few days, but not when you’re trying to learn French while living in Paris. The French immediately pick up your accent and will often switch to English.

However, I will not pin this as rude. I’ve read quite a number of blogs or heard accounts of people being offended when the French switch to English. If you visit and this happens to you, don’t take offense. It’s not because they don’t like your accent, it’s because they’re trying to accommodate you and they’re probably excited to practice English too. Just keep replying in French. If it’s someone you’re comfortable with or know personally, then ask them to speak to you in French.

On a related note, don’t feel intimidated to speak French (this is an issue I battled with everyday as well). Immediately address people here in French– and always precede your encounters by greeting them with “bonjour.” It means a lot to them for you to at least take a stab at French while asking for directions, even if you’re awful at it. (Which is another topic I’d like to address in the future.)

Before I left for Paris, I heard many stories about Parisians being rude and criticizing foreigners’ French. I’ve yet to feel any criticism or judgment. Yes, I have witnessed some confused expressions from those who couldn’t make sense out of whatever I managed to garble out. I honestly think that most feelings of being judged derive from one’s own lack of confidence.

Worst case scenario involves me giving up and apologizing. I often say (in French), “I’m sorry. I still learning French.” And that often eases the situation.

But really, English is everywhere.

Right now, I’m writing this article in a Starbucks in Opèra. They’re playing Christmas music– in English of course, and I’m referring to all the classics and contemporary renditions: Frank Sinatra to Michael Bublé. I feel more up-to-date on American cinema than I’ve been in the past few years. Most films are available in “V.O.” or “Version Originale” with French subtitles. Furthermore, going to the movies here is much cheaper, so I enjoy it much more often than I used to back home.

All in all, if you’d like to learn French in Paris, go for it! It’s available as long as you’re disciplined– but if you want to learn English too, that’s plenty available.

In my opinion, most key factors to learning a language, derive from motivation and discipline. I don’t care what articles are out there ranking how difficult one language is compared to another. I don’t agree with them. If you’re motivated and disciplined enough to learn, then you will learn.

In my past 3 months, I’ve picked up so much more French than I’ve expected to– and I want to share my tips and resources with everyone because I think I’ve found some great stuff that’s helpful! So for the next few weeks, I’ll be posting about this subject.

In the meantime, here are the simplest, yet most essentials tips. For anyone who has researched the best ways to learn a language, you’ve heard this over and over again, but my experience so far prove them to be axiomatic.

1. Stay disciplined. Study and practice every day.

2. Incorporate all facets of comprehension and production on a daily basis: listening, reading, speaking, and writing.

3. Go out of your comfort zone. Walk around and meet other people who only speak that language and make friends. You may spend a long time struggling to communication, but nothing expedites the process faster than immersion.

Serendipity While Sitting at the Train Station

Perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects about traveling or living in a new place is how– no matter what obstacles or mishaps occur– things always seem to turn out alright.

In the 2nd week of arriving in Paris, (and I mentioned this in a previous post) I managed to take 2 hours to get home. Why? Because my last train home that I had originally planned on taking was cancelled due to a strike.

For a local (and now, even me), this is not a big deal. There are plenty of other ways to get home. You can take a taxi, walk, ride a bike, or take a bus. But when you’re a 23 year old American girl who just arrived in a brand new country with no money, friends, or french vocabulary in order to get home, you start to get a little anxious.

Fast-forwarding through the stumbled, mucked-up Franglish conversation that I had at 1am with the info kiosk, I found the night bus that I needed to take home. However, now I am standing alone at a bus stop at 1:30 in the morning, surrounding by a bunch of people that I don’t know and I cannot strike up conversation with because I can’t say anything beyond “Hello” and “how are you,” let alone, “is this right bus? Would you happen to know which stop I need to get off at to get home?”

And of course, this is the part of story where I manage to meet a very nice stranger named Peterson who speaks English. He asks me, “you’re not from here?” Nope. I’m not. Apparently, it’s that obvious. I probably looked stressed out.

Peterson helps me get on the right bus, and he lets the driver know that I’m foreign and new, and that I’ll need him to tell me which stop to get off from. Meanwhile while at the bus stop, we have good conversation– and he even teaches me some French. Unfortunately, I don’t have a phone, but I figured “Hey! Potential new friend! Can I have your e-mail address? We can strike up a deal for some language exchange.” That night, I am not more indebted to anyone than Peterson, who went out of his way to help me get home .

But sadly, I lost his e-mail address.

 

Let’s cut to about 7 weeks later. I’m a pro at taking the train, bus, AND metro home. Lost? Psh. Please. I finally know what I’m doing. One night, I am boarding the train home at platform 13 to catch the 22:35 ride back. I sit and sit and sit on this train and it doesn’t move. Also, no one else is sitting on this train. It’s now 22:35– what’s going on?

I look to my left and this is what I see: my actual train leaving from platform 13. I accidentally boarded the train on platform 14 and somehow didn’t notice. C’est la vie. So now it’s time to get off of the train I’m sitting on, and walk back down to the lobby area to wait for the next train home.

How on earth did I manage to miss my train when I arrive 15 minutes before its departure? How did I manage to not deduce from the empty car that perhaps I am NOT on the right train? And how on earth did I manage to read “Voie 14” and I think, “yep, platform 13. That’s my train, right there.”

I will probably never know.

At this point, I am slightly irritated. I am tired and I just want to go home. I sit down on my bench and start at the list of departures waiting for my 23:05 train to announce it’s platform. I have stuffed my headphones into my ears and am listening to some kind of music so that I don’t have to talk to strangers because tonight, I’m not just in the mood.

Apparently the person sitting on the bench to right of me begs to differ.

I can barely make him sight of him, but my peripheries do catch sight of someone waving at me to try and catch my attention. I ignore it.Sorry pal, but tonight is not your night. I’m tired and exhausted from being sick, and I want to go home. Nope, wave all you want; I’m going to continue to ignore you.

Ugh, okay fine. I’ll look and see what the hell you want from me.

It’s Peterson! Nothing could have perked up my night more. 7 weeks later, a lost e-mail, and an absent-minded, unintentionally made choice to sit on the wrong train allowed me to run into Peterson again. What are the odds of that?

Probably higher than I think– but for that moment, the serendipity was too sweet to spoil with statistics.

Photogenics: Père des pigeons

“Only the tourists feed the pigeons.”

That’s what I’ve been told– and yes, it seems to be true– and I’m sure it’s true for other places besides Paris. If I remember correctly, a friend of mine from New York City said they call them rats with wings.

Parisians love to picnic when the weather permits so– or rather, it begs so. So far, Paris in the summer and early autumn is absolutely divine… but pigeons pecking at your baguette or cooing nearby for crumbs can be quite irksome.

However, when I first arrived, I was walking alone the Seine near île de la Cité when I noticed this man feeding pigeons from his balcony. Unfortunately, I did not manage to snag a shot of a pigeon perched on his hand, but I swear this happened. He caught my eye with a pigeon perched on his thumb. To me, I thought he must be  a local living in the high balcony; I presume that there must be some kind of routine involved in being able to entice a bird onto his arm.

Pére des pigeons

I found the moment to be quaint, and it added to the picturesque setting that I was already saturated in, so I had to pull out my camera and try to snap the moment– and furthermore, it’s my proof that not only tourists feed the pigeons.

Photogenics: Graffiti at Sunset

Graffiti on Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf in the evening overlooking the Seine with fresh graffiti along the locks of love.