I often beat myself up for not being fluent after being here for nearly 2 years. Only the other week I left my French lesson feeling totally demoralised. I frequently come away internally wailing to myself “how am I ever going to be fluent?” It’s not like I don’t try really hard. I do lots to improve my French and you can read all about it here. After I confided to a fellow lesson goer that I’m not really enjoying the lessons, he replied very matter of fact “You’re not meant to enjoy them! No one enjoys them!”
I also bemoaned this fact to someone in my Zumba Class. She has been living in France on and off since 2014 but more recently full-time. She is availing of the pole emplois’s 100 hours of intensive, free French lessons 4 x a week. However, she said exactly the same thing – “I am so demoralised”. I replied that her French was very good but, just like me, she wailed “no it’s not!”. It’s funny isn’t it? How we all pick each other up but rarely ourselves.
But then today, it suddenly occurred to me, that there are some real benefits to speaking bad French. Really? Yes! And you never know one day I may miss these days. These may not be “the lost years” after all as I like to call them. Maybe they really are the “hilarious years”. Without further ado, here’s my way of making myself feel better…
My Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Speak Bad French
1. It’s hilarious. Yes, I am a massive source of entertainment to my family and indeed myself. Not only that, Mr Normandy also comes out with some right corkers which have us doubled up sometimes. We now have a back catalogue of French gaffes that often come out to visiting friends and family. I have already written about my brushes with my doctor and other gems I come out with. Not to mention calling up Jardiland to ask when “Pierre Noel” was coming to town. This caused the lady on the other end to laugh so much she was still laughing when she hung up. Not only am I laughed at by my family, I also bring unexpected joy to the receiver of my bad French. Spreading laughs around Normandy – can’t be bad can it?
2. You get off lightly. For example, the other day after a nearby village’s post office was raided, the police were stopping cars in our village. The Gendarmes stepped into the middle of the road and was about to stop my car – realising where my steering wheel was – they didn’t bother. They automatically assumed they would have talk to an illiterate Anglaise and thought better of it. Result. I never carry the original Carte Grise in my car in case it gets torched or stolen. So I was able to drive off with the takings of the post office. I’m joking if a real life Gendarme is reading this. Likelihood = very slim.
Not only that, if the person is struggling to get where you’re coming from they give in/ back down as they are exhausted. Not as much as me I might add. The French don’t like to have a go at working out what you’re trying to say.
Whereas I do think us Brits will for quite a while – they see it as a bit of challenge to undertake. We’ll be like what is it like? Sounds like? Another word? Is it this? The French are quick to give up on you and thus give you want you want. For example, my son bought some football boots – he realised that the other one wasn’t in the box when we got home. Great.
French shops are notorious for not giving you a refund or just generally not having the UK attitude that the customer is king. We drove back to the shop – in my head I’m trying to construct the whole what’s happened. Upon entering the shop, I tried to explain to the lady what I had conjured up in my free style French. She was struggling with my accent and the whole me standing there with one football boot. After a nano second she was like yeah do what ever you need to do. Turns out the boot was actually at home and now we need a 3 legged footballer.
This worked for me only today when I phoned the tax office to get a log in code for their website. I need this to access another government website – for the love of god! I went freestyle. I like doing this. I did have google translate but the big words weren’t working so I just did my 6 year old version and she did get most of it but she was wilting fast. Her colleague in the background said he had the email (that he hadn’t been too fussed about before) and they would send me the details. Literally, 5 mins later I had the prize. See it works!
3. I can embarrass my children with ease. When we first arrived in France they weren’t helping me out for love nor money. They would watch we shrivel up and die in word order hell before they would even contemplate helping me out. Only after leaving places would they tell me what I had said – you know like one of those programmes where they put what an English person has said in French.
But who’s had the last laugh? Me that’s who. Now, I think I’m rocking the language they can’t bear to listen to my pronunciation. They even do the French screwed up face when I’m talking. So not only is the French person chewing a wasp so are my own children. To save them dying of shame and embarrassment they quickly ask “what do you want to say?!” and then do it better.
4. You look like you’re a really good listener and calm person. A patient person. I am none of these things. I have to come clean. I lack punctuation. When I talk I flit between subjects and expect the person to fully understand that we’ve moved onto and I’m talking about something else. An established friend of mine often says “what are we talking about now?!” Whereas my old friend is so used to it she doesn’t need any grammar. So here in France, you have to listen and listen hard to what’s being said. I have perfected my – ah ha, oui, mmmm face so much so the talker actually genuinely believes I am getting all of it. Of course, I’m only getting 85%, not bad you might say, only the 15% is the key part and normally the most crucial. When they do cotton on to the fact that you haven’t understood much – you’ve already won them around. They quite like you, as in France, it’s not considered the height of bad manners to talk over someone – it is deemed as normal. When you’re not doing that it can work wonders.
5. People are really kind to you. They take pity on you and go that extra mile to help you. So many French people do this to me. In fact, the English that can’t speak French after living here for 20 years help me out massively! So please continue to watch BBC Iplayer and not learn French. When they hear me speaking they tell me about “l’anglais” not speaking a word of French and are totally impressed with my pathetic attempts. They are then super nice and kind. People explain things to you in more detail and genuinely want to make sure you have understood the process. This works for me!
So there you have it, my Top 5 reasons why speaking bad French does have many benefits. Clearly you must have a certain level but if you can progress to bad French, then the French world is your oyster. However, today I spoke French to a consultant which all my English friends said spoke perfect English – not a word of English left his lips. He had to listen to me and the bad French. Maybe it’s not so bad after all…?
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