Parlez-vous Français?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Lazy Learners.”

I was rubbish at French lessons at school.  The teacher was completely uninspiring and we’d sit in rows ploughing through the exercises in the ‘Tricolour’ text books with pictures of ‘Jean-Claude’ and ‘Marie-Clair’ most of which had been amusingly defaced by some equally uninspired student in the years gone by. My ignorant 13 year old self would wonder why I would ever need to learn this impossible language. Besides I was far too shy to attempt to speak it publicly.

One girl in my class intrigued me. Confident, beautiful and fluent in French. This could have made her teacher’s pet, instead she’d often rush in to class late, plonk herself down in the back row with a charming apology (in French, naturally) and proceed to entertain the cool kids with tales of her latest exploits. Half listening to the lesson, yet always able to answer correctly the questions asked of her. Much to the annoyance of the teacher.

Fast forward a couple of years and this beautiful girl who I had long admired from a far was fast becoming my best friend. Her French mother had raised her to be perfectly bilingual and she spent the endless summers of childhood in the Southwest of France. This far off foreign land sounded so glamorous – so distant.

Fast forward 10 years and I’m standing along side my friend in this same French town that she has now made her permanent home. We’re in a church overlooking the ocean and she’s marrying her French husband, who doesn’t speak a word of English. I’m their bridesmaid and yet I’ve never had a proper conversation with the man my best friend has chosen to spend the rest of her life with.

Of course I’d bought a phrase book and could recall various words and phrases from my school days, but I longed to be able to converse in this language, to not have to rely on my friend to translate.

Over the years I have enrolled in many French courses and on paper I’m a much better French speaker than I was. I can follow conversations – just, but I am still over come with an almost crippling shyness when it comes to speaking to french speakers, despite assurances that they won’t laugh in my face if I get something wrong, or worse, just stare blankly at me without a clue as to what I’ve said. Strangely I’m practically fluent when I try my French out on the children!

My friend has gone on to have two daughters who are also bilingual. This has not been without challenges for my friend and the girls, but it has been totally worth it. My children adore them and it inspired us all to take up French lessons…again.

My learning is very much an on/off affair.  I’m always inspired to learn when I’m in France, once again struggling with conversation. Back home again and life gets in the way. Sadly our French teacher is unwell and the lessons have had to stop. Yet again, we’re back where we started. Oh well, I suppose I could revisit that online course I started sometime last year…



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