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How do you live in France without speaking French?


Kitty

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Having needed my French today several times (to write an important note to my son's school teacher, to negotiate buying a car, to speak to the bank manager, to head off an unwarranted telesales call, to ask the floor tiler to remove his accumulated rubbish), I was wondering how anyone can live here without speaking the language. 

How do you manage?

 

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Hi Cathy... by having a great deal of patience! [:$]

My French has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 7 months but I often feel the more I learn the more I realise how much I don't know!  At the moment I use my dictionary a great deal and have a smaller version that fits in my bag... I smile a great deal, make fun of my French and ask for help.  If I know I am going to have a particular conversation I look up some useful phrases and words before I start... such as "and where will the soak-away go if the fosse is going there"  [:D]  it's just not the kind of thing you learn during the lessons in the UK!

I am taking lessons here and I try to learn new words every day and I practice at every and any opportunity... and I've got over feeling embarrased and just go for it now... the lady in our village shop is great as she is often happy to 'chat' with me and she corrects me when I go wrong... today we talked about my old home town and I ended up trying to explain how it was an important town in Roman times... (why!!! [blink])  how we managed to get there I dont know but we did!!! [:-))]

But even with the French I have I get really cross with myself for not learning fast enough or knowing enough.  I just can't imagine living here and not gaining a better grasp and understanding... and it would be good to talk in a tense other than the present...I'm learning this at the moment but it's not easy is it! [:$] [:D]

 

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[:)]   I speak rotten French but I at least try.   The effort is more appreciated than from someone who simply shouts slowly  in English expecting others to make the effort to comply to the demands of the incomer.  (Yes I have seen him in Intermarche bellowing at the cashier).   I have said it before on another topic that this is what causes indignation and offence in the UK, where there are incomers who make no efforts to integrate or learn the language and live in their own communities for twenty years or more without knowing a solitary word of English.  It is a barrier between people.  Frenchie, you have a friend who lives here and speaks no French whatsoever do you not?   One who relys on you to sort everything out for him?

Therefore I may crunch a few subjunctives like changing gear without a clutch, but I am making the effort and I think I can be understood as at least I have not ordered too much sable and ciment........ yet!! 

For me every day brings a new word or phrase and I am happy to learn it.  Its not easy but if I want to live here then the onus is on me to integrate with the community - not vice versa.   

 

 

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By asking a mate who speaks French to do all the complicated stuff for them.[Www] 

Seriously, different people cope in different ways.  I know two couples here, both of whom I knew before I moved here.  One has made some really good friends amongst the locals and after initially communicating in sign language, they now seem to understand an amazing amount of French, and the locals help them out whenever they can.

The other couple just never bothers (I know - because we've been friends for nearly 40 years - that this is from shyness as much as anything else so I'm willing to help out) and gets me to do all the complicated stuff.  I'm forever trying to encourage them to learn at least the basics - as I might not be around forever.

I'm not French, Briezh, but my o/h subscribes to that theory too!

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This is still supposition until those that the thread was aimed at respond, but.........................

In my experience they do not really appreciate that they have a problem. 

Whenever thay relate having had any of the daily difficulties that the OP mentioned they never say - "if only I could speak some/better French" - but always say (with to my ears a tone of surprise or indignation)

"THEY DIDN'T SPEAK ANY ENGLISH"[:D]

There have been comments just like that in several recent threads. 

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Being brutally honest it must be difficult for people who don't have the support network which we have. Any questions we ask one my wife's family there is a policeman, a politician, a builder, a banker, etc, even for my wife it is not easy getting through French bureaucracy, language is only part of the issue. Dominique has the same problems you all have!!
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Easy , peasy.

1. Just expect the utility companies e.g. FT to provide an English speaking helpline

2. Speak slowly and ever more loudly in English at the stallholders on the markets

3. Handover giant denomination notes in shops while grinning in a moronic fashion

4. Only deal with British "builders"

5. Never complain over lack of SAV (what that, Ed ?) with the seller/manufacturer just whinge on to other Daily Mail readers in quaint local bar/tabacs

6. When all else fails move back to UK (there's no place like home, is there ?) bragging about how much profit has been made thanks to collapse of GBP

etc.

John

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[quote user="Rose"]My French has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 7 months but I often feel the more I learn the more I realise how much I don't know! [/quote]

I think this is the biggest single barrier to learning French. The more you learn the more you realise what an enormous task it is and for many people the task is just overwhelming.

My theory is that after your first language lesson you know 100% more than you did before you started and it makes you feel a real sense of achievement. After your 2nd lesson you know perhaps 95% more than you did at the end of your first lesson - still quite an achievement. After the 3rd it's perhaps 90% more than at the end of the 2nd. After the 4th, the 5th, the 6th etc the achievement become less and as time goes on you often seem to get to the point where you feel you're making no progress whatsoever. This is why language classes are full to begin with because people are optimistic and feel they're achievening something but after a while they start dropping out because their sense of achievement diminishes as it slowly dawns on them how much they still have to learn.

I think if you accept the fact that you will never stop learning (as is also the case with your native tongue) and appreciate what small steps you make on a daily basis then you'll crack it.

Richard T

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Hi Richard... I think what you say is spot on.  For me, not learning the language just isn't an option (OH says it's because I talk a lot!) and when I feel I'm struggling I just think back to where I was and how far I've come.  I'm reading and writing about things I simply wouldn't have achieved this time last year.  But as you say the lessons get harder and harder and I can imagine how for some it just seems like an uphill struggle... [blink]

I'm going to continue and I'll follow your advice of accepting that I will always be learning... and yes that goes for English too... only recently I had to have lessons on how to text and msn correctly by our 15 year old! [:D]

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And, like it or not, new things just don't "stick" the way they did a few years ago....

But there's a massive gap between those who have a go, and those who (and they exist) just seem to manage without.  Like our o/p, I just don't know how they survive, but clearly many do (perhaps using Iceni's steps?)

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I am trying very hard to learn French, not easy at the moment as I am still in the UK and struggle to find a class that doesn't close after a few weeks when everyone else loses interest!![blink] I allways try in French first, even if it ends up with us using sign language/english[8-)]!! As I do think it is appreciated that at least you are trying.[:D]

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[quote user="Iceni"]

Easy , peasy.

1. Just expect the utility companies e.g. FT to provide an English speaking helpline

2. Speak slowly and ever more loudly in English at the stallholders on the markets

3. Handover giant denomination notes in shops while grinning in a moronic fashion

4. Only deal with British "builders"

5. Never complain over lack of SAV (what that, Ed ?) with the seller/manufacturer just whinge on to other Daily Mail readers in quaint local bar/tabacs

6. When all else fails move back to UK (there's no place like home, is there ?) bragging about how much profit has been made thanks to collapse of GBP

etc.

John

[/quote]

 

You forgot the most important

Find an expat who can speak some French, then enlist them to help you out, constantly asking them to become involved in disputes, and then blame them when something goes wrong.  

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I wonder this too, Cathy, but appreciate that learning a new language as an adult, often 30 or 40 years after leaving school, must be very difficult indeed. I studied French to A Level and then did one year at university before specialising in German. This means it's over 40 years since I was actually taught any French and it's amazing how rusty I became, even with 8 years of learning the language under my belt.  In the 5 years since we found our second home in France, I've knocked some of the rust off and am finding the grammar and vocabulary coming back more with each visit, but I'm still not really fluent in conversation. But I can manage to make phone calls in French after a fashion, write letters to recalcitrant utility companies and tax offices (with much use of dictionary and French spell-checker) and pass the time of day and I'm hopeful that with longer visits now I'm retired my spoken French will begin to improve more rapidly. Above all it's fun trying and our French neighbours and acquaintances really appreciate us doing so.

 

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[quote user="Boiling a frog"]

You forgot the most important

Find an expat who can speak some French, then enlist them to help you out, constantly asking them to become involved in disputes, and then blame them when something goes wrong.  

[/quote]

No BaF - those who use the 1 - 6 method above would not mix with anyone who knows any French, considering them NQOCD.

John

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[quote user="Rose"]

 when I feel I'm struggling I just think back to where I was and how far I've come.  I'm reading and writing about things I simply wouldn't have achieved this time last year.  But as you say the lessons get harder and harder and I can imagine how for some it just seems like an uphill struggle... [blink]

I'm going to continue and I'll follow your advice of accepting that I will always be learning... and yes that goes for English too... 

[/quote]

That is exactly how I feel Rose, Its hard isnt it? But every time I grasp some thing new or remenber and use a word when I need it , it feels so good and that is what keeps me going,

Also when Im close to tears of fustration over a part of my home work I know I can turn to you lot on here and some one will point me in the right direction, its a big help....[:)]

I could not imagine living in france without some lanuage skills , I ended up having a good laugh with a worker in  a builder suppliers after ordering some stuff , what we were laughing at Im not sure [8-)] him at my french and me at the sheer relieve at the fact he understood me ..... but it felt good     

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When I first got here I worked in a company teaching business English and there were several people there who spoke little or no French.  They got on admirably, they got somebody from the company to give them a hand setting up, bank account and so on, but then it was all go.  I was in a big city, and I think it is possibly easier to live in an expat community, also you go to the supermarket and buy what you want, you go clothes shopping the same, it is like when you go on holiday somewhere and you don't speak the languague.  These people were not coming to France to live forever, they didn't have kids, it was just an experience.  They got something out of it, I think it was a good experience for them and they have probably moved on now, and why not?  I suppose it really depends what you come for!

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Ah, the question that pops up every so often, sometimes posed from the standpoint of somebody who feels that nobody has the right to just bumble along without worrying overmuch about the need to (another favourite) integrate. Note the word underlined.

Very often I am prompted to respond in my own way which others on the forum I fully accept find difficult to understand.  I do this because I believe there may be others on the forum that look but don't like to put a similar answer to mine because others then gang up to condemn them.  Luckily I ran a not brilliantly successful business for thirty years which was long enough to grow a thick enough skin not to worry too much about much in life other than to get by the best way you can.

When we came here 7 years ago I could hardly speak a word of French, but most af all lacked the courage to speak what few words I did know.  Now I know a few more but have the confidence to have a go in any situation.  A good dictionary and pre-planning with a translator programme and it's quite surprising how much can be achieved.

Many laughs can be had along the way, such as finding out recently that I had been asking after a neighbours bottom rather than her bad back, but her husband seemed to be amused the other evening when his wife explained the difference over dinner. 

Of course I would love to be able to engage my neighbours in real, in depth, conversations about life from years ago but I didn't know much about my next day neighbours in England.

Anyway I have been here permanently since 2001 not being able to speak the language fluently and cannot comprehend the notion of moving back to the UK as I love it here.

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I can understand how difficult it is for some people to learn a new language - Eddie still struggles. But as Weedon says, the main thing is to have a good dictionary and prepare in advance. Even if you don't know the correct pronunciation you can write down what you want to say. The thing I'm aiming for is to be able to understand french people's conversations, when they are just chatting. Sounds nosey, but I'm just getting into this, and it makes you realise that the french aren't all that different from the british. Similar worries and problems etc. So you don't feel like a stranger in a strange land. By the way, you do need a dictionary if you ever have to go into hospital here.[:(]
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I think there is a difference to be made between those who want to learn, even only for emergencies, and those who live in their own little enclave and have no desire to or need to learn.

I have met a couple who have been in France for nearly 3 years and are totally at ease living here with very very limited acquired language.

He goes to the café and nods enthusiastically at whatever is said, he says "oui! oui!" a lot and gets by with it...[:-))]

She goes into the shops and talks loudly and points a lot and thinks the whole thing is hilarious!

I have managed to avoid them for months... [:P]
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[quote user="Patf"]By the way, you do need a dictionary if you ever have to go into hospital here.[/quote]If anyone needs convincing of this, here's something I learned during a recent stay in hospital:

une bassine = a basin or bowl, e.g. for washing your hands

un bassin = (1) a pelvis; (2) a bedpan

I had forgotten to take a dictionary, and I found this out the hard way.  Still, it caused a certain amount of hilarity among the nurses.

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