With a three-week long trip to France looming in my near future, I’ve been cramming my head full of French grammar, French vocabulary, French idioms, and French verb conjugations (eagle-eyed readers may have noticed a few French language novels and study guides amongst my thirty-five pounds of library book sale treasures).
I love learning languages. Prior to Mr. Husband’s and my trip to Italy in 2010, I learned oodles of Italian. This did not come in handy when my jet-lagged brain couldn’t manage of word of Italian at the train station (we had missed our train), but did prove useful when having to converse with the non-English speaking owner of our vacation rental. Languages are fun and useful so, in preparation to going to non-English-speaking countries, I spend a good amount of time learning as much of the native language as I can.
Along with teach-yourself workbooks and reading as much in French as my poor brain can muster, I’ve been regularly tuning into Coffee Break French and News in Slow French for listening practice (albeit the free programs because I’m cheap) and doing the Pimsleur Language series to practice my pronunciation (this is often done on walks or while gardening, so I’m sure by now the fine folks in my neighborhood think I’m an absolute nutter who walks around muttering French to herself).
Unfortunately, Portland isn’t a hotbed of of French speakers so, while I have been able to communicate to the owners of my vacation rentals in written French (and I did have a dream in which I was yelling at someone in French), I have no one to torture with my spoken French.
Until last week!
Last week I had to go to the fabric store to find some item I needed to finish off a shirt I was working on. (Please don’t ask me what that item was because I honestly have no idea – see last Friday’s post for details of my new sewing adventures). While roaming the aisles I heard a couple women speaking in a foreign language. In my neck of the woods the most common foreign language is Russian, but as I got closer I realized I understood some of what they were saying.
Wait. Had I had a blow to the head I was unaware of that granted me knowledge of the Russian language? Feel head for lumps. Nope. Listen some more. Yes, those are definitely recognizable French words.
Then came a couple of problems. I wanted to say something, but 1) I HATE speaking to people I don’t know – if you look “introvert” up in the dictionary, you will see my picture, and 2) I’d never spoken French to anyone let alone real French people. Both of these were almost strong enough to have me fleeing from the store without picking up my mysterious sewing notion.
Deep breath. What could I say? What could I say? What do I know how to pronounce? Before I knew it, my mouth was blurting out, “Bon jour” with a mighty impressive “ooo” on the jour.
Oh god, they heard me! The ladies turned around, broad smiles on their faces (Of happiness, not as in they were laughing at me). I think they asked if I was French but at the same time I was asking, “Est-ce que vous etes francaises ou canadiennes?” They replied, “Francaises.”
They replied! They understood me! I resisted shutting at them in glee, “Vous me comprenez!” (You understand me!) because after all, these were French women and I needed to put on my cool face. My tres cool face, to be exact.
I managed to tell them (in French) that I was going to go to France in September (with an excellent nasally bit on the “septembre“) and I was happy to see no looks of horror on their faces at my pronunciation. After that my brain was on too much overload and we ended up speaking in English for the rest of the conversation.
Okay, it wasn’t like I was quoting Voltaire or even being brave enough to continue the conversation in French, but to speak to native speakers for the first time in a language I’ve never really spoken to another human being and to have what I said be understood, well let’s just say I left feeling proud of my little brain and am now eager to hunt down some other French people to talk to.
Now it’s your turn…Did you step out of your comfort zone over the past week? Go on, be brave and tell me all about it!