Transparent Language Blog

Confessions of a Native English Speaker Posted by on Aug 25, 2014 in Archived Posts

In my last post, I interviewed my wife Natalya. Natalya shared her language learning experiences as a Ukrainian native who left her country to settle in the United States.

Today, I’d like to share with you the same kind of interview I conducted with my mother. My mom, born and raised in California, moved to France with my father, a French native, in 1988. She relates her experiences and the challenges she faced as an expatriate living in a foreign country. This is her story…

How much French did you know when you first arrived in France?

I had taken a night course in conversational French at a local junior college.  My husband is French and his mother came to the U.S. every year for a one-month period.  She spoke no English at all so this forced me to use the little French that I knew.  I understood quite a bit but only spoke in the present tense and only used the informal (familiar) form.

How did you learn to speak French?

We moved to France in 1988 and upon my arrival I went to the University of Grenoble for six months to learn French with foreign students.  Thankfully I already had the basics of the French language because my husband is French and his mother came to visit often.

How long did it take you to become fluent in French?

I would not consider myself fluent because I still make mistakes in French.  But it helped tremendously that my husband is French so he could correct my errors.  I also checked out children’s books from the library.  That helped a lot in seeing how words were spelled that I had heard spoken.  

What did you find most challenging about learning French?

The conjugation of verbs, masculine and feminine forms and plural endings.  Also, the pronunciation was difficult since there are so many letters that are silent.    

Do you feel you still struggle with French?

No, I feel quite comfortable in the language.  If I don’t know how to construct a sentence in French one way, then I find another way to do it. 

Do you think in your native language or in French?

I think in my native language.  Though when visiting France I often think of a sentence in English and then translate it into French in my mind before speaking.  But after being in the country for a while French comes naturally (though I don’t think in French).  

What advice would you give someone who, like you, came to France from a foreign country without knowing how to speak French?

Learn the language as quickly as possible and as well as possible.  The French are not very tolerant of foreigners who speak French incorrectly (though they love the American accent).

What were some of your experiences learning a new language in a foreign country? Share your comments below!

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