New Year’s Resolution: Learning to Speak French


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So you’ve decided to take French lessons. Maybe you just like the sound of the language or maybe you’ve visited France in the past and been frustrated by not being able to understand what’s being said. Maybe you just want to be able to pronounce ‘bouillabaisse’ when you see it on a menu in a French restaurant. Whatever the motivation, I can only tell you this, watch out! Taking French lessons can take you to all sorts of places you may never have imagined. It may even change your life.

Here are some of the things that happened to me because I decided to take a college program abroad at the Sorbonne in Paris rather than the logical choice, Salamanca, Spain after having studied Spanish for three years in high school. Because I spoke some French, I was asked to translate for French film directors when they came to New York city. It was pretty embarrassing (because my French wasn’t so good in those days – it still needs work) but especially when I learned that the directors usually understood English perfectly well.

When my future husband learned that I spoke French, he suggested looking for a place to live in France – if I had only learned Spanish, who knows? Maybe we’d be living in Spain instead.

One thing I can guarantee you about studying French is that the lesson is never over. Even though I’ve been communicating in French for over twenty years, there’s always more to learn, but when you get to the point when you can listen to a conversation and actually understand most of it – that’s an exhilarating moment. Depending on how good you are at learning new languages, this can take six months – or it can take ages. This isn’t meant to discourage you, but don’t give up – whatever happens.

What are the benefits of learning French?

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One of the benefits of tackling the French language is being able to enjoy some of Paris’s entertainment which demands a knowledge of the language. You’ll want to go to La Comedie Francaise, which is comparable to London’s globe theater. Watching actors perform the traditional works of Moliere in such a setting is a real treat just to hear the same works that entertained Louis XIV at Versailles. You can go to all the movies in town – and all those bookstores – are suddenly accessible. As a beginning French student in Paris, one of the most frustrating things was walking past bookstore after bookstore, knowing that the language was still beyond my reading level.

Should I take Group Classes or Hire a private Tutor?

If you’re considering French lessons, you can start off by taking some free adult education courses in your hometown to get a basic foundation. I would recommend doing this before opting for personal instruction. Tutoring one on one doesn’t give you as much immersion as being in a classroom setting with the energy of a group – you’ll find that it’s easier to maintain your motivation especially if you develop a good group rapport for mutual support. This is a case where power in numbers really works for language building. There will always be others in the classroom that will do better than you – just like in the real life setting of France – where everyone speaks the language better than you do.

My second suggestion is that you take lessons AT LEAST twice a week if at all possible in the beginning. Eventually, you’ll want to sign up for a summer French course in France – or if you can attend for six months, that’s even better. There are tons of language schools in Paris and throughout France. If you want to get college credit in the U.S. for a French language program, contact the university or college where you intend on finishing up your college degree program. Unfortunately, some schools are not so generous about transferring college credits from one university to another. I discovered this the hard way.

The program I chose was Central College ‘s Year Abroad program for American students at the Sorbonne. The Sorbonne is part of the University of Paris. This was a total immersion course known as the Cours de Langue et Civilisation Francaises. My experience with Central College’s Program Abroad was excellent and I’d definitely recommend the program for students who want to go to France for six months or a year. I actually liked it so much I came back for a second year.
Alliance Francaise also teaches French language courses in the Montparnasse area. Both of these programs are well established, but there are plenty more from which to choose.

Am I too old to learn a new language?

There’s no age limit on learning a language. Granted it gets harder to remember all the verb tenses as you get older, but good motivation can make up for any difficulties you may have – even if you think you’re not so good at learning languages.

I still haven’t told you what the best part of learning French is – making French friends. Parislogue readers know I’ve said this in the past – and it still remains true. Being in Paris is all about conviviality – go into any cafe – and people are talking. Even if they’re alone, they’ll be talking on their cell phones because conversation is the essence of French life. It’s more important than food. Believe me. You may not consider yourself to be big on talk – you’re the strong silent type. So, you may even surprise yourself when you discover how the language will coax you out of your shell.

Once in a conversation with foreign students studying in Paris, one of our Guinean friends explained it this way, “English is the language for business.” “French is the language for politics and love.” (Maybe if there’s any Italian speakers out there, they may disagree), but I would definitely have to say that French is a great language for flirtation – but that’s a subject for a future post. To be continued.