Monday, April 7, 2014

French: The 5 phases of learning

A to Z challenge: Day 6

F is for learning French

French is a tough language to learn. It’s even harder to learn in Quebec, since there are so many different dialects to learn. Here’s what I have experienced trying to learn Canadienne-Français.

Step 1: Frenchifying English words

You passed high school French so how hard can it be to learn! I decided to add a French accent and put “le” in front of the word. I will go to «le store», ask for «l’orange» or «le banana»  (notice the French apostrophes??) This Pepe Le Pew approach to French tends to backfire. 

Like the time I was trying to find out if I could get bonded to start a business. I phoned up and asked if they had «une forme pour le bande.» I couldn’t understand why everyone just kept hanging up until I checked with someone who actually spoke the language. “Bandeur is slang for “hard-on.” After this experience, I signed up for Français lessons.



Phase 2: Wild enthusiasm

Early on in the course, your Français teacher will tell you the only way to become truly bilingual will be to immerse yourself completely. Watch French TV, listen to French radio, hang out only with French people, speak only French. At first you will do this. It will seem exotic and exciting. You will start out wildly enthusiastic and speak French at every opportunity. Like the time I decided to only parlez Française for an entire week.

I was at the grocery store and thought someone was asking for change. I shouted out «Je suis une dollar» while rummaging through my bag. (This means: I am a dollar.) The man in the store started inching his way out the door. «Attendez, Je suis un dollar!» I yelled at him while waving my arms. He ran from the store. My daughter rolled her eyes and said, “Mom, it’s «J'ai une dollar. » You know—I HAVE a dollar. The clerk asked if I needed change or would I like to remain at one dollar. I toned it down.

Phase 3: F**k, est difficile

Your enthusiasm fade as you realize learning a second language is work. This is normal. After the 150th someone replies « quoi » (French for WHAT ?), you will get discouraged. The 300th time a native Quebeckers looks at you, rolls their eyes and says «You can speak English, » you will start to feel ashamed of your poor French.

You accept no one will speak back to you in French until they can understand what you are saying. To reach that level you will have to conjugate all those friggin verbs and sort out all those horrible past and future tenses. You can no able ignore all those exceptions to the rule. You will get depressed and cry. Be strong! There is evidence that learning a second language can stop Alzheimer's. So consider this an investment into your future elderly brain. C’est merveilleux!

Phase 4 : Je parle Franglish

You have completed the entire cycle of Francization courses offered by the Quebec government. (So very kind of them to have these courses for non-Francophones.) Although the course promised you would be bilingual at its completion, you are not fluent. You know enough French to order beer at the local depanneur (corner store). You understand just enough French to answer the most basic questions and probably a great your accent for your phone number 

You will still not be able to count because you still add 60 + 20 for 80 or 80 + 10 for 90 and you remain confused. If you have worked very hard, you’ll be be able to argue with the obnoxious government tax agents who want more money from you. You still won’t understand any telephone messages left on your voicemail and if someone asks you a questions not covered in the course, you will look at them blankly. When someone speaks slowly you will be able to catch every third word and piece together a response. Just so you don’t appear to be recovering from stroke, do warn the other person with «J’ai parle Franglish. »  They will probably laugh and tell you they too speak Franglish. You will be able to have a conversation that is 1/3 English, 1/3 French and 1/3 pantomime. Congratulations, you speak Franglish.

Step 5 : Franglish and beyond

Perhaps you will remain content to bumble your way through living in Quebec speaking only Franglish. You will, of course, be missing out on the best of Quebec humour, culture and other wonderful things in this province. You may also miss out on dating some of the fine Quebec singles. So, keep pushing and learn more. Don’t arrêt! You’ve come this far.

With just a little more pain and suffering, someday you will be fully fluent. Then you can join the elite group of Anglophones who are fully bilingual and complain about those other Anglos who can’t speak Française. Ce qui ne va pas avec eux?


  1. Haha. Funny post! Learning French is really hard, that's why I stopped learning it when I was in school. :P

    I do speak German and English fluently though, none of which are my native tongue. So I can only agree that a lot of practice and perseverance will help! :D

    - Vero

  2. I am impressed. German is a tough one as well. What is your maternal language?