Parlez-vous français?

This week I began French lessons, taught by a parent from the girls’ school. There are five of us in the class, all parents of students at ISP. Prior to arriving in Paris, I learned a bit using Rosetta Stone. I used the Duolingo app for a while. I picked up a Berlitz book, French in Thirty Days (which I’ve had far longer than thirty days, but haven’t gotten even half-way through). But after only two lessons I’m already appreciating the virtue of having an actual teacher to learn proper pronunciation and to help make sense of certain features of grammar and syntax and spelling that were otherwise mysterious to me in my self-guided attempts at learning.

French is hard. I suppose learning any language is, when it comes down to it. And yet I’m seeing progress, especially in reading. I can make sense of most of the ads in the Metro. At a church in Colmar I was able to read with at least 90% comprehension a display recounting the convoluted history of the church as it passed back and forth between Protestant and Catholic control. And even on the train I can understand far more of the conductor’s announcements than I could when we’ve visited in the past. I’m managing simple encounters at the grocery and the boulangerie pretty well. But then someone will say something to me and the only thing I’m sure of is that it’s French coming out of their mouths. Sometimes my brain will manage to untangle a bit of what they’ve said and identify actual words, but often by then the moment has passed and we’ve already resorted to nods and pointing.

Some of the Americans I’ve met are getting by on remarkably little French skill. One has been here more than five years, living in the “expat bubble.” One described her language ability to me as “caveman French.” One mom from my class has been here two years with small children and is only now managing to take lessons.

That said, I’m looking forward to be able to engage more actual conversions in French that get beyond, “Bonjour, Madame! Je voudrai une baguette, s’il vous plaît. C’est bon. Merci beaucoup! Bonne journée!”


Laetitia, my French teacher, explaining yet more masculine and feminine forms for us to wrap our heads around.


My French homework, or I suppose I should say, “mon devoir de français” (I think that’s right…!)


2 thoughts on “Parlez-vous français?

  1. Good for you Matt. I know that learning more of the language will open up opportunities and possibilities but more importantly it will allow you to live this experience to the fullest. I look forward to hearing you talk away with strangers in June!


  2. Thanks! As much as I’m enjoying meeting other expats and grateful for every friendship I can make, I truly am hoping to be able to learn to be able to communicate meaningfully in French. That said, I’m heading out tonight to a small group meeting where we’ll be discussing Dallas Willard’s “The Divine Conspiracy”–something I wouldn’t be able to do in French, that’s for sure!


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