Learning French From a Local

There are definite advantages to having learnt to speak French by listening to a local, rather than from a book.

For one, my French is happily devoid of textbook clichés (oh la vache – anyone?) and I’ve learnt far more practical things than how to conjugate irregular verbs.

I can speak fluently and be understood in most situations, even if I don’t know the exact word for something, I can usually talk around it long enough for people to get the picture – case in point, at the pharmacie, trying to buy eye drops for hayfever:

C’est une maladie qui ne vient pas tout l’annee. J’ai les yeux qui piquent. J’ai l’impression qu’il y a toujours quelque chose dans mes yeux mais il n’y a rien – donc je veux un truc pour mettre dedans pour que je me sente mieux.”

Possibly the most useful phrases I ever learnt were quelque chose and truc basically, something and a thing. Perfect replacement words for almost any situation.

But of course, there are distinct negatives that occur when you copy the expressions of a native speaker. For instance, for a long time I assumed bordel was the exact translation for mess, and would happily use it to describe my hair at the hairdressers, or to discuss the traffic between Paris and Lille with Max’s grandparents. Only later was it explained to me that it comes from the word bordello or brothel. Not ideal.

I also say ca ne marche pas when something doesn’t work. It actually translates as it doesn’t walk – and is incorrect in French as well.

More than that, as I practised French with Max’s roommates, colleagues and friends, I became flawless in the use of the tu form of verbs – and absolutely useless when it comes to the formal or plural vous form. Which means when speaking to someone important or older than me, I usually do a mix of vous and tu and invent a version of the verb that works with neither form.

Bah, c’est la vie! (Now there’s a textbook cliché for you!)

______________

Frenchtextbook image courtesy of alexmontjohn on Flickr.
Pharmacy image courtesy of Foomandoonian on Flickr.
C’est la vie image courtesy of YAZMDG 12,700 images on Flickr.

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