Being born and raised in Brazil, my native language is Brazilian Portuguese. Additionally, I’m also fluent in English and French. So far, I’m only one language short of becoming a polyglot. Until this happens, I’ll tell you how I got to learn French (a question people ask me frequently, and I love answering!)
My first steps to learning French
I knew that besides English, I wanted to learn French. I’m not sure where it came from, because we don’t learn French in schools in Brazil, only English or Spanish. But I knew then that I just loved how French speaking sounded.
When I had the opportunity to work as an au pair, I had no doubt: France, here I come! A couple of months before leaving, I tried learning the basics like colors, animals, and some greetings. Which of course, weren’t enough to give clear directions to two lovely girls who constantly tried to trick me because we didn’t understand each other.
During the first month, before my French classes started, I would write down every word and sentence I learned during the day or that I wanted to use, but had no idea how to say. I’d also read children’s books, which gave me some vocabulary and got me used to sentence structures, which helped me with my reading.
When the classes started, I took a test and I was placed with the most advanced students (the school only had two levels: A0/A1 and A2, the latter was the one I was placed in). My classes were in the mornings and I’d get back home and study for another 5 hours. This helped me to be one step in front of the rest of the class as I had all my questions ready to be asked.
The mistakes along the way
When I first arrived in France, I had decided to study by myself. I started by memorizing the present tense verbs of “être” and “avoir”. Mission accomplished, my next step was to memorize the past tense. But I had no idea which one to begin with and I chose the “passé simple”. After all, it was the simple one, right? WRONG! The “passé simple” is not used in a day to day conversation between friends and family, but rather in old literature. It’d be the same as speaking English learned from Shakespeare.
For me, the pronunciation was the hardest part of learning the language. The “r” and the “e” sounds were completely new to me, and it took some time for my facial muscles to move the way they needed to. Because of the way I said “r” wrongly, I have a funny story to tell you. There was a Portuguese lady called Rita who would clean the house once a week. One night during dinner I asked them if she was coming in the morning. They couldn’t understand me. I repeated it three more times when they finally said “ooooh, you mean Rrrrrrita?” and I was like “it’s exactly what I said”. Then I learned that my Portuguese “r” sounded just like and English “h”, so for the French I was saying “Ita” and they didn’t know any “Ita”.
How I keep on learning
French is still very dear to my heart, but I know it’s a tricky one. If you don’t practice, you’ll lose the most accurate accent. Or you’ll forget how to say simple words like “parapluie” or be lost when trying to conjugate something in the subjunctive. To avoid this, my favorite thing is to participate in our Alors... conversation club. I also learn a lot from our members, and I love the sense of collaboration I get with one another.
When I feel I need to prepare for a day of French speaking, I listen to “Le Français avec Fluidité” podcast. It’s short and very interesting, and I realize that after only one episode my pronunciation is already better.
Because I love reading, French books are my way to go. And since I’m only two floors away from the library with the biggest private French collection in the U.S., I take full advantage of this. If you want to know if we have a book you’re looking for, you can search our catalog here.
I love sharing my story, and I love hearing about how you got to learn French as well. I’d love to hear more stories. If you want to share yours, please send an email to email@example.com and we’ll have it posted here on our blog.
Bruna first joined the Center as a member, looking for an opportunity to practice French and to be around French culture. She is now thrilled to be the Membership Manager and to provide members with the amazing experience she was previously able to enjoy herself. She is a native Portuguese speaker who, by the age of eight, knew she wanted to be multilingual someday. Working at the French Library now seems like a dream come true.