My love of speaking French started a very long time ago! I was lucky enough to have an elementary school teacher who taught us French. Mrs. Tully was a native of Algeria - a French Algerian, who had met her English husband while he was stationed there. I loved to hear her talk, whether in French or heavily accented English. I had not appreciated how strange it must have been for her to be transported from North Africa to northeastern England - where we certainly had our own dialect, which I spoke at school, but not at home - children just want to blend in and so language acquisition is second nature. Hearing some French from an early age, about 6, ignited something in me - I did not know what I wanted to ‘be’, but I was fascinated by other languages and wanted to learn.
Our first summer holiday in France took us on the car ferry from Weymouth, in Dorset on the south coast of England to Cherbourg, on the Normandy coast. We camped at Hauteville-sur-mer, le camping would have had a little shop and a swing set. My parents said we (kids) should take it in turns to walk to the boulangerie to buy the bread each morning. As the youngest, I was last to take a turn, but at 7 years old, my oldest brother needed to go with me (he was all of 11). I practiced the phrase my Dad had taught me all the way to the boulangerie: "deux baguettes, s’il vous plaît, deux baguettes, s’il vous plaît, deux baguettes, s’il vous plaît, ……..” we entered the boulangerie; ‘’Bonjour Madame” (Mrs. Tully had taught me that much in school), I had my francs (yes, that long ago) in my sweaty little hand, cleared my throat; “deux baguettes, please’’ - ‘’Oh, you’re English, welcome! How old are you? where are you from? blah, blah, blah’’ - I am not really sure what she said, all I could think about was FAILURE! I looked up at my big brother, I can’t remember if he smiled - but between us, we kind of knew that I had blown our cover.
Since that first blunder, I have continued to make mistakes on my French journey, through ‘O’ and ‘A’-Levels (high school) and then university - where I can vividly remember one of my French professors saying in a very high-pitched, sing-song “mais non!” when I raised my hand to answer her question - I have to admit that did deter me a little. I am sure there were other times when she gave me an affirmation, but I don’t remember those so clearly.
In my late teens and early twenties, by that time having spent a year at universities in France and Spain, I was speaking both languages fluently and could get by in German. But I took it for granted - I had not realized how you lose it when you don’t use it! Thankfully, a few years ago, a classmate in a local community education French class mentioned the French Library to me. It was a new academic year, and every year at that time as I watched young people grow and take their next step I felt the need to do the same. I pushed myself well out of my comfort zone, headed to an Open House, and took a placement test. I started taking classes here and to my delight, I felt the spark again as it all started to come back. I find it fascinating how the language has evolved, there is so much new vocabulary - and conversely some vocabulary is no longer used.
As we come to the end of another year, I have resolved to keep making mistakes in French, rather than shy away from speaking. I will no doubt continue to do so, and I rely on mes collègues to put me right, so that I continue to learn. Is the fear of making mistakes holding you back?
Liz grew up in England and spent many summers traveling in France with her family, which sparked a lifelong love of languages and travel. She has a degree in modern languages and international studies for which she also studied in France and Spain. Working in international sports marketing while living in Hong Kong and London meant extensive travel, particularly in Asia. A new chapter began after moving to New York and then settling in the Boston area. Liz enjoys traveling, experiencing different cultures and spending time with friends and family.See All Liz's Posts