Thursday, April 16, 2009

Can We Talk? In French?

Learning a language is tough work.  New sounds, conjugations, masculine or feminine and in some instances, a whole new alphabet.  With Greek or Russian, I'd be doing a lot of polite pointing.  French has been in my world forever and I still struggle with it.  Listening to newscasts or conversations--no problem.  I understand what's being said.  My response to it all, well that is a different story. Do I use passé composé or future or the dreaded conditional?  Generally, I keep what I have to say in the present to avoid all that craziness whether or not what I am saying makes sense--similar to how I speak in English.  Just like to keep everyone guessing as to what I am really trying to say. 

If you are going to Paris, a few phrases are helpful to know and easy to learn.  Merci, s'il vous plait, bonjour are three of the biggies.  If you stumble and humble yourself by using those few words, no matter how silly you feel, you are going to make major points with whatever French person you are speaking to.   Through your tiny effort of using a tiny French word, they will usually reciprocate by helping as much as they can to understand you.  They might even whip out the few English words that they know to make things move along nicely.  It is our (Americans) absolute refusal to speak French and expectation that they know English that gets their goat.   

I found a great website that will help you with simple phrases used in a variety of situations--shopping, asking for directions, questions about your hotel room.  
For example:  
  • Je voudrais résever une chambre double pour trois nuits. (I'd like to book a double room for three nights)
  • C'est combien? (How much is it?)
  • Je peux utiliser Internet? (Can I access the Internet?)
  • Je peux vous aider? (Can I help you?)
  • Je regarde seulement, merci. (I'm just looking, thank you.--Merci, big bonus word)
  • Je peux l'essayer? (Can I try it on?)
  • Je peux payer par carte de crédit? (Can I pay with credit card?)
  • Excusé moi, pouvez-vous me dire ou se trouve.......(Excuse me, can you tell me where___is?
These are just a few of the phrases that they provide on the site.  If you happen to be traveling throughout Europe, you are in luck as they offer Spanish and Italian phrases as well.  And if you are really looking to be a student of language, you can sign up and be connected with pen pals or individuals in your city that want to trade language skills. 

An interesting concept--think I might find me a pen pal and confuse them with my present tense nonsense.

Photo credit:


Phivos Nicolaides said...

Excellent and very helpful post Kim.

The Antiques Diva™ said...

Great website!!! I too tend to speak ONLY in the present tense when in French! Learning German now since my move to Berlin is KILLING ME!!! I long for the days of French acquisition!

I'm off to Paris next week by the way! Can't wait to get back to the city where my heart lingers!

Kim said...

German, French, you have it all going on. I would be conjugating my German verbs, peppering with them with French words making everyone crazy. Good luck with that Toma!!

Kim said...

Thank you Philip. Your language would baffle me. But I am certain the citizens of Cyprus would help me out. If they are anything like you, the streets must be full of exceptionally friendly people.

The Antiques Diva™ said...

Thanks for the luck, Kim! I'll need all the good wishes I can get!!! It’s actually even worse than only mixing German and French! I've moved to Berlin from Holland where the words in Dutch are spelled remarkably similarly to German but are pronounced radically differently. A German friend hearing me attempt to say something in German said, "You've got a Dutch accent... it might sound like you're speaking German, but with a bad accent!"

The French has come in handy though... last week at the beauty shop my hairdresser quickly realized that I wasn't able to express myself in German when I kept mixing French words into the sentences. Finally he said, "I'm from Strasbourg (a German border town in France) - Would you prefer to speak French? It might be easier for us both!" Ironically, when I lived in Paris my hairdresser was American, so for 5 years I never had to speak French with the hairdresser… now I move to Berlin and learn French hair salon vocabulary.

Oh, the expat life is nothing if not humbling! I can be a moron in many languages!