Clients often ask me what is the best way to learn French and apart from the obvious answers such as ‘listen to french radio, practice as often as you can, talk to the locals whenever possible’, my sure-fire cheat’s way to learn French is – to live with a Frenchman!
Most of the time we chatter away in French and I think I understand 90% of what he is saying – although there have been times when I have joined him in the garage to help him look for a ‘Tournevis’, for example, without having the slightest idea what I’m looking for (it turns out to be a screwdriver). Even if I know the word, how to pronounce it is another matter – and the day I manage to naturally roll the letter ‘r’ and pronounce the word ‘Ronronner’ (to purr like a cat) I will get the champagne out. I had enormous trouble with the word Grenouille and he helpfully suggested I practice by repeating the word ‘Couille’ several times – and I apologise to the young secretary in the office who had to explain to me that it was actually the word for a certain part of the male anatomy…
But if there are times when I struggle with french, there are even more times when he struggles with English, so we speak a strange version of Franglais together, which seems to work; for example when I received a text saying ‘I am standing you on my car’ I immediately understood he was waiting for me in the car! It only gets frustrating when we are having a heated debate (or normal discussion, as the french call it) and by the time I have got the dictionary out to make my point, I have already lost.
Much as we English like to use french words such as cul-de-sac, faux-pas, and bon-appetit, similarly many English words have crept into the french language – le sandwich, le weekend, le snack. But please don’t tell me how to pronounce my own language - I know for a fact that the supermarket Lidl is pronounced Liddle and not Leedurl, discount is discownt and not discoont, I drive a Honda not an Onda, and the river running through London is absolutely not the Tameese. One of my favourite french TV programmes recently was called “The Island” – and I so enjoyed hearing the announcer welcoming us to The Island - ‘Bienvenue sur Le Zer Eeeslond’.
The best result of our Anglo-French collaboration is that the dogs are now bi-lingual and respond to ‘Come ici, Pipi in the garden, Allez in Car, Cherche your coat’ etc. The cat appears to be deaf….