How we learn French- By Eva Hamori
After nearly two years living in France, I find the confidence to ask the baker for bread, can understand most of what I hear and sometimes, I even respond. Some days you cannot shut me up and other days I struggle to find the simplest words. I guess learning a new language at almost forty is the difference, while my kids talk as if they were born here.
What I found helpful when we first landed in Capestang France were the Michel Tomas recordings. It gave me the basics to understand what I was hearing. The southern French talk fast, and listening to pre recordings helped my brain differentiate between the sound of the sentences and the individual words. Many words sound the same in French and most endings of words have the last letter bitten off. To correlate the sound with the spelling of the word, as often they do not phonetically match, was important to understanding the fundamentals. This did not happen overnight.
I have an extensive vocabulary after two years, however, I still struggle to make sentences in the proper tense and figure the more I talk, the better I will get. To increase my language skills Alfonz and I began French lessons at the local Steffi through a state funded program for newcomers to France. There are only four people in class and we are all at the same beginner level. This is helpful for conjugating verbs and the dreaded grammar and word tenses. We are only a week in though very hopeful.
To increase vocabulary, in the beginning, we covered our house in yellow sticky notes. On the fridge, ‘réfrigérateur’, on the wall, ‘mur’… you get the idea. When the kids started school, we did homework with them, learning with our children. Angelina started here in grade one, the time when French kids learn to read. We learned the sounds of their alphabet right along side of her classmates. Some days we pulled our hair out in frustration. Now, we understand most of their homework without much difficulty. Not that they need our help anymore, both kids are good in school. I watch over them more for my benefit at this point.
Each weekend we have a movie night. When we moved here, either we decided to run the films with subtitles running under the movie in French or we play it in the French language mode. Movies we know well, like Nemo and Cars, the story we already know, so it was just a matter of matching the words with the actions. I found this helpful understanding sayings and learning French expressions and humour. Although I do not use their terms myself yet, I understand what my friends are saying.
I started an English playgroup for French children under ten-years-old to help the kids in Angelina and Daniel’s classes familiarize themselves with the sound of their English homework. I found kids could spell and maybe even read in English, though they were not talking. Some teacher’s pronunciation are very poor, and they shy away from verbal interactions with their class or they are not familiar with English at all and reading the lessons as if it were French. You get a lot of that in reverse here, English pronouncing French words as if they were talking in English. One year, Daniel helped his teacher with the one-hour English class per week. I say use all your resources.
Not surprisingly, I learn so much from these kids in my class. I try not to speak in French, and some of these kids had zero English when they started with me. I am very proud of their progress. Most of all I find the French kids; polite, responsible with their English coursework binders, eager to learn, well behaved, and fastidious learners. The more I throw at them in creative ways, the more they desire. In the group, there is no wrong answer, and that freedom releases their imagination. One group is all boys and the other is all girls, and it just happen that way. The boys group moves around the class, something never allowed in the academic classroom. I watch the kids flourish and feel I truly missed my calling. I should have been a teacher as it brings me so much joy watching them learn.
Then I asked their parents to join me once a week for conversational English over wine to brush up on their own English skills. This was a very good idea. These moms have become my friends, and I learn more from them than anywhere else. Currently I have four women that meet up each week. All took English in high school but never used it. Two of which have been coming for a year. I feel like I give something to my friends and I look forward to my time with them. Usually they speak in English and I speak in French, and we correct each other as we go.
Assimilate. Having children makes it a lot easier to meet people. People with children are involved in the same types of activities and we have met some amazing people from Capestang through our children. Our biggest assets learning a new language are our friends by far.
Technology. Let’s not forget the value of modern tools. Whenever we are stuck to find the right word, or looking for the meaning of something we just heard, Alfonz and I go to the translation program on the phone or computer and within a few seconds, voila! Daniel being in the last grade before middle school, finds the computer very helpful. He can circle words he does not understand in his homework and go through his entire text in minutes to find the definition and the English equivalent. To my amazement , his English vocabulary has vastly improved since moving to France.
It is hard to believe that people move here and never associate with the French locals. It is a shame. I find the culture amazing and the French warm hearted. It is why we moved here after all.
Add a new language to your bucket list and you will have a better understanding of how hard it is to be a foreigner. Walk a mile in their shoes and I promise your perspective will change on immigrants.