I arrived in France last April equipped with little more than my school learnt French and the phrases I had picked up on my many holidays to France, which wasn’t a great deal.
Anyone looking for a challenge? Then I can certainly recommend trying to get your mind around French at aged 59, it’s not easy and there have been days when I thought it was impossible.
Finding a great French teacher was my first challenge in rural France, the next issue was my dyslexia which makes English hard enough!! I was determined though not to be one of those Anglais who moved to France and kept to themselves, never trying to learn to integrate and only mixing with other expats, or immigrants as I remind the French we have become since Brexit!!
My love of France and all that is French, (apart from the bureaucracy) has helped me remain determined to succeed. The people too have been so supportive, that I’d be letting myself down and not repaying their generosity, if I relied upon the ability of the people of France to speak English.
Certainly I have been extended the warm arm of generousity by my neighbours and the locals, I have got to know and count them now amongst my friends. Initially I relied upon their good will to communicate in English, the French are keen to practice whenever they get the chance. But as my circle of friends has grown, I find myself at dinner parties where not everyone speaks English and of course the French discuss the news of the day in their native tongue. I felt the determination to make the effort and find a way to kick start my tired old brain into adopting the language of the country I have quickly made home.
Initially it was painstaking, sometimes taking me weeks to retain words and phrases, the most frustrating experience being my hopeless ability to pronounce words, even when I knew what to say.
My French teacher Nathalie has been brilliant, tolerant of me rarely doing my homework, well you can’t give someone of my age a detention!! Nathalie has also inclusive enough to give me licence to drag the learning agenda all over the place as I searched for something that would help me retain the language.
I had underestimated the free time I would have to devote to learning, what with everything else you have to do to settle in to a new home and country. Not least the process of being granted a visa and progressing through the process of becoming resident in France.
Initially the process was a little unclear, but like everything in France, there is a purpose and reason behind their approach, which eventually you learn to anticipate and understand.
Six months into my first year and I was beginning to feel slightly anxious at my progress, a good thing as it gave me the impitous to step up the effort to break through with the ability to converse.
So I announced to Nathalie, forget the text book for a while, lets just go for speaking French with the few words I know and force the issue. It’s the hardest thing, but gradually the experience of making the effort to converse, made me less selfconscious in the real situations to engage and converse.
I didn’t worry about perfection and my friends had to be very understanding and read my mind sometimes as I grappled with pronounciation. Never the less, it worked and I felt a break through of sorts, progress that has given me the impitous to keep going until I find myself thinking in French!!
I know when I switch on the radio and tune into the BBC, I’m feeding the English addiction, so I’v tried to find radio and TV that feeds the side of my mind desperately trying to learn the new lingo.
Early on one of the first things I did was to join the local running club who have been fantastic in encouraging both my running and French, but for a recurring calf injury I would have supported the club more. On the occasions I have run with them, its been a great experience not only for my fitness, but also my French.
I’ll rap up for now, I’m off to see Claudine and Oliver who I got to know when I first visited the area to look for properties. They have been very supportive and encouraging of my French, whilst Oliver introduced me to the running club and has joined me on the mountain bike, which isn’t his favoured sport!
My french is still very elementary, but shall I say the dim light at the end of the tunnel has become a little brighter and there is a real sense that one day I’ll at least be able to join in the conversation around the dinner table with my French friends.