Sunday Musings: Speaking French

Speaking French in Grenoble

Sunday Musings: Speaking French

It’s funny how the mind wanders! I was trawling through an old Facebook album – of my time in Grenoble, France – looking for a particular photo when I came across a few images that reminded me of the time I realised I could speak French after all!

I should clarify, I can’t really speak French as such. I have a very basic knowledge of the language from five years of learning it in High School back in the 90’s and up until the time I arrived into France in 2011 I have never needed to use it. I’d never set foot in France! 

I was pretty good at French at school, swotty good if you must know. It was my favourite subject and I kind of excelled at it. But I absolutely hated speaking it.

Oh the shame, the embarrassment – rosy flushed cheeks, attempting a French accent with a heavy dose of Brummy.

I left school and the French was dropped. Life happened and it required no French whatsoever.

Fast forward to October 2011 and I’m gliding through the French countryside on the TGV, having successfully negotiated the Paris Metro at rush hour switching from the Eurostar at Gard Du Nord to Gare De Lyon.

Excitement was bubbling in me, I was adventuring in a foreign land by myself, heading to Grenoble to housesit/catsit for a friend.

I was regretting not refreshing my French though, I was going to be alone in a city for two weeks and there was a fairly high chance I was going to need to use it!

Speaking French in GrenobleAfter my friends left for their trip to Vietnam, I walked to the nearest Bio Supermarche to stock up on groceries.

I’d grabbed one of Katie’s shopping bags: a Sea Shepherd canvas tote. When I began to pack the goods into it at the checkout the handsome cashier said something in French that I understood to be some comment or recognition of the Sea Shepherd bag.

I freaked! Oh god, don’t make me speak French. I mumbled something about not understanding and ran!

Without giving myself time to think about what he’d said, I’d automatically told myself that I wouldn’t understand or respond.

How stupid! I walked back to the apartment feeling throughly ridiculous. I could definitely have tried to answer him, he seemed nice and friendly. He might even have been able to speak English!

A few days passed and I explored this gorgeous French city, falling rather in love with it, ticking off the top picks on Trip Advisor.

One of my wanders took me into the Musee-Bibliotheque, a beautiful old library that is now an exhibition space. The exhibition was a photographic exhibit highlighting the plight of the homeless in the region. The images were printed onto the inside of cardboard boxes and it was very cleverly done.

While I was looking at the photographs and at the same time admiring the lovely building an older lady came over and started talking to me, in French of course.

She commented on one of the photographs, I recognised it to be Grenoble and realised that I could understand what she was saying about it.

The conversation developed to another photo, another town, another poor homeless man. I nodded and agreed with her in French.

The lady then began to talk about the library, she told me she used to come here as a young girl. It was a magical place, endless rows of books that towered over her. In the glass cabinets were special books that she loved to gaze at.

She found the library sad now, the books are gone – the shelves are now decorated with a trompe l’oeil effect of books – but it’s good that the space is still used and that she can still come here.

Yes, I got all of that from her French!

Speaking French in GrenobleIt wasn’t actually until I’d left the building that I realised I’d just had a full conversation entirely in French, I was elated!

I understood about 70% of everything she was saying, it was amazing. It was because it was in context, there was visuals to match the vocabulary but isn’t that the case with most basic conversation anyway?

After this my confidence with my high school French soared, I chatted with women in the queue at the supermarket, responded to compliments on the street – merci beaucoup monsieur, ah trois bisous! – and ordered tea in cafes.

It is incredible what you can find stashed away in the back of your brain just waiting for a reason to need it! It turns out I have rather a lot of French back there, the grammar is all but forgotten but there is vocab.

Once I’d shook off that teenage peer-pressure embarrassment that I associated with French it became so much easier and natural to speak it.

This is my target for learning Finnish, I want to be at the level that I am with French. When I think about where I want to be in Finnish it is this time I spent in Grenoble, chattering away to people in French.

I have some way to go to get to that stage yet but I remember how awesome it felt to be able to understand and be understood, and that is very encouraging!

Just over a year ago I was talking to an older Brazilian woman in a hostel in Antwerp, she’d been learning English and while she was still at a basic level she was excited about learning it.

She said that being able to understand another language is like being given the keys to a whole new world.

I often think about this, she is so right. Learning a language reveals so much about another culture that would otherwise be hidden from you.

Taking up Finnish has reminded me so much of why I loved learning French in the first place, and it has taken me half of my life to rediscover that I am a bit of a language geek!

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Speaking French in Grenoble, France

Stick around!

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I Left A Bit Of My Heart in Grenoble This French city is pretty spectacular!

A Whistle-stop Tour of The French Riviera Out of season and very beautiful!

Sunday Musings: That Time I Saw The Northern Lights in Yorkshire Yes, really! And I have photos to prove it!

Sunday Musings: Knight Stainforth Firework Extravaganza Ooh Ahhh!

Do you have a moment where you’ve realised you can speak a language?

By Rachel A Davis   Follow on Bloglovin

4 Responses

  1. Dave Rowley says:

    Another lovely posting Rachel, I really enjoyed reading all your insights into learning languages and I can identify with your excitement when you found you were actually able to communicate in French on the streets! I love that feeling and I think speaking the local language helps SO MUCH to understand the places we travel and really connect with locals. Wish I could learn ALL the languages, but still hoping to get fluent in 5-10 over the course of my life. Mais Paris ne s’est pas fait en un jour…

    • Rachel Davis says:

      Thank you Dave!It’s so wonderful isn’t it, if only we could get that babbelfish device from Hitchhikers, make this all so much easier! But maybe I would miss the fun of learning and moments like this!
      How many languages do you have so far? English, Spanish, French….?

  2. Lucy says:

    I learnt French at school too and know exactly what you mean about that teenage embarassment, I haven’t managed to shake it off yet! Still get very self conscious about my crappy accent and not knowing all the vocab so mainly just use it for ordering food (cheese and wine French vocab I can do) but would love to be able to communicate properly.

    • Rachel Davis says:

      Hehe! I’m a little less embarrassed about it now after getting over it in Grenoble. I am a wee bit concerned that I will sound bloody English when I try to speak Finnish though!