Our Family’s (2nd) Year in the South of France
Kids and Castles - Our year with kids in the South of France

“Do You Speak French Now?”

I can’t believe how fast this has come. We’re heading home. We spent last week in Lyon doing some final errands and seeing the sights.

Lyon Parc de la Tête d'Or

Biking in Lyon's fantastic Parc de la Tête d'Or

Now we’re in Ottawa to visit JM’s family before heading back to California in mid-August.

One year of stuff


It’s odd to be back in an English environment. I’m getting severe information overload from being able to easily understand what is going on. I could have happily missed overhearing this little gem while I was in in the Chicago airport:

“Never take a sleeping pill and a laxative at the same time.”

Even after a year, it is still not easy for me to understand French. It did get better, of course. Now I can often (but not always) make myself understood if I have enough time and the person I’m talking to is very patient or adequately motivated. I would feel quite fluent if I only talked to people at the farmer’s market and the parents waiting to pick up their kids from the school bus.

But the truth is I still don’t speak French. Typically I don’t understand someone speaking to me without repetition, I figure out what to say about five minutes after it would have been appropriate, and I frequently discover that I have completely misunderstood the entire topic of conversation.

To summarize:  I can buy food, pick my sick kid up from school, and get info from a tourist office in French. I can’t discuss ideas, understand humor, or have an interesting conversation except in English.

My expectations for this year were MUCH higher. But the reality was that I didn’t live in French even though I was in France. I continued to work in English, spoke English at home, met any person in a 20-mile radius who spoke English, and easily kept in touch with English-speaking friends through the magic social media and the free phone calls (thank you Vonage!). On one hand it was great because I wasn’t lonely and depressed. But it wasn’t conducive to achieving fluency.

As one very direct old lady in the village said about my mastery of French this year: It is better, but it is not good.”  She is right.

Perhaps we’ll need to go back and fix that some day.

5 Responses to ““Do You Speak French Now?””

  1. Maha says:

    I’m pretty impressed that you were able to learn what you did in such a short period of time! Kudos to you for trying! I’m sure your French is a lot better than you think, even if ‘it is not good’. Yes, you’ll have to go back some day…

    • Diane H. says:

      It’s possible that my expectation of what “speaking French” means has evolved this year. I have noticed that an American may say something like “I speak French – I studied it for a semester in college” when a European will say “I studied English in high school but I didn’t major in English in college and never lived in an English speaking country for more than six months” and then go on to speak a really excellent English. I’ve found the standard for what speaking a second language means is REALLY different.

  2. Bob Meade says:

    Your self-assessment is just a little too harsh – I’ve heard and seen you converse in French. You are able to make yourself understood a little better than you describe here – albeit in settings motivated by the commercial interest of the other party I grant you.

    Climbing the language mountain is hard. Sure, I know the world of Francophone ideas and humor is not open to you yet, but it can be.

    You have the blessing of living with three people who speak French.

    • Diane H. says:

      Bob, you are very right that speaking French to someone with a “commercial interest” creates a good environment for communication. I clearly didn’t shop enough while I was in France. 😉

  3. Shirley says:

    I’m sure you’re judging yourself too harshly. Don’t ask a French person whether they think you can speak their language! In my experience the French have a pretty high standard for what constitutes a fluent speaker. Of course, the tough part will be to keep progressing in your skills when you return home. There must be a French language club in the area …