AN EXCERPT – ON SPEAKING FRENCH
By Karen A. Chase
Author of Bonjour 40: A travel log
(40 years. 40 days. 40 seconds)
So I worked with a tutor one-on-one, went to a few French-speaking Meetup groups, watched foreign films, studied DVDs and podcasts, and more. As I mentioned on my first day in Paris, I quickly discovered my French sucked. Really though, it didn’t suck so much as I was just afraid to use it. I was afraid I would say things incorrectly, and instead of asking to buy a hat, chapeau, I’d ask to buy a horse, cheval. My biggest hurdle upon arrival was I simply wasn’t brave enough to try it. I was afraid they would know I was a foreigner, roll their eyes, and say, “Merde, another American comes to Paris.”
I would slowly grope around for words, or quietly whisper, or give up entirely and just simply point and grunt at things. Finally it occurred to me. You don’t know these people. Dive in! If you screw it up, you’ll learn. Maybe they’ll help out and correct you, or you’ll end up with a nice horse. Just start with Bonjour, Madame or Monsieur, and get going. I’m now convinced that speaking a new language is 25 percent knowledge, 50 percent experience, and 25 percent having the balls to open your mouth and speak it.