One of the things on my 101 Things list was to speak, read or write some French every day for a month.
I suspect that I am going to be able to tick that one off at the end of April, and I must say I’m quite impressed with the way that my brain has already started to think in French again after all this time.
When I sat down to dinner the other night, I was the only non-Swiss person present at the table. After much code-switching and a couple of glasses of champagne, I requested that they stop translating for me and just continue their conversations in French, because “I have to learn!”. Well. It seems that the Swiss French speak even more quickly than the French, and I sat there in bemused silence as an indecipherable torrent of words poured over me.
It just goes so fast that I can’t keep up with what’s being said. All my efforts are concentrated on identifying the individual words spoken, and then I need a few seconds to piece them together and translate them into a sentence that makes sense in my head. By this stage, the speakers are already a couple of sentences further on, and I have missed a chunk of the conversation. Still: at least now I have an excuse for staring blankly when everyone else is splitting their sides laughing at the punchline of a joke!
It’s just a matter of training my ears to the sound of spoken French, I suppose. They tend to speak so quickly that all the words just run into each other, which is what causes me so many problems. Someone said “Spammo français” at one point, and it took me several valuable seconds to work out that the sentence contained six words, not two (“Ce n’est pas un mot français“)! You see my difficulty.
It’s fun, though, and I understand pretty well if people slow down for me, which they do in one-to-one conversations. The cleaning lady doesn’t speak any English at all, and yet she’s managing to give me an entire set of lessons on parrot care, coffee machine operation, and how to water a chameleon (!) – and I understand it all! Hurrah! If anything, it’s better learning from someone with no English, because when I don’t understand a word or phrase, she has to describe what she means or use alternative words, all still in French, rather than simply telling me the English word.
Understanding is easier than speaking, so far. However, I can ask for directions, apologise for my French, issue commands to the dogs, and sing Tatoue-Moi the whole way through. Sure ’tis plenty for now!