Beginning French

I was glad I had been learning the language when we arrived for our appointment at Château d’Yquem for a guided tour of the vineyard – the tour was given totally in French. And while the tasting of the wine didn’t require any language proficiency, I did appreciate being able to understand enough to learn how this magnificent wine is produced.

Anne Mellino, 08/02/2012

My love affair with all things French began, as it does with many Francophiles, with the language. While I don’t recall having any lifelong ambition to learn the language (I had taken Italian all through secondary school, and was brought up with Italian being spoken at home), I had always thought, “French is a lovely language; I would love to be able to speak it”.

When I found myself in a new city, not working, and needing something to challenge the brain, a flash of inspiration led me to signing up for classes at l’Alliance Française. Starting at the beginning, Beginner 1, I chose to take classes twice a week.

Four hours of classes a week turned out to be a good move. Combined with some diligent study between classes, it provided a good grounding in the language. I tried to fit in an hour each day for homework and verb conjugations; it was easy to apply myself to the task as I was under the first rush of enthusiasm that comes with taking on something new. 

Anne Mellino, 08/02/2012

I progressed through the levels of classes and found that I enjoyed studying grammar, as that’s how my logical brain works, and relished the “Aha!” moments.

Getting the (nasal) pronunciation of un right was an early challenge – the Italian pronunciation is ‘oon’, and that was my natural inclination. It took me weeks to get there and I was very pleased when I had mastered it.

Very early on, I was mystified by the letter y standing on its own and wondered how I was ever going to understand its existence. And then came the grammar lesson on y and en and the mysteries of adverbial pronouns were revealed. These required endless practice and I still get great satisfaction if I am able to use either of these pronouns correctly.

These little wins are like hitting a great golf shot – you forget all the muffed ones before it and your enthusiasm is renewed.

The most fun I have with the language, though, is when I get to speak it in France. My first lengthy visit to France was for five weeks, mainly in the south-west. I had been studying French for about 18 months by this time; however, I still considered myself a beginner with the language, and was not at all confident that I would be able to get my husband and me around successfully.

The itinerary had very generously been arranged by our friends, Jacques and Michele, from the area; it included visits to vineyards (we were in the Bordeaux region) and meeting people with local knowledge to show us around – and yes, most of these people spoke very little English.

Anne Mellino, 08/02/2012


My language highlights from this trip include: starting my first conversation in French with the taxi driver on arrival in Toulouse; attempting to describe the structure of the Australian parliament to our French companions at lunch; chatting for two days with Pierre, a very good friend of Jacques’, while he showed us around the Biarritz area; taking (and understanding) that tour of the Château d’Yquem vineyard.

Image credits
1, 3 © Anne Mellino
2. French class via Alliance Francaise de Melbourne


By Published On: Feb 20, 201210 Comments on Beginning French

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Anne Mellino

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  1. Femme Francophile Feb 20, 2012 at 2:33 PM - Reply

    Thoroughly enjoyed your post Anne. As you say there is nothing like a little win with pronouns for boosting the morale.

  2. Anne Mellino Feb 20, 2012 at 3:35 PM - Reply

    Thanks – when you get more wrong than right the little wins are like conquering Everest!!

  3. Emmanuelle Tremolet Feb 20, 2012 at 9:52 PM - Reply

    Je voudrais saluer tous ceux qui comme Anne, ont appris ou qui apprennent la langue française. Bravo pour votre courage !

    C’est une langue magnifique mais difficile, même pour les français !

  4. Coco Rosenthal Feb 20, 2012 at 10:10 PM - Reply

    There is nothing like a little win with the French language! Although difficult, the minute you have one of these wins you feel like one day you will be able to overcome the difficulties of this challenging language. Loved the post!

  5. Sarah Taylor Feb 21, 2012 at 1:06 PM - Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this, Anne! I still struggle with knowing when to use ‘y’ and ‘en’, so completely understand the feeling of sheer satisfaction when you get the chance to use them correctly in a sentence!
    You make the south west of France sound very tempting, too – definitely an area to add to my bucket list of places to visit!

  6. Hannah Charbit Feb 22, 2012 at 5:00 PM - Reply

    I really like your pictures Anne, they have been taken in a part of France I haven’t seen yet. I will definitely try to go there when I’m back in France. Good luck in your practice of French! 🙂

  7. Anne Mellino Feb 22, 2012 at 10:07 PM - Reply

    Thanks Coco and Sarah. Nice to know there are others out there perservering as well!

  8. Anne Mellino Feb 22, 2012 at 10:11 PM - Reply

    Hi Hannah and Sarah, I can recommend s-w France. As well as the sublime wine regions of Bordeaux and Sauternes, there is also the intrigue of the Basque country. And Biarritz is a must! Photo credits go to my husband, Geoff.

  9. Molly Schoen Feb 23, 2012 at 4:13 AM - Reply

    Wonderful post, Anne.

    I started off with French in high school and am now taking Italian classes just for fun. Italian is a breeze compared to French–at least the pronunciation is!

    But the grammatical structures and even some of the spelling are so similar between the two languages, learning one definitely makes the other easier.

    Bonne Chance!

  10. Anne Mellino Feb 25, 2012 at 2:30 PM - Reply

    Thanks Molly. I think it is easier to take on a second language after having grappled with the first one. And it’s got to be fun!

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