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.
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.
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.
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