Je ne parle pas français: learning French in France

MyFrenchLife™ – Learning French - bonjour baguetteWhen I first arrived in France the only French I could muster was ‘Bonjour’, ‘Merci’, ‘S’il vous plait’ and ‘Au revoir’.

If anyone wanted to pursue a conversation I would get the impulse to run in the opposite direction and hurriedly say “Je ne parle pas français”. TV, signs, menus and conversations were all foreign to me.

Thankfully, I had my French partner to help me out and translate when necessary. Despite his help, it was very frustrating trying to follow conversations or do things on my own.

So, how did I overcome these challenges? It was time to find the best way to learn French in France…

Language School 

MyFrenchLife™ – learning French - do you speak EnglishGoing to a language school in Toulouse helped a lot. At first it was very tiring, concentrating constantly to understand what was being said, but as time passed it got better and better. To be able to understand and be understood was very reassuring. However, when I was with a large number of French people I still found it hard to follow and express myself. 

I remember the first time I ordered a sandwich by myself. I had practiced 100 times in my head what to say. It went well until the lady asked me if I wanted a boisson; a question I had not expected. It put me off balance, but luckily the lady spoke Spanish too, and I was able to place my order. Though I couldn’t do it all in French, I felt accomplished to be able to try. 

International Students

Meeting international students actually helped a lot. We all wanted to practice and improve, so we would get together to speak French. We were all at the same level, which made it easier for everyone to follow conversations and express ourselves without feeling pressured if we made mistakes. As a result, it gave us all the confidence to do it in our daily lives. 

Other Resources

Reading books in French, listening to the radio and adding French subtitles to the TV helped me to learn new words and expressions, to reinforce my knowledge on phrase structure and to improve my written and listening comprehension. 

MyFrenchLife™ – learning french - bonjour

More and more I feel confident to speak in French. I can take part in conversations, I’ve done interviews, and I’m able to understand what goes on around me. 

Still, my French skills are far from perfect. I’m still scared of phone calls and there are words I can’t pronounce. Yet making the French language part of my daily life made it less foreign and has made my stay in France a more enjoyable experience. 

What have been the biggest challenges or best moments when you were learning French? Let us know in the comments section below.

Image Credits:
1. Je parle français by Gipperntarp.
2. Do you speak english by Jeanne Aelia via Blogspot.
3. Bonjour via French for Beginners.

About the Contributor

Dalet Vargas

Originally from Mexico, I am a passionate traveler. While living in Australia I met a French man and we've been living in Toulouse, France since 2013. I am looking forward to share some of my French Life with you. You can find me on Google+, Instagram, and my website.

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  1. Christina Guzman Sep 24, 2014 at 3:23 PM - Reply

    hahah it’s great to see that i’m not the only one who wanted to run away!! It’s actually really daunting – You captured that really well Dalet. I’ve also found that a verre of vin rouge helps people speak french too 😉

    • Ellen Burns Sep 25, 2014 at 3:42 PM - Reply

      I agree Christina! I find when I’ve had a few drinks (and my inhibitions are lowered!) my French speaking skills magically get a little better!

      Not that wine makes me remember how to conjugate verbs…but I’m a lot more willing to give whole conversations a go and don’t feel as silly using the proper French pronunciation. The other day I said ‘Tarte tatin’ in front of a friend and they interjected ‘woah! Look at you using that fancy pronunciation!’ haha, sometimes we can feel a little silly speaking in an accent, je crois!

  2. Esme Wakefield Sep 26, 2014 at 2:18 AM - Reply

    Just remember – you’re in the minority with foreigners in France! I have been learning French since my pre-school days, and I still get nervous out there when I arrive rusty. As someone once said to me: Think of it the other way round. A foreigner speaking to you in less-than-perfect English isn’t at all embarrassing, is it?

    That really helped me.

  3. Julia Greenhalf Sep 30, 2014 at 7:01 PM - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your learning experience Dalet, and what a talented multilingual you are! You have a fantastic attitude for tackling a new language. Sometimes the attitude we bring to the experience is the key ingredient, that we are willing to take on the challenge…even if we’re not so able!

  4. Warren May 6, 2019 at 5:09 PM - Reply

    I live on vancouver island just north of nanaimo. Do you think i can find a french instructor? Not a chance. Any ideas?
    Thanks warren

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