I was saving this post for a little bit down the road but, my hard drive seems to have a case of the Monday’s (all week) fingers crossed she is fixed by Friday. Talk about STRESS!
The one question I get asked almost the most over everything else is, “Are you fluent in French?” I have been traveling back and forth to Paris since 2013 with some stays being multiple months long, but I am still not fluent. It is actually easier than you think to move about Paris without being fluent or knowing much of the language.
I studied French in High School , I graduated in 2000. (you do the math) I loved my French teachers and I still keep in touch with them, but we never learned conversational French. We learned how to conjugate verbs, vocabulary, and history. When I moved to Paris in 2013, it was trial by fire. I had no idea what I was doing and I even left one bakery because I had no idea what they were saying. It took me a while to figure things out on my own, and asking questions to friends who spoke French or native speakers.
I quickly picked up on essentials about ordering coffee (the right and wrong way) ordering at the boulangerie (essential) and navigating places such as the pharmacie when I was sick. Etiquette for navigating shops was also very important. “Bonjour” and “merci” go a long way.
I didn’t really need to know more than that to get around. I figured out the metro pretty easily thanks to my life in Chicago and I had my phone to get me around via Google maps.
Year after year, my French wasn’t improving because I wasn’t trying. Fast forward 5 years and I built a growing business around Paris, I wasn’t even fluent, not even close.
So why am I taking French lessons after all these years? It honestly is about time. Now that the blog is growing (YES!!) I have been getting outreach from clients in France that want to partner. They write in French to pitch mostly and I am always replying in English (and apologizing). There are some projects I don’t sign because I am not fluent in French. I am honestly embarrassed more than anything. I had an opportunity to practice and learn right in front of me but I was too shy to try. The one thing that held me back was that I was too scared of making a mistake.
I am a regular at a local boulangerie in my neighborhood and they had a new hire of a girl that was from the south of France. I took a chance and asked her if she would teach me French. She said yes, and now we are meeting every week at the same time. We meet for one hour and we work on whatever I need help with. Our initial meeting was where I was in French and what I needed help with. I call Caroline “The Mary Poppins of French” she makes every lesson a game and she is so patient with me. She has been kind enough to offer me help with my business e-mails so I will not miss another opportunity.
During our lessons each week, Caroline makes me speak in French and I am learning and making mistakes as I go. I am given flashcards with French words and each week we have a lot of vocabulary and phrases that we cover just by causal conversation. The good news is, I have a lot of random vocabulary and French knowledge I have picked up over the years. Caroline tells me I just need the confidence to speak.
There isn’t an end goal of fluency or a diploma or certificate (although she says she will make me a fake one) This is all to help me connect with Paris better and communicate in French with friends and business colleagues. On my next trip to Paris, I plan on using my French and growing my knowledge of the language by practicing.
The one takeaway I have already is that I am getting better at making mistakes, more than I ever thought possible. I am facing my fear and challenging myself to not being perfect at something. This will be a long term project. I am so grateful that Caroline took me on as her student.
I have set a goal of wanting to write something in French on the blog. Caroline sends me texts in French, which is so much harder than speaking. She is already holding me accountable for my goal and asking me where I have written my French paragraph. So hopefully soon… stay tuned!
There are many opportunities to learn French including apps, online courses and classes. I chose to work with a private teacher because it worked best with what I needed and it was convenient for my schedule.
Has anyone taken classes for French or are you working on a new skill? It gets harder as you get older but I am determined to keep trying.
If you in Chicago, I am happy to share Caroline’s email privately.