Francophile and writer Janine Marsh may have started her relationship with France somewhat by accident, but she has certainly made the most of it, writing a book and running a magazine about her ‘Good Life in France’. She told us how it all started, how she has set about learning French in France and what a difference it has made to her life there…
Back in 2004 I took a day trip to France from London with my father to buy some wine. We went to Pas-de-Calais for lunch but all the restaurants were closed. A friendly estate agent offered us coffee. Despite assuring him I had no money and no intention of buying a house in France, he persuaded me to look at his three cheapest houses. And, to my utter amazement, I fell in love with one of them on the spot and bought it!
That was 14 years ago. Since, we’ve been renovating the house (it’s still not finished!) and discovering France. Learning to speak French to my neighbours and friends has been both a challenge and fun.
I learned French at school and always managed to get by on holidays, but I soon found that my schoolgirl skills simply weren’t enough when it came to socialising, buying building supplies and dealing with administration.
I began by listening to French radio online and watching films and TV in French with English subtitles. It was a really easy way to pick up the accent, to hear how French people pronounce things the French way and also to get the trend of the language. At school you learn “proper” French but in reality, French people don’t talk like that, they use slang words and trendy words and phrases.
Nowadays, though I don’t consider myself fluent, French people say “wow your accent is great” – because I listened to real people talking and it’s influenced my learning.
I’ve never had time to commit to a regular class so I did everything online or by immersion. Being in France, that was quite easy. I’d started a blog when I moved to France as a way to keep friends and family up to date with my travels and my French life. As my blog took off, I started to be invited on press trips so that I could blog about my experiences. Sometimes I’d be the only Brit amongst a group of French bloggers and journalists. That was tough, but being immersed like that made me absorb more because I had no choice but to speak French.
I learned not to be shy about making mistakes but just go for it. I still make lots of errors, especially grammatical ones, but when I ask French people to correct me, no one ever seems to mind. A lot of the time they find it funny when I make a mistake. For instance, on one press trip to Provence we experienced a heatwave. Turning to the blogger next to me on the coach I said “Je suis chaude” – I am hot. The whole coach of bloggers erupted into laughter as they explained to me that though technically the words are right “chaude” does mean “hot” and “je suis” does mean “I am”, but in French colloquial terms, it means “I am horny”. I’ve never forgotten that lesson! By the way, it’s “J’ai chaude” (for a woman).
I’m always reading that French people can be aloof and standoffish but learning French has opened me up to a different understanding. French people truly value their culture, heritage and history – and the French language is a big part of that. French people esteem their language and being able to converse with them in French can often change how they react to you. I’ve found on my travels that they’re more willing to share details of their favourite restaurant, market and places to go if you speak French. It’s meant that I can write about France in a more knowledgeable way, an insider’s view of France.
These days I talk to everyone I meet in France, and I still watch Films and TV in French.
I may never be perfect, but c’est la vie!
Thanks so much for sharing your learning experiences with us Janine. Check out Janine’s magazine all about life in France.
Janine Marsh is the editor of award winning website www.thegoodlifefrance.com and the author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream available on Amazon.
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