For the past week, Joan and I have also been taking a French immersion class. My class has 8 students representing a wide range of nationalities (Venezuala, Mexico, Indonesia, Phillipines, Canada, South Africa and the U.S.), ages (18-64), and backgrounds. When we signed up for the class we given a description of each level of instruction and asked to choose the appropriate level of instruction. At the bottom level of instruction there was a choice between "beginner" and "complete beginner" According to the materials, I should categorize myself as a complete beginner if:
- I can spot if someone is speaking French even if I don’t understand the meaning.
- I know a few very basic words.
- I cannot complete basic needs in French.
|Bronwyn using her phone to navigate|
At first, the class was overwhelming and frustrating. Although I only understand about 20% of what is said in class, I do feel like I am learning a little French and my presence in the class makes the others feel much better about their language skills. For example, I have been a source of entertainment for the rest of the class as I struggle to correctly pronounce basic phrases. Even a simple phrase, such as "I live in the United States" is a tongue twister for me. The French version is "J'habite aux États Unis." It looks simple and if I saw the words written on paper I might guess that "États Unis" refers to the United States, but unfortunately it sounds nothing like it looks on paper. The French like to run words together and ignore consonants just to confuse people like me. Pronounced properly, it sounds something like "jah-beet ah-say-tah-zoo-nee."
|People on the sidewalk outside fashion show|
One thing that I am enjoying learning is French idioms, which are full of politically incorrect expressions. My favorites are "femme de foyer" (housewife) and "lèche-vitrine" (which means "window shopping" but literally translates to "licking the glass").
As we enter our second full week in Paris, we are falling into a routine - fresh croissants for breakfast, an afternoon snack (goûte), an evening stroll (with great people watching particularly during fashion week), and a late dinner, Paris continues to produce new surprises, such as stumbling onto movie stars and fashion designers exiting from a John-Paul Gaultier fashion show. I find myself looking forward to learning to speak and understand French a little better so that I can absorb even more of the fascinating culture. Maybe I will find time to learn to play boules with the old men in the park. Maybe AT&T will finally send me the unlock code for my phone so that I can insert a French SIM card. Who knows what the new week will bring?