On trying to speak French in France


I’ve been studying French for over two years, so naturally the opportunity to practice with real French speakers in France was something I was pretty excited about. Before heading out on my trip, I made sure to double down on my studies and make sure I was practicing things I might be faced with in real life. I met with my French tutor on Thursdays and he would drill me on the language. We would role-play situations like ordering in a restaurant, giving directions to a taxi driver, asking about different cheeses in a shop, and all other manner of real life situations. I felt pretty good when I got on that plane.

When I landed in Paris, however, I found that it was much more difficult to try to speak French than I had hoped. It wasn’t that my language skills weren’t up to snuff. It was just that upon even detecting a hint that I might be an English speaker, most Parisians just switched to English and didn’t really switch back if I continued trying to speak French with them. I had a lot of hilarious conversations where I was speaking entirely in French, and our waiter at a restaurant would be speaking entirely in English. We clearly both perfectly understood one another, because he would answer my French inquiries with the appropriate answers…in English. Sure, I had a few opportunities, such as the woman at a ticket booth who didn’t actually speak English at all, but for the most part, it was an uphill battle to try to speak French in Paris.

I’m not sure the reason. I suppose it’s because most Parisians (at least the ones you would encounter as a tourist) speak English very well, and of course as I had my very non-French speaking husband in tow with me, perhaps they were trying to be polite and speak in a language everybody could understand. Perhaps they detected that my French was not as good as their English and they wanted easier communications (fair enough). Perhaps they wanted to practice their English just like I wanted to practice my French (also fair enough). Perhaps they just didn’t want to deal with some Anglophone floundering her way through the French language (which I get). Whatever the reason, however, Paris was a pretty difficult place to try to speak French (It was still pretty wonderful to be there, though).

When I got outside of Paris, however, it became much easier to practice my French with the locals. In Auxerre, Annecy, Strasbourg, and Reims, I was able to have conversations and interactions with people mostly in French, and it was nice. I think since those areas aren’t as over-run with tourists as Paris was, they were much more French-only. (I wouldn’t let that stop you if you don’t speak French though…they are wonderful places with super nice locals!) I found that even in a week of wandering around and speaking more French with the locals, I started to get more comfortable and confident with the language. I’m not saying nobody switched to English around me, because it still happened, but I definitely had a lot more opportunities and as such, a lot more growth in the language while I was outside of Paris.

It was amazing!

So now that I’ve realized how much I improved when surrounded by French speakers (and French road signs, French TV, French…everything), I am hooked. I need more immersion! I’ve decided that next year I’m going to go on a French immersion trip to Quebec, in Canada, as a result. I’ve always wanted to visit Quebec, and there are schools you can travel to for a week (or as many weeks as you can get away for/afford) where you live in total French immersion for the duration. You take French classes while you’re there, and your afternoons and evenings are yours to wander around and explore the city, or go on French immersion outings to popular local attractions. Oh, this is happening for sure. The savings account is already dedicated to it!

Have you ever tried to learn a language? Have you traveled to a country where you’ve attempted to speak the language you’re learning? What was your experience?


8 replies »

  1. This is a great article. I am living in Italy and even though I start each of my conversations in Italian many people realize I am not Italian and they will switch to English. Most just want to practice their English, which I admire, but it does make things difficult in my learn Italian. I usually just continue in Italian even if they speak English, that way we can both practice.

    Liked by 1 person

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