Sunday, February 21, 2016

Leaving My Comfort Zone -- Speaking French

A couple of years ago I heard about a group called Alliance Francaise. I've been receiving emails from them for a while. They have fun activities like an annual Bastille Day fete, monthly conversations, our gallery visits (en francais), plus an annual Christmas party (ironically held down the street from my house, but I still talked myself out of going).

In December the group had an article about themselves in the Princeton Packet. It may have even been in the last edition we received. Reading the article I knew I wanted to join them. I had been picturing this enormous group of people who speak French like natives and would act all snobbish around me. I wouldn't know anyone. I don't remember nearly enough French to hold a conversation. They meet at Happy Hour in a local bar. It is easy to talk yourself out of something, especially when it involves leaving the comfort zone.

This Thursday, even though the timing was not the best for my schedule, I did it. I drove into Princeton. I found the group easily. I found an empty chair. I started talking to complete strangers in French. Whew. Linda is a loquacious woman in her 60s who reads Voltaire for fun. She brought her friend, Fran, who she met through volunteering at a local historic home. Fran has had French lessons, but is very timid about speaking the language. They both immediately put me at ease. 

I overheard others speaking naturally as old friends. I suppose after months of chatting with each other over wine and beer, they are old friends. It was a challenge hearing the words and turning them into conversations in the local bar. There were times I wanted to sit back and absorb it all, but alas someone would draw me into a conversation. After all, the focus of the group was on conversations not on being flies on the wall.

What did I learn? People were friendly. The language came back to me. It was mentally tiring speaking and listening in a new language. I woke up the next morning with a sore throat because it uses different muscles to speak in French than it does in English (the "u" is a sound very hard for Americans to make, the "r"s are harder, too). 

I learned a few new words such as patinage and logiciel. I never went ice skating while living in Belgium or had a need for software in the 1980s. I realized I need refreshers in numbers when someone said 45 (quarante-cinq) and I was thinking 85 (quatre-vingt cinq). To make matters worse, this gentleman about my age was talking about how old he is. Ooops. 

Numbers will always be an issue for me because some are different in Belgian French than in France French. For instance 95 in France is quatre-vingt-cinquante (or 4x5+15), but in Belgium it is nonante-cinq (ninety-five). The seventies are the same way. In France 72 is soixante-douze (60+12), but in Belgium it is septante-deux (seventy-two). I've heard in Switzerland they simplify 80 to octante instead of quatre-vingt (4x5).

I hope you enjoyed this mini French lesson.

In addition to meeting monthly on Thursday evenings, they also meet twice a month at McCaffrey's midday on Mondays for two hours. During one hour they all speak French, during the other they all speak English to help the native Francophones learns our language. This way everyone has the opportunity to be both the teacher and the student.

I'm hoping this helps me to revive a part of me that has been dormant for too long.

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