There are many ways to learn the French language: go to college, listen to audio tapes, watch all Luc Besson’s back catalogue sans subtitles or get arrested for smuggling drugs into France – you’ll have plenty of time to learn the lingo then.
But for other, less obvious ways to pick up the language then read on as I – a fully fledged resident of the country for a whopping four months! – impart my meagre advice.
Yes, you read that right, Power Rangers, the kid’s TV show featuring teenagers in lycra body suits that leave little to the imagination, fighting badly dressed aliens in poorly plotted episodes.
My French partner gave me this advice when it came to learning the lingo: ‘Just watch the news in the morning for half an hour, it’s what we did when we were learning English, and we soon picked it up’. I immediately dismissed this as I find the news A) Depressing and B) Boring. So I picked Power Rangers as an obvious alternative to this.
Yes for an hour-or-so a day (pah! more than the 30 minutes I would have spent on the news) I watch these 7 – 12 (I’ve lost track of how many there are) young kids fight the bad guys while talking in a context that I can understand. Each day I pick up more and more snippets and the phrases filter in. Not only that it gives me some daddy and daughter time, as she loves watching it with me too.
OK, OK, so I am now more prepared to respond to an international invasion by poorly designed monsters (and then fight them in a quarry/car-park/industrial estate), than I would be to say, discuss the Geo-political situation in the Middle East. Have you read any of my other blogs? That was clearly never going to happen anyway.
PLAY ONLINE GAMES WITH THE FRENCH
I play Belote. I play it a lot (copyright Phil, 2017). It’s available to play for ‘free’ on Facebook. I say free like that, in inverted commas, because they give you an initial amount of 2000 chips for nothing and, while you can get free chips everyday, there’s a definite sales tactic pushing you to actually invest in large amounts of chips.
Don’t do that, just get good at it.
Anyway, playing with the French is great because, as well as an array of emojis to indicate your mood at any given time, there’s also a text input option. This small window enables you to converse with your fellow players. And by converse I mean insult.
Yes, the only time this small text window is used is for insults to be hurled at other players. You will quickly learn what the following words are in French: Stupid, idiot, useless, dickhead, fuckwit etc etc.
Your education doesn’t stop at words though as the French are more than capable of string whole phrases full of insults together too, such as:
Vous etes debutante? – Are you a new player?
Vous ete un batard inutile! – You useless bastard!
Pourquoi avez-vous choisi cette carte stupide? – Why did you choose that card stupid?
J’ai eu des rapports sexuel avec votre mere! – I have had sex with your mother!
Et votre pere regardait aussi! – And your father was watching too!
Yes the French take their Belote games very seriously.
BUY AND SELL ON FRENCH EBAY
I went through a phase, back in 2009, of buying vintage Transformers. I had a man-cave, in the loft. Then I had kids. Bye-bye man-cave, bye-bye Transformers. Something good that came from this though – apart from having kids of course, ahem – is that in the brief period between buying and selling these items, they had increased in value and thus I turned a tidy profit.
I’m applying the same rationale to vintage video games, I’m buying them with a view to selling them at a later date for a profit. They are also much easier to store as they are just games in tidy little cases, not robots with 18 legs that will break if you look at them funny.
One of the great things about using eBay France is that – surprise, surprise – all the item descriptions are in French. Thus you will increase your knowledge of words you didn’t know you would ever have a use for, but that can come in handy in many circumstances.
A word of warning though, when selling your own items you may be tempted to use Google Translate for the item description, this will get the point across, but a true French person will spot it a mile away. One item I sold led to me conversing with the buyer (or ‘acheteur’ as they are called, ooh! Look at me!) in order to garnish them with more information, and he actually told me that I ‘Could respond in English if I preferred’.
DON’T BE A COWARD AND GET YOUR FRENCH PARTNER TO DO IT – TAKE THE ITEMS YOU SELL ON EBAY TO THE POST OFFICE YOURSELF
Yes, pretty self explanatory this one because, if like me you live with a native French person the temptation is to just coast along and get them to do all the ‘hard work’ i.e: interact with actual French people. You must resist this and force yourself to ‘get out there’.
It may sound like a scary proposition, but once you start doing this it gets easier, a bit like taking the training wheels off your bike. It also helps that more than likely the people you deal with at the post office will be the same people that deliver goods to your door, so you will recognise them, and they you.
The rewards you get from this kind of interaction are priceless. My favourite, this week anyway, was dealing with two different people at the post office on two different days. I had to return an item – to the UK – as it was faulty. But I first had to get the costing for it, then notify the seller, who would then reimburse me, and then I would be able to post it.
Two different interactions over two days with two different, and very helpful, French people, with little to no confusion on either side. All under the watchful eye of the work-experience boy who has picked a VERY bad week to be stuck in a not-particularly-well air-conditioned room.
Item successfully posted, language-skills and confidence boosted.
GO OUT TO THE SHOPS AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN AND TALK TO PEOPLE
This is not difficult for me, I have two kids, and they seem intent on eating their own body weight in bread, biscuits and fruit each day and drinking enough smoothies each week to drown a herd of cattle in.
When I say ‘talk to people’ here, I don’t mean strike up a deep, meaningful conversation – let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet! But you can certainly pick up on the little things, the social niceties.
Also just looking around and listening to other people while you are queuing is a great way to improve your lingo-skills. You will have a lot of time to do this in French supermarkets as, for some reason, they seem to abhor the thought of putting more than two people on the tills at any one time – even though our local Intermarche has an army of staff members.
Even just reading the different signs, leaflets, posters etc will aid you in your training. Does that sound patronising? Sorry if it does but this is the thing you must remember – everything you read, hear or see can help you learn, everything. Just keep at it, it will get better.