I have decided to take a break from studying French the traditional way (also known as taking classes), given that I can almost speak naturally in the present tense, delving occasionally into the past and future, excluding certain irregular verbs. I am doing my best to find ways to immerse myself in the culture and learn through speaking, observing, doing…in other words, learn by the act of ‘living’. So far it’s been quite a sensory adventure!
Listen. It’s interesting how much we actually do understand when we need to. I recently had my coffee read by a Turkish woman, an apparent expert in such matters. When someone is speaking to you about your life and relative ‘pursuits of happiness’ you listen! And somehow, I understood. I did have a friend with me to translate, in case I completely misunderstood my fate. It was surely an experience. Do I believe what she told me, (or what I think she told me)? That remains to be decided. What I do know is that surely this is the path that is assigned to me. But I did not need a ‘fortune teller’ to confirm that.
Watch. Since I don’t have a TV at home, and that seems to be a great way to learn French, I decided to try the French Cinema. (In my opinion one of the best in the world). My first film in French was Coco Avant Chanel. Thankfully Audrey Tautou is expressive enough to be understood without words! I was deeply moved by the scenes, by what I imagined was taking place, and as soon as the film was finished I read the history to better understand the story of this impressive woman. Was this experience a success? More or less, or less than more, but it was surely an attempt! Ironic that once upon a time I would only watch foreign (mostly French) films and now I am limited to Hollywood blockbusters, another motivation to learn French!
Read. I grew up reading the The New York Times and look forward to the day when I can read the French equivalent. Does it even exist? Meanwhile, whenever I pass a 20 Minutes journal, found in most metro stations, I pick it up, and attempt to read it. This seems to be the best way to learn a language, by understanding the literary construction. If it’s an interesting enough article, preferably about art, travel or the state of affairs in America, I will do my best to decipher this linguistic puzzle. This too is a great way to understand the people and culture, as the written word is taken quite seriously in France. Next on my reading list is Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau, my first (adult) French book….
Look. I spend a lot of time walking around the city, exploring, reading the signs on streets, in store windows… Everywhere I look I am learning, searching for words in my dictionary. To understand, for example, why the trendy Cambodian restaurant is closed on a Saturday night. ‘Partir voir la neige’ read the sign. Ah yes, the owners have ‘gone to see the snow’. (Only in France!)
Taste. This is surely a great way to learn a language, considering Paris is a gastronomic capital of the world. Taste the menu, to be certain of what you are eating, fearlessly of course. Coupled with a good glass or two of wine the conversation is sure to flow more smoothly!
Speak. As often as possible I express myself in French, rather creatively I might add, to whomever will listen. Simply leaving the house provides many opportunities in which to practice. My conversations with the woman at the local boulangerie are rather limited, as with the friendly man at the vegetable stand (though I am learning a lot about herbs!). I suspect it’s my hairdresser who notices my progress most of all. We almost speak as though we were friends, versus when I first arrived to Paris I would simply point and smile. Most of all I speak at home, with the most patient of teachers who has himself experienced what it feels like to live in a world of misunderstandings.
What great sensory experiences am I missing…