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Fearing French (and Fight the Fear)

September 21, 2015

I’ve been taught French in high school. I passed the subject with good grades. And now I’m sharing my life with a man who has studied French in college, lived in France for half a year and speaks French at work every day. These all seem like the perfect ingredients to make this goal super easy to achieve:

No. 21: Regain my knowledge of the French language by speaking, reading or listening to it for two weeks in a row (at least 15 minutes each time).

But I actually added this goal to my list because I knew it was a really hard thing for me to do.

High school has been ages ago. I refuse to believe it, but the fact is that it’s been thirteen years already. That’s almost half a lifetime ago for me. After high school I have spoken French once or twice, while passing through France on my way to either Italy or Spain. I noticed back then how hard it already was, and I still was in my early twenties. For some reason I had no difficulties remembering the phrase ‘Où est la poubelle?’ (which is asking where the bin is), but when I had to explain the mechanic that our car broke down, I could say no more than: ‘La voiture est eh… boom.’ (Or ‘boum’, if we really want to make it French.)

French reading (9a)

About two years ago, I went to France again, together with Ruud. We stayed at a friend’s place, someone he knew from the time he had lived there. It was the perfect opportunity to practice my French again, surrounded by all these people who have French as their mother tongue and a boyfriend who has a bachelor degree in it. But I barely opened my mouth. And when I did, English came out of it mostly. The door to my French vocabulary was shut. And why?

Because I was scared. Having a boyfriend who can speak it so well, wasn’t helpful for me at all. I felt so intimidated. I knew he would never judge me or make fun of me, but that didn’t make a difference. Hearing him speak the language so fluently made me feel ashamed of my level of French. Especially since I knew I had been so much better at it in high school.

I tried to participate in conversations sometimes. I would try to construct the sentence in my head before blurting it out. I had forgotten so many basic words though, so by the time I knew how to reply, the subject had already changed three times. So I kept silence instead. My inner voices didn’t though. They kept blaming me for forgetting, for being scared and for not trying.

French reading (1a)

It’s quite possible Ruud and I will travel to France again somewhere in the near future. He loves the country! But when we do, I don’t want to feel like two years ago again. Ever. It was horrible. I want to enjoy my stay as well. I want to meet new people, share in on the fun, show them I’m not a boring person. I don’t need to speak it fluently, I just want to feel comfortable with the language again. And I want to feel comfortable around Ruud when speaking it, not intimidated.

Hence the goal. I waited a year to finally accomplish it. That shows how anxious I was about it. But I didn’t want to stall this goal any longer. I asked Ruud if he had some easy to read books, magazines and comics and he gathered them for me. We also planned to watch a few French movies, but we haven’t got around to that yet. They didn’t vanish after I accomplished my goal though, so we will watch them someday soon.

In these past few weeks I’ve been reading about le petit Nicholas who has to take school pictures, samurai master Mickey Mouse who has to save the Minnie Mouse’s village from a bandit invasion, Donald Duck Junior who felt left out at school and Chihuahuas and Yorkshire terriers and why they’re great dogs to have as pets. I also did a test on DuoLingo, which showed me my knowledge of the language is still okay, although there is much room for improvement. And I even talked in French. Sometimes this was just a bit of babbling to my cat, who couldn’t care less about my knowledge of the language. But I even had real French conversations with Ruud. And to be honest, it wasn’t all that bad. He didn’t make fun of me, he wasn’t correcting me every second and he helped me when I was really struggling, but at the same time waited patiently for me to form my sentences.

French reading (6a)

I noticed my French already improved after just these two weeks. I still have a lot of work to do to get me back on the level I used to be, but I know now that if I really want to, I can. I will try continuing reading French regularly. We still have a lot of French Donald Ducks and a few magazines laying around and a couple of French movies to watch. We also have a couple of French cookbooks. It would be interesting to see how my recipes would turn out. Maybe I should look up some French music as well. Ruud listens to French music a lot, but I don’t really like the artists that much. There must be some French artists I like as well though. I just have to find them. If you know of any I might like, please let me know!

I conquered my fear and learned stuff in the process. J’ai fini un de mes buts! Goal accomplished!


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  • Reply Sarah Fünke September 21, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    I do not speak french, so I assume the magazine is the “30 million cats monthly” and I approve.

    • Tanya de Kruijff
      Reply Tanya de Kruijff September 21, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      Actually d’amis means friends. So other pets are allowed in the magazine as well! 🙂

  • Reply Diana Auerhammer February 14, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    Yes. That fear! I studied French in high school, too, and do love it. But…not fluent! And then my daughter, her husband and my granddaughter moved to North Africa and France! I have stumbled through much. The north Africans are very tolerant of imperfect French. The French speak sooooo fast! Oh well. I use Pimsleur and headphones and it helps a lot – always before I go visit. Good luck with your learning!

    • Tanya de Kruijff
      Reply Tanya de Kruijff February 14, 2016 at 10:13 pm

      Oh, it’s terrible, isn’t it? The fear, I mean. The French were actually quite nice about it. These weeks have helped me to get over my fear a little bit more, which is nice. I was most afraid of speaking it with my boyfriend, since he studied it! I have never heard of Pimsleur before, I will look into it! Thank you!

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