22 January 2012

Intimidated by the French

When I was 14, I decided to take the road-less-traveled (in SoCal, anyway) by choosing to study French instead of Spanish for my high school language requirements. And I chose to stick with it for 4 years, plus some...well, it continues to this day. However, learning French in a Spanish/English/Spanglish speaking area meant that I found it difficult to speak the language, difficult to become fluent, difficult to just not forget! But, 14 years after I started learning the language, I still have the goal of speaking French like a native. 

Which is easier said than done - in either language! Through all the classes, through all the attempts, though, nothing was better for my comfortability than moving to Haiti - a country that speaks French (well...at least some of the population does). Last time I was here, my impatient nature translated into me not wanting to wait for the translator to translate my English into French when out in the field asking questions to our health clinic staff. So, I just started speaking! And speak I do!

With Haitians that is. For Haitians, French is their second language as well, so it is actually quite easy for me to converse with them, making mistakes, speaking like a 4-year old, and all. And they love it when I try to speak with them in French. 

Short story - while shopping for paracetamol, conversing in French, Haitian man at the pharmacy asks if I am European. I say, No, I am American. He is shocked! But Americans don't speak French! Well, I do! And then he loves it. And starts speaking way too fast for my liking. But hey, he loved it.

Dad, Mom and Me in Paris. I attempted to translate for them. 

But then, I go to an EU meeting, for a grant we are potentially interested in applying for. Which is all in French - this I can handle. I can understand the whole meeting; I know what questions I need to have answered. But - I don't ask. 

You see, European French is much different than Haitian French. It's intimidating. Because I speak French like a 4-year old, because I am afraid to be judged, because my French is decidedly sub-par, I don't speak. 

Even though, coming to Haiti has been the best thing for my French so far, there is still a lot of way for me to go.

I wish that there was just a switch for me to flick that would make me fluent. 

Particularly because it would be very beneficial for work here. Actually, in my case, French is more beneficial than Kreole. 

French tutor? French immersion course? Oui, s'il vous plait. Et vite, s'il vous plait.


  1. These are the struggles that every language learner endures... Beautifully reflected. It's been even more fun my second time around! You WILL succeed. :) xoxo

  2. Ang....you got your impatience from me! I am decidedly not a patient person, but I see your persistnce! You'll improve your Fench to magnifique! Dad