Updated: Dec 22, 2019
I realised something exciting recently. I'm learning Frenglish! It's the word I'm using to describe the French/English hybrid that many expats, and even some native French speakers use.
When I mentioned this to the lovely #UnFrench ladies, they all knew exactly what I was talking about. It's very common for expats to mix more French into their English as they learn more of the local language, and I'm very happy to be making this transition. I've noticed French words cropping up in my texts, speech and even my diary (yes, I have a diary. It helps with my mental health, but more on that another day).
French/English couples often do the same thing. As they learn more about each other's culture, they incorporate things like catchphrases into their own vocabulary. My own boyfriend is becoming fluent in dim sum Chinese. He can't understand a word of Cantonese, but can name all his favourite dim sum dishes in English and Cantonese.
There's still a very long way to go when it comes to my French though. What is taught in British schools doesn't come close to preparing you for the language you need in France and Switzerland, especially since Swiss French is so fast. What I've also noticed about my school French is that there is a focus on speaking, and not enough emphasis on listening. Ordering food in a restaurant is easy enough, but then understanding questions from servers is more challenging. Whenever I hear someone ask "how do you say x?", I'm tempted to tell them that understanding is more important than speaking! After all, you can point at a menu to order food but if you don't understand questions about your food, you might end up with something unexpected.
For example, when I first moved to France, I asked for a table at a restaurant. Very simple pre-GCSE French vocabulary. What they didn't teach us at school, though, is that you could get questions back about reservations, what sort of menu you'd like and where you'd like to sit. Needless to say, my blank expression told the server everything she needed to know about my level of French at the time.
Fast forward six months and I realised how much had changed. A group of us went for fondue at a restaurant with no menu. This is fairly common at small bistros around France. The menu is whatever is fresh that day. Being the most recent person to move to France, I was pleased that I understood the menu, questions and even the French jokes.
But then I had the opposite problem. French GCSE also didn't teach me how to make jokes in French! Having first learnt how to say things, then spent as much time as possible learning to understand, now I need to learn about jokes. It's an endless lesson. This reminded me of my experiences with Cantonese. While I can speak and listen to Cantonese, some of the popular culture references are completely lost on me, and my business and economics vocabulary is completely missing. It all made sense to me when I watched this vlog.
Learning languages is hard. It's isn't just about vocabulary. It's also about understanding different accents and turns of phrase. So maybe we don't need to beat ourselves up about not being fluent in French straight away, but incorporating a bit more Frenglish is good enough for now.
Photo credit: Amazon seller.