I dare you to say “restaurant” in French!

IMG_2294As I write this post, my wife and I recently returned from a brief trip to Montreal, Canada.  I know, it sounds crazy to go to Montreal in January, but we found out years ago that we enjoy going to cold places when there are almost no other tourists, things are cheaper, more available, and less crowded.  We had a great time, what a marvelous city!

Anyway, as to language learning, I really don’t speak French, but of course it was fun to pretend like I do in Montreal.  During this trip I felt something that was totally new in my language learning experience.  That is, you have to have guts, an outgoing personality, and fearless social comfort levels to actually say French words out loud and in public.  In French there are hundreds of cognate words, words that are even spelled exactly the same in both English and French, but their pronunciation is totally different.  Look at the phrase, “J’ai une réservation.”  You know, it takes courage to actually try to imitate a french accent and  say “réservation.”  Let’s try another one: “J’aime ce restaurant.”  It takes guts to actually say out loud and in public, “restaurant” with a French flare.  How about another, “Où est le plus proche station de métro?”  One has to muster courage to say in a clear loud voice, “station de métro.”

I am not a shy person.  In fact, I actually love talking to strangers in a foreign language.  Usually I have no problem blurting out my limited and incorrect Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Catalan, Japanese, and Chinese, as lowly as my proficiency may be.  French, however, was different.  This was because it just felt strange to say these cognate words with a French accent.  Somehow I felt goofy, silly, or maybe like I was mocking French speakers (when I really was not), or teasing them about their pronunciation (when I really was not).  Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time trying out my limited French, but I simply have never spoken a foreign language that made me feel so self-conscious about what I was saying.

It has all left me wondering about what linguistics call “affect.”  Affect involves those personality issues that help or hinder language learning: being shy, reserved, anxious, nervous, outgoing, motivated by love, etc.  Previous to my experience in Montreal, I would have suspected that affect is based on the individual, but now I also believe that affect is influenced by the language that one is studying.

If you relate to what I’m talking about, I’d love to hear from you.

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3 Responses to “I dare you to say “restaurant” in French!”

  1. freestylelanguagecenter Says:

    Bon travail! (good work) in Montreal! Interesting regarding the “affect” we always say the chattiest people are the fastest language learners. Great post!

  2. Jan Marston Says:

    The sticking point for your learning French seems to be one that always plagues students of French, even professional linguists and language learners not unlike you. Over a long career teaching French, I have helped people stop struggling with this particular brick wall in a number of ways. When I look at the learning processes you describe (as well as ones I remember from being a devoted follower of this blog), I see that you have a disconnect between how words sound and how they are written. I also know that you are a successful learner of Mandarin, and this same sight/sound disconnect is a common difficulty for English-speaking students of Mandarin. You have already become competent in several Latin-based languages, and you are stuck because French doesn’t seem to work for you the way the others do. You have been successful with learning on your feet, working with native speakers, but that sight/sound disconnect still gets in the way. With a high percentage of cognates between French and English (without even looking at other Latin-based languages), you seem to feel that you ought to be able to leverage what you know more than you have so far. So my first suggestion is to pretend you don’t know other Latin-based languages and focus on learning the language based on how it sounds. Listen to (or watch) French news online. Talk to native speakers. Let go of the written language for now. And … for a native speaker of English to try out French in Montréal, there is still some risk that the Montréalais might mistake you for a fellow (albeit English-speaking) Canadian, which, I believe, still evokes all kinds of language-based political issues. I hesitate to mention this last difficulty because I don’t want to start a flame war, but I do speak from the experiences of some of my students). … And if you’d like, I think I can also help you with the sight/sound dichotomy, if you want to contact me via email. And thank you for continuing to inspire me with your brilliant posts!

  3. The language Class Says:

    Speaking a language it is all about confidence (and practice) in fact it is easier for “chatty people” to sound fluent in a foreign language as they are more straight forward to initiate a conversation, and not afraid of making mistakes.

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