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Parlez vous Anglais?

The last time I studied languages, any language, the dinosaurs still roamed the earth. We were offered only one choice at the time: French, French, and yes, you guessed it, French. I have no idea why German, Italian, or even Spanish, were not on the curriculum, the fact of the matter was we were only allowed to learn one other language.

Not that I remember that much from those days. I was never particularly good with languages, despite the fact I have travelled, and I mean, travelled a lot. I’ve been to 37 countries over the years and, for the most part, I’ve managed to get by speaking English, a bit of broken German, and a lot of hand waving.

But now? Looking back, I guess I should have put a little more effort into learning why l’oiseau est dans l’arbre, and a little less time memorising, voulez vous coucher avec moi? especially now that I’m living in a French-speaking province.

It’s not surprising to learn then that my biggest problem is French verbs. Never mind words that sound the same. My brain literally stumbles and freezes. It’s embarrassing asking for a glass of water and finding out you said worm not glass — ‘vers‘ verses ‘verre‘. Maybe I should stick to tasse, except, when I use tasse my brain slips into German.

Yes, I lived and worked in Germany for a number of years. And no, I never really mastered German any better than I have mastered French. And saying danke instead of merci often leaves many a Quebecker looking at me strangely.

So while I continue to struggle with dentist and doctor appointments, I do usually get the right pizza delivered and have mastered asking for Poutine at Ashton, with aplomb.

Conversely, my In-laws have all benefited by learning a lot more English in the time I’ve been here, than I have French. Specifically, my nephew, the Cub, getting excellent grades at school for his command of English. And while I’d like to take full credit for this, I suspect his X-Box gaming habit has also gone a long way to his being a quick study.

Maybe one day I’ll be proficient enough to make myself understood, until then, I’m sure I’ll get by with bonjour and salut!


  1. You’re not alone, Alex. My husband has had about the same amount of success learning foreign language. Unfortunately, he had the ironic luck (?) of marrying a linguist. And one thing I’ve learned is that we’re all different with respect to our way of learning language.

    • Alexandra says

      Oh, that’s good to know, Margot. Because my partner too is linguistically minded and speaks 3 languages. Funnily enough I speak better Italian than I do French, but still, I murder them all. 😉

  2. Ah, it’s not too late, and you are in the best place to learn 😊.
    One of my closest friends is French, and find the language impossible. Like you said, i can’t even tell where a word ends, or if it’s a different word 😅

    I had to study german in school and had no other option till i went to high school. There i was forced into german cuz why not, eh? Only started learning English at 16 🙄

    • Alexandra says

      I can actually get free lessons now I am a PR (permanent resident) Norrie. Of course, I shall be going and hoping it’s conversational French, and we can skip the verb part! 😉

      Oh, if you got forced to learn German then you know what I’m taking about. And German is even worse than French, especially written German which is gobbled de gook! Where you living in Germany? I was born there, and my German is abysmal!

  3. My husband and all my kids can speak French, but I cannot. I have picked up a lot of words over the years, so I can sometimes make out what people are saying, and I can get the gist of things written in French. But to speak it, forget it. I just can’t seem to string those words together into sentences. Happily, I don’t live in a place where I have to.
    Living in Quebec, I imagine you’ll pick up more and more until suddenly you realize you can speak French!

    • Alexandra says

      I’m surrounded by people who are learning English better than I’m learning French. But yes, I’m hoping that, given time, it will all click into place. Aided by a few lessons at the local college.

      And it’s not so bad, given most people I try to speak to immediately want to speak English with me. Though maybe, come to think of it, that’s because I mangle the French language so badly? Hmm …

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