October 10, 2014

Parlez-vous français ?

Whether you’re living in a country, or just passing through, it’s important to have an understanding of the language, a significant factor that can make, or break any experience.

My first trip to Paris in 2008, not speaking a word of French, was an absolute disaster which involved a great deal of miming, tears and perplexed Parisians who either A) didn’t understand English or B) just didn’t feel like helping me out. I left the city with an extremely bitter taste in my mouth, vowing that I would never return again.

Flash forward to 2009. Ironically, I have a French boyfriend (today, my husband), and make several trips to France. Having not studied French in school, I begin to start buying workbooks, making flashcards and trying to memorize enough words to get by. Each trip brings more small victories like being able to order “un sandwich” at the boulangerie, or understanding when the supermarket cashier asks if I have a loyalty card.

By 2010, I have decided to move to…yes, you guessed it, Paris! Before leaving the US, I spend a few weeks revising my materials, and then I’m off to France, where I enroll in an intensive language course. As soon as the bases begin to form and vocabulary starts to click, it’s like a dingy film is peeled away, and France becomes a beautiful, magical place.

Jardin du Palais-Royal

Several years, books, courses and embarrassing grammar blunders later, I can finally hold my own in most situations and conversations. I easily chat with my coworkers, share a drink with French friends and find what I need when running my daily errands.

If you’re planning a trip or a move, it’s never too late to start learning the local language. A little goes a long way, and can make a world of difference.

For French beginners or those who just wish to brush up on their skills, I recommend the BBC’s Ma France, one of my favorite learning tools.

What are your experiences with learning another language? How has it changed your travels?

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