As many of you know of my pursuit of a second language, I have found it one of the hardest challenges (mentally) that I’ve faced. I have been at it for months. I have a daily diet of lessons from Rosetta Stone and Coffee Break French podcasts. As you already know, I work with a lady who is very fluent in French and works with me often . . . on top of all the other stuff. But my hair seems to be quickly disappearing from my tantrums. Here’s why.

Often I find myself on what I consider a good roll and think that I am accomplishing something. Thinking that I am actually making progress, then reality sets in. Visiting various French cycling websites, I’ll catch a video of a race or interview. To my horror, I’m picking up tiny, tiny bits of words but not understanding a complete sentence!  What?! Why? I study. I exercise. I put in the time. I’m not a quitter by any means. I think I’d rather die than give up on anything. But I am almost to that point. I hear others say that submersion would help quite a bit, but where I live people can barely speak proper English. Submersion is out. So I do the next best thing and try to listen to Youtube videos of various French subjects, as well as French television. But with that, the cycle repeats.

I tell myself to push through. I tell myself that one day it will pop and become clear. I really don’t know why I am so obsessed with this. I love a challenge and cannot STAND to be beaten at anything. I want so badly to fulfill my ultimate objective of riding in France and speaking the language. I just don’t want to get there and feel the shock of not knowing anything and thinking that I frittered away all of my time. Then there are the whisperings in my head that tell me that I waited to late in life or that I’m not a “language” person. To be honest, I don’t even know why I am babbling so much about this, other than I know many of you out there speak French and could give me some kind of hope.

What say you, speakers of French?

25 thoughts on “Pourquoi?

  1. From what I’ve seen, it just takes time. Book language is also totally different than real life language. I took 3 years of Spanish in college and can’t speak much of it at all and, like you in listening to it, understand even less.

  2. I gave up trying years ago. I have studied Latin, French and Spanish. I live in Canada where French is a second language and, visited Montreal and Quebec city as often as possible. Even considered moving there. I went to university in southern California and visited Mexico frequently. Languages are just not my thing. I think there is a problem with my wiring. So, rather than continually frustrate myself, I decided to give up trying and focus instead on skills I could more easily develop.

  3. I recently moved to Montreal and have been learning French there. I find https://www.duolingo.com/ is a useful app for building vocabulary here and there, good for a commute. Also, ankidroid is a flashcard app where you can load French words, another good one for the commute.
    Have you tried doing the Rosetta Stone ‘read’ section whilst doing an easy ride on a trainer? I find it is a good way to add a bit of extra French time and practise listening

      1. No worries. I noticed about a month ago that I suddenly went from picking up odd words in conversations to whole sentences, although not every sentence yet. Hopefully it will all come together

  4. don’t despair – it’ll come – it’s a drip drip process so you won’t notice your progress – it is worth it though because speaking to someone in their language and them understanding you is very good feeling and french is a lovely language so bon courage, as they say t’other side of english channel, and remember you don’t need a Phd in the language to function perfectly well on a visit to France, learn bonjour & merci and tirez & poussez and you’ll be fine and remember also that you probably know more than you think; I was there a couple of weeks ago and lamenting to someone about how I had let my French go rusty and she said ‘well, you’re having this conversation aren’t you?’ it’ll all be accumulating ready to be used when you are in that environment but it’s hard to see what you have learned when there is no pressing need for it in daily life

  5. Quebec or Paris. Pick one and visit for a week. Or pick an easier language for God’s sake! French? Nothing like swinging for the fences brother. Jeez!

      1. Good luck brother, you’ll do well. Don’t forget, watching two people have a fluent conversation is a lot faster than plucking your way through. It’ll be different in person when you can ask the person you’re engaging to slow it down a bit for you.

  6. Total immersion (living in France) is the best way to learn to understand 95% of everything (and even then it takes a lot of time and energy). But if that’s not possible =), then settle for not understanding 95%. Perfectionism is probably a language learner’s worst enemy. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and keep plugging away. Courage, tu connais sans doute bien plus de ce que tu penses!

  7. I did not add anything when I first read this post since the advice given in the comments covers what I would have said. All I can really add is have an attainable goal in mind–it sounds like after a few months, you hoped to be fluent in the language. While your determination is admirable, your impatience is likely retarding your progress. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Learning a language is hard and unfortunately your native tongue is one of the easier ones out there so you are already at a disadvantage.

    Always read out loud. Count in French. Whenever you can, use your vocabulary. Think about how children learn language–first just single words, then phrases, then simple sentences. The problem is that you already have an understanding of what you want to say (in English), but you do not have the experience to say it in French.

    So treat yourself the way you would treat a child learning his first language.

    It is not easy, but I do not buy into the “adults can’t learn to speak new languages” argument. They can, and do, but adults tend to be far more impatient, which is why they struggle more than kids, in my opinion.

    Keep at it, and you will improve.

      1. It also might help to think of interactions you have had with people that do not speak English all that well–you are essentially them when trying to speak French. The goal of language is to communicate and you do not have to speak perfectly in order to attain that goal. My in-laws have lived in this country for 50 years and their English is not great, so, again, don’t beat yourself up about it!

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