Learning French - France on a roll -- depending on charm - CycleBlaze

April 18, 2011

Learning French

I have been learning French for several weeks now and have found a language program with a quality that most other programs can't match--It's free! It's called Mango Languages, it's excellent, and it's online through my local library. I have already learned more than I expected, though to be fair, I had not set the bar that high. Still, I am really enjoying it, much to my surprise. Who knew learning could be fun!?

Still, despite my enthusiasm, time is short. With only 54 days until liftoff I have to face the fact that I will not be fluent by June. For this reason I have developed some strategies to maximize the limited number of brain cells that are allotted for this endeavor.

1. First, do I need to learn things that state the obvious?

Mango thinks that "Je parle un peu francais" (I speak a little French) and "Je comprends un peu francais" (I understand a little French) are key requirements, but I'm not so sure? Won't it be obvious that I only "comprends" a little French by my blank stares when the French try to engage me in conversation?

2. Consolidation: Learning two words when one will do:

Here's an example... "au revoir" means good bye and "bonjour" means hello but "salut" can mean both. Apparently it's like aloha in Hawaii. So having to remember only one word raises my efficiency level by 50%.

"See you later" (A toute a l'heure) and "See you soon" (A bientot). Do I need both? Honestly, I probably need neither. I'm touring in a country where I don't know anyone. How many people am I going to be saying "see you soon" too? Still, it's possible, so I'll learn "See you later". It's a little easier for me to pronounce and remember.

3. Gender:

French words change depending on gender. For example, the word for a female American is pronounced "Americ-KEN" and an American man is "Americ-CAN". Really, KEN or CAN? I'll be lucky if I'm in the ballpark and will save gender pronunciation accuracy on for my next trip.

4. Priorities:

In fact, my Mango Language program is not my only source. I also have Leo Woodland and his article on touring in France, some French language CD's I listen to in my car, and my brand new Frommer's pocket size phrase book. From these combined sources I've compiled a list of words and phrases and ranked them in order of importance...

-- Leo suggested I learn "je suis desole" which means "I'm sorry". I have a feeling I will be saying "I'm sorry" a lot. Priority: high.

-- I'm crossing off "Je peux essayer ce parfum?" or "Can I try this perfume?" Mango thinks it's important but perfume makes me sneeze. Besides, I'm sure that most of Mango's users are the Paris set, and they don't attempt to pedal around France carrying more weight than is sensible, only to plop down at the end of the day in a campground, just happy for a shower to scrape off the first layer of road dirt and chain grease.

-- Cycling specific words like "un velociste" (bikeshop) and "Je suis fatigue" (I am tired) are great suggestions from Leo.

Medical words are important as well and Frommer's has pages of suggestions...

--"Je suis tombe" (I fell) and "Je me suis classe la clavicule" (I broke my collar bone) might come in handy if I'm unlucky.

And page 237 of Frommer has one phrase I would never have thought of...

--"J'ai besoin des pilules d'erectile-dysfonctionnent" or "I need erectile dysfunction pills". I can only conclude that the reason for the inclusion of THAT phrase is that the author of the Frommer phrase book is a man?

The book also has a page full of "common curses", such as the F-bomb and other colorful phrases. Still, I'll skip those, I'm just not sure swearing will be as satisfying if it's not in my native tongue?

5. Food:

Finally, and most important, I need to learn to get things right in restaurants and food markets.

--"Ou est la boulangerie" or "Where is the bakery" and "Je voudrais un café au lait" or "I would like a latte" are right at the top of my list.

--So is "no, je ne veux pas escargot" or "no, I do not want escargot". Yes, I have tried escargot, years ago, and it wasn't bad at the time, but that was before my present day pitched battle with the snails in my vegetable garden. Back in the day some genius imported them from France and now they are an invasive species in California with no natural predators beyond people like me, picking them off of our vegetables one by one. They, and their slime trails, are unwelcome here and I don't wish to see them on my plate in France.

--"Je voudrais au chocolat"(I would like some chocolate) Priority: High
--"Je voudrais du vin"(I would like some wine) Priority: Low to moderate. I'm not a big drinker, even in France
--"Je voudrais fruits"(I would like some fruit) Priority: High. I like fruits

And finally, from Mr. Frommer, the phrasebook author who thinks of everything...

"Il y a un insect dans ma nourriture!" or "There's a bug in my food!" Priority: Highest!

Conclusion: All in all I think I have a sound strategy? At the very least I hope to not embarrass myself, though that may be inevitable.

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