The French language wasn’t easy for me. I hoped to have learned it faster and easier in my first 6 months in Paris. Unfortunately it’s not that fast nor east. A year ago my French knowledge was no more than Bonjour and Merci. Three months before I moved to France I had started learning the language. First on my own with the Pimsleur audio lessons, then with few private lessons to get me into level 2 group lessons I took for the following two month.
When I came to Paris it was obviously not enough, I had to find an apartment with the French I had and it was extremely hard, but I felt I’m progressing pretty fast during these first weeks. When I started school the learning rate was decreased (but the cooking learning rate was rather increasing, which was the main cause). We did have to read the recipes in French, the lists of ingredients and be familiar with the names of the tools in the kitchen as well. We also had French lessons which weren’t that frequent or helpful. The wine and geography lessons were in French but translated to English and most of the actual demos and lessons were in English. Speaking with each other was mostly English as well. Together with writing posts in English in a daily basis, my English improved faster than my French. There was always a “way out” of saying anything in French. So I started learning on my own with a book but it was hard to motivate myself to study after going back home from class.
I’ve made some French speaking friends and thought it can help improve my French but this was also a hard way to do so: I usually met with them in crowded and noisy places late at night, couldn’t hear and couldn’t understand the most. I got bored and tired very easily (because it’s a “hard work” concentrating that hard), and although I could understand a word here and there, or even had the general idea of what’s the subject of the conversation, I did not get anything. It wasn’t fun! Moreover, most of them were happy to practice their English.
Then I started the internship in a French-British restaurant, meaning, there was some French but was surely not a must. I did try to speak as much with the French speaking, but here again there was a way out with English being more dominant.
Now I’m working for two weeks already solely in French. How’s it going? Though, challenging, amusing, frustrating, crazy. Generally I’m happy with this situation and prefer it like this. On one hand I have no English back this time, thrown into the deeps. On the other hand, it’s an addition of being a stagaire in a restaurant, so all together can be overwhelming at times. For me, it’s a lot about the “smile and nod” technique + the guessing game. ‘What could he be asking me to do now?’ I am wondering a lot (when I have doubt, I usually just clean something, always a safe bet). Understanding few words and having to fill in the blanks, asking Quoi? Commo? and Je ne sais pas (I don’t know) have become a common response of mine. Saying Désolée, je pas compris (I’m sorry but I didn’t understand), saying yes sometime without being sure what I agreed to. Getting all the number mixed up.
The hardest part is when someone’s trying to joke around with me. For example when a guy in the kitchen points to the paper towels smiling and saying: “Mashav, bla bla bla paper bla?” (how I understand his question). Now, I start guessing what could it be. Most chances are that he either needs the paper or asking me if I still need the paper. So best response seemed, at the time, saying oui oui. But he wasn’t happy with my response and seemed confused so I approached and took the paper. Wanting to save his joke he tried again: “You steal the paper from us??” Oh… I got the joke now.
Another time, I put a tray in the freezer room. A waiter comes by and asking me: “Are you planning on keeping it there until Monday?” Well, I said: yes, I think so. Then he seemed puzzled with my answer and asked the same thing again. Trying to adapt to his response, I said: no, maybe I’ll take it out tonight? Then someone came by and explain to me, he meant that about me, if I’m planning on staying in the freezer until Monday. Yes, sorry for ruining your joke. So jokes have their way of not working out that well for me. The funny thing about jokes is the unexpected part, having my language based on trying to predict what one can possibly say to me, jokes just don’t come to an account. If I assume people were joking with me a lot, I will sure do some more critical mistakes when they are serious.
It is not always minor mistakes like these, sometimes I end up doing things wrong, hesitating a lot before doing anything and asking again and again. One time was frustrating because I couldn’t understand the time I had to be back in the kitchen that afternoon, as much as I tried to make it clearer it became more confusing, more numbers and provisions were thrown out there. Trying to ask another person did not help as well. That feeling of being clueless is not easy for me, I much prefer knowing what’s going on all the time. To understand some, means I have to ask, meaning I have to find the right words to express what I want to know. Not knowing if that came out the right way, I am getting an answer I’m not quite sure what it means. And this is just the case that I feel confident enough to ask. Sometimes a question is cooking in my head for a long time, trying to assemble the right words in the right order to ask. When I get it, it turns around in my head for a while and I just have to let it out and ask. When I do that, I’m not sure why but everything comes out wrong, all the wrong order of the wrong words. I feel pretty silly saying what I did in the end.
Having said all that, I do believe my French is getting better faster than ever. I got some compliments about how I speak and understand, and I do seem to get along most of the time. I come back home, look up the words I was missing that day. Everyday I have a chance to have a small conversation with someone in French, sometimes longer and better ones. I see that some people are easier to understand than others, some accents are harder for me, speaking very fast is still impossible to get, and conversations between other people are much harder than conversions directed at me.
Other than that I feel very grateful for Ferrandi’s preparation that I was given. Everyday I see how what I learned in school helps me and how it prepared me well to be able to guess what I am expected of. The names of tools, kitchen verbs and ingredients, I know all pretty well, and it’s not something one can learn in a regular language class.
So in the meantime I’m doing well, facing new challenges but learning a lot everyday: both cooking and French. It’s pretty cool and although sometimes it’s hard, frustrating, tiring or boring, I do enjoy it quite a lot.