Living in France: hardly speak English

Despite my fluency in French and having lived here for over 10 years, I still get frustrated about language and often feel the need to speak English. As my [french] partner also speaks English, its very relieving to relax my brain and speak the muvver tung !!!

Couldn’t agree more… I have a friend at the cycling club, on club runs we use tu but when I drop my little girl off at school where she works - no bises and we use vous… all about context… get on with my mother and father in law really well but it’ll always be vous with them.

Not perfect by any means but the le/la thing comes with time and repeated use - try to notice the agreement used too if you can’t catch the le/la in conversation blanc/blanch chaud/chaude etc. much easier here in the south… and I’m proud of my local accent (old french mate who has a classical northern accent said i sounded like Bernard Laporte last time I spoke to him!) and being able to use some patoi at times (les gens sont espintés quand je sane ce que je peux pour eviter de m’enganer - for all those in the south west… come to think of it are there two Ns in saner and enganer…!!!

Bonne chance à toutes et à tous and I can’t understand any one living here and not learning french - yes it’s difficult BUT ESSENTIAL

Like most people here, this site gives me a link to the English speaking world that I’ve missed for a long time - I speak mostly in English with my kids wut they always answer in French.

As for some things not working in another language… discussing produits de terroir with uni students I tried to explain about the image of Devon scrumpy in french…!

à +

My husband doesn’t speak English (although he understands far more than he lets on!) and unless I make a conscious effort I can go for days without a proper conversation in English and find myself wordsearching in my mother tongue. Crane, for example, had me flummoxed for ages and I finally had to look it up in a F/E dictionary.I talk to the kids in English but the little so and so’s always reply in French. I work in English though, but as that is writing on my tod, it doesn’t really count.

In Bordeaux it seems that most English speakers can speak at least some French (huge generalisation). Here in deepest Charente, French speaking Brits are in the minority, so much so that when I posted on a local forum that it was perhaps bad form not to bother communicating with one’s adopted compatriots, my post was removed as being ‘inflamatory’(sic).

I would love to meet some likeminded girlfriends here to lunch with, gossip with and hang out with - and oh joy! if it was in English. But so far haven’t met any likely candidates. So I just read in English, talk to internet strangers in English, schlep to Bordeaux a lot and skype, skype skype in English.

No,they don’t; it just goes under “an error by a non-native speaker”. However, when away from your familiar turf some people may react differently. An American friend of mine was sharply corrected at the Louvre boutique a few years ago-not out of meanness but for the sake of correcting him for learning purposes and for his benefit.
It wasn’t a “tu” moment but a "Je veux…"moment.
French is tightly linked to context and circumstancial differentiation; consequently, it is a very nuanced language.

Thanks Josette, It’s not that I can’t do it, or don’t remember the conjugasions etc… quit simply my poor brain is hard wired that everyone is a “friend”, therefore Tu becomes automatic!

I always start out so well, but after a few minutes talking to someone the tu slips in and I don’t even realise! most folks I deal with actually like it. I think in general where I live is very international, therefore even the French administration, shopkeepers etc,around here don’t get offended any more by our familiarity.

It is a difficult thing for English speakers. I published a mini-lesson/ discussion on this topic “tu” or “vous” this winter in “je ne sais quoi”. I also have archived one on my website if you are interested. Let me know if you have trouble finding it.
I hope it helps.

I feel after 20 years that I still struggle a lot, but that’s mainly as I both work in an English speeking company, and speek English at home. Basically my french is limited to my dealings with “non work” friends, outings etc.

Also for me the hardest part is actually Tu vs Vous… My company uses only “first name/familiar”, therefore I learned this first by being immersed in daily activity. Remembering to use Vous outside of work still drives my poor brain batty.

I agree with Stephen that certain things just don’t translate, I have to admit I will always choose a VO film over the translated version.

Hi Mark,

Yes, this is a plug for my book, but I wrote it because I was having problems remembering the gender of French nouns. I can say in all honesty that I use what I’ve learnt from writing the book every day.…

Hope this helps.


Alors, I wish you “Bonne chance” and applaud. I agree that you should learn the language. For many reasons. However I think that everyone 's situation can be different. I have met people who had a wonderful commitment to learning the language, others who were very reserved, sometimes impossibly shy about it. I’ve seen the same thing in the US with immigrants and English: some learn and others don’t. It’s easier for some than for others. It can be such a barrier for some and such a game for others. I know that personally I couldn’t live in a country without learning to communicate. Afterall, barriers can be an irresistible invitation to personal growth.

I posted a short “masculin ou féminin” page on my website, it may help. Encore une fois bonne chance .

I cannot understand anyone not wanting to speak French, we have chosen to live here and so should make an effort to speak the language, I cannot imagine living here for 20 years and not learning the language, I am making every effort possible to learn…wish me look…:slight_smile:

Hi. The only real problem in French is still the gender of nouns. It remains an alien thing for us it seems, although I have a good enough accent for people not to know I’m English. So I have a laugh sometimes speaking English with a very French accent just to confuse.

To understand the French I think you just need to drink red wine and in Brittany eat Oysters. The rest is osmosis. I’d have to give some serious thoughts on ‘tips for understanding the French’! I know one or two English people who’ve lived here for years and still have an English accent. That’s one thing but at least they speak French - I heard of one person who didn’t even after 20 yrs. Don’t get it myself.

I also read books only in English, barring some exceptions, which still surprises me. I just think its a relaxation thing and reading in French is still much less of a ‘loisir’. As I said, my French is good but there are still billions of things I don’t understand and am still learning. But then that’s life and much of it is very close to the continued learning I would probably do if still in the UK, but different.

I’ve got no regrets about leaving, but my link with English (more than England) is strong. I blog and surf in English mostly. Thanks for your replies.

P.S. Has anyone discovered Quora - new Q&A site - looks interesting.

Leaving was, in retrospect, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done I think. I had to"regrow my roots"in a sense and I think that it worked. Can you do this? It helped me a great deal.
On another note: knowing the gender of nouns is difficult for English speakers. I am sure you have learned to be patient with yourself in that respect. Don’t give up!

ah this is interesting as I have been here for over 40 years and have only 1 english friend all the others are french and appart from her I only speak english with my daughter when I see her .My english spelling is quite awful now but I still only read english books and when I need to find a word or two I skype my sister who lives in England for help. When ever I go to England people think I am from Sweden as I am told I have a slight accent although fluent.When I speak French I still sound like Jane Birken and still make mistakes with le/la. I have lost my roots and if I could turn the clocks back I would think again before leaving my country.

Mark, We have been here 2 years and are struggling to speak French but sometimes find we can’t think of the English word for something, also we have a friend who has been here 20 years and he has to have some English conversation every now and then, so we understand - if you have any good tips on how to speak and understand the French let us know - Roz