Speaking French

I have read occasionally of people banging their heads and coming round speaking a foreign language, I am just short of 70 and constantly bang my head on various objects, the next morning I wake up still speaking poor French with a West Country accent.

Are there any Neuro specialists out there who could tell me which part of my head should I bang to give me the best chance.

With my luck when it does happen I'll end up with fluent Mongolian (No offence to Mongolian Speakers).


Just try your best is my advice to anyone, hand gestures and most of all smiles and a modicum of good morning's, please and thank you's is a good start, try adding a new word a day.

My husband has found his own unique way of learning as he finds an english word that sounds almost the same - eg My farm - becomes Ma Femme, cushion becomes cochon (very important to us these animal words); but it is working, so much so that after week two he was safe to go alone into the outside world as, at the time I was not too well. When I was back at the wheel and able to travel to the local village, I was questioned on the whereabouts of my husband as they love him to bits. His charade of "honey" is still apparently the talk of the town (involves a pot of jam and lots of buzzing and him saying "meal" a lot).Have fun with the language, he has grasped it so well in the last six months, that he can understand and follow the majority of a conversation of what is being said, even when I am around to translate her prefers to manage. I am so proud of him for making such an effort. a

His 93 yr old mum has lived with us for the past 5 years and came readily with us to France. She too, is well used to saying "Bonjour", and a few basic phrases and has developed a lovely accent. Mind you she loves all the "bises", and thinks Frenchmen are wonderful. I would use the excuse of her age, but she has all her faculties, succumbed to her first pair of glasses this year and even has all her own choppers so she knows exactly what she is about, as she pauses for her greetings everywhere we go. We even parked her in our local bar while we went to the butchers,only to find her surrounded by the locals on our return, I think she was sorry to see us back so soon. (Then they all got to bid her goodbye in the usual fashion - had to drag her away in the end).

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All very well, James - but if you don't have a grounding in basic English Grammar (which most of us educated in the UK since the war don't have) you are hugely handicapped to begin with. Some years ago I decided to take a TEFL course (before coming to France - and in support of a Dutch friend who was also taking it). I quit after lesson 3 because I just didn't have the basics. I am fairly literate, studied English to "A"-level (failed!!!) and have spent 70 years speaking my native tongue and earning a living in the communications industry. I understand how to make the language work (I even know about semi-colons) - but I have NO real understanding of the rules - which makes any grammar-based learning a massive (and for me, impossible) slog! So, although my French is about the same level as a French 2-year old, I can just about communicate - and that has to suffice. I have spent many happy hours teaching English voluntarily because I do love our quirky language but only the basis of "That's how it is, just accept"! My ex-partner, with whom I came to France 10 years ago just couldn't hack it, largely because of the language difficulty (and part because she had had enough of living with me!!). She was fixated on learning the why's and wherefore's and just couldn't accept that "that's how it is"!!

I firmly believe that anyone can achieve a passable level in a foreign language.

Speaking with a foreign accent is not a problem as long as people understand you.

Try to find a local teacher who can teach you the basics of grammar.

Other than that, try to gain as much exposure as you can to the language.

Well you should take a diction and phonetics class. It will help with your pronunciation. There is a book you can get called Savoir Dire by Diane Dansereau. There is a CD with it. You may be able to get it on Chapitre. I promise you your French will improve. The accent will be spot on every time. If you look at French as sounds when you read it, then you’ll be able to better understand what you read. I offer phonetics courses. I’m not cheap but I can improve your French for sure. As for improving your construction and understanding grammar, get the book English Grammar for Students of French. This book is great for people that may forget grammar rules and the dreaded when to use the imparfait vs. the passé composé. The last book is the Bible, motherlode of all French grammar books: Harper’s Grammar of French by Samuel Rosen, Mona Tobin Houston, Richard A. Carr, John K. Hyde, Marvin Dale Moody, and Edward W. Najam. It was published by IU university in the US which is an amazing language university. This book will help anyone that has grammar problems.

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One of the best ways to learn the language is to get involved in the community : take part in your local centre social activities such as cooking classes, knitting, painting, etc. You’ll mix with French people only and I’m sure they’ll help you build up your confidence. If you live in a village, go to the local market : not only you’ll come accross the people you’ve met at the centre culturel / social, but you’ll also test your new language skills with the farmers there.


I’m a great believer in absorbing as much French into your brain via your ears as you can - listening to French radio in the car even if you don’t understand half of it will help you tune into the sounds, the rhythm and intonation. Listening to French pop songs is great too because little complete snippets will lodge in your head complete with correct prononciation, to be fetched out and used as and when. I picked so many nice little idiomatic phrases that way with zero effort.

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I am a great believer of not getting too stressed about it.

Learning how to communicate is more important than the language itself.