Instant French

Amsterdam: bikes, canals, tall narrow buildings
Amsterdam: bikes, canals, tall narrow buildings, and English everywhere

When you move to a new country where the language is different from the one you grew up speaking, naturally there are going to be challenges. Not only do you have to learn the basics that you might know as a tourist, but now all of the nuances of how you say something or where you put emphasis come into play as well. Before we left the US, I had been studying French for a while and now that we live here I’m continuing with that online while Bill attended some classroom instruction with a live teacher and fellow students and has now gone the online route too. As effective as these classic methods are, we’ve discovered a simple, fun, and instant way to suddenly speak French.

We’d been to Amsterdam a couple of times before so when we went in September we knew, in part, what to expect. There are the canals, the arched bridges, the distinctive tall and narrow architecture of homes and office buildings, and the huge variety of restaurants representing what seems like every cuisine in the world. Before a previous trip I’d learned a bit of Dutch so that I could at least say a few niceties and numbers but that was never necessary since every person we encountered spoke English. That’s how we found out how “wonderful” our French is (he says with a sly grin).

A bike still waiting for its rider
An Amsterdam bike still waiting for its rider

At the floating flower market while we were looking for spring bulbs a gentleman asked if he could help us and Bill replied that we were deciding which flowers to take home. The salesman pointed out a selection specifically packaged to export to the US so Bill explained that we lived in the south of France to which he replied that Bill spoke excellent English. I probably would have just said “thank you” and thought to myself “after 60 years of experience I should” but Bill was honest which got me thinking about how skilled workers in Europe tend to be in knowing so many different languages and not always detecting the source of an accent.

Later we were in a wine shop, a bakery, and the fish market where we were always asked the same question: :”Where are you from?” and we would reply in English. Each time the merchant would come back with a greeting in French and then continue trying to serve us in our “new” language and one that was clearly not native to them either. I was so happy that we were now communicating at the same level where we were all speaking something other than what we grew up with. In France we have never been put down for our lack of fluent French and in the Netherlands since we could now say that we’re from France it was just assumed that we spoke the language. From basic to “perfect” French in an instant. One more reason to go on vacation to another country!

5 thoughts on “Instant French

  1. I know quite a few people who manage to sound like natives in another language. Some of them are Meryl Streep type geniuses at accents; others lived in the other country for a long time, especially when they were young. I suppose the Dutch quickly figured out you weren’t French but French residents, but they didn’t press the point.
    Which flowers did you buy?


  2. Beth and I went to Barcelona recently. I found myself answering Spanish questions in my intermediate French instead of my native English. On reflection, I realized it’s the language I’ve become conditioned to use when I don’t understand someone.

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