How I learnt French

I did French A’ level back in the eighties, so at 18 I had read a handful of French novels, all of them in English and could speak almost no French at all. What I did know was that I liked French. I liked the sound of it, what it did to my rather tight English mouth, and the way it made you feel when you managed to complete a sentence. Desire, I believe, is the only prerequisite for learning a language: if you find yourself imagining you can speak it, then one day you will. I learnt French the easy way: by marrying a Frenchman. Romance is the shortest path to a foreign language, not only because of all the extra curricular activity but because being in love provides the greatest incentive to learn. I remember, in the days leading up to my marriage, bursting into tears over Balzac’s Le Pere Goriot: “I’ll never do it,” I told my fiancé despairingly. Five years and several hundred Parisian dinner parties later, my French was as good as his English. Five years after that I was not only dreaming in French but arguing in it with a petulance and a grandiloquence that English simply doesn’t offer. Ultimately, I believe that impersonation is the key to success. Cast off your English embarrassment, throw yourself into the pouting vowels, the slightly high-pitched intonation and – like Eddie Izzard – just do the French thing. The rest will follow.

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2 thoughts on “How I learnt French

  1. Learnt is a valid past partic… whatever in English (But I believe it’s mainly in the UK). In the US, we say learned. So maybe you should have an American lover for a while. Tell Ben that I said hello and that I was simply joking. Bises.

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