French: I Give Up

My quest to learn French seems to have taken a turn over the last few weeks. I’d say that about 50% of my interactions at work (internally and externally) are in French. I’ve been steadily improving over the almost four and a half years that we’ve been living here. I can usually converse quite well even though I stumble from time to time. Actually I do that in English also, so there isn’t too much difference.

But when it comes to corresponding at work or talking to strangers, it takes me much much longer. You see, I can be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to language. I want to use the right words to be sure the correct meaning is conveyed. That is circumvented in conversation because I can gauge the other persons reaction and hopefully correct things if things are misunderstood. Plus since it’s informal, there is less pressure to get things out quickly. But in writing and on telephone conversations that’s not possible. So as a result I’ve been reluctant and actually at times avoiding doing either. Then in addition, writing takes me so much longer. Not only do I not readily know many of the conjugations of verbs or the gender of words, but I usually have to have someone proofread it to be sure it is constructed correctly. This easily takes about four times as long as if I had written it in English which already takes a while since I want to be sure it sounds right.

And as far as speaking to those unfamiliar to me, I have this urge to be easily understood. I don’t want others to be imposed by my mispronounciations, poor verb tense, or verb conjugation. Not that I’ve been annoyed with other immigrants who don’t speak English well, but I know that there are others who are. And I generally don’t like to annoy people. That said, people have been very acceptive of my handle on the language. So it really has been something internal.

But as of late, the luxury of limiting telephone conversations and writing emails or letters is pretty much over. Things are moving too fast. Urgent issues need to be responded to. It was needed yesterday. And although I can do the work fast enough, conveying it back to those who needs it will need to speed up.

So I’m giving up.

I’m giving up that urge to be a perfectionist and my self-imposed requisite to be a perfect speaker before saying anything. I really don’t have a choice. Actually I do have a choice and I’m choising to try my best to convey what is needed in less time. It’s been a bit liberating, though at the same time frustrating. It’s great when the point comes across, but when it doesn’t or when I really want or need to use all the right words again, it’s tough. I have trouble with being misunderstood and that’s probably my impetus for being so diligent with language. That’s another reason why I still haven’t written anything here in French.

One big benefit of having written so much lately is that I have been getting better faster. I’m not sure if my constructions are much better since I don’t have anyone proofreading much of it, but at least I’m getting more familiar with the conjugations and the gender of nouns. Actually, I think it’s time to start cracking open all of those French instruction books I’ve accumulated over the years. My level is cutting it, but not cutting it well enough professionally. Plus it will be better in the long haul. Sounds like a New Years resolution. But I’ll try to start before then.


~ by Frank on December 18, 2007.

10 Responses to “French: I Give Up”

  1. It is tough, but you just gotta keep plugging away at it. Challenge yourself to communicating a whole day in French.

  2. Yep. What tornwordo said. I just started at a new company which is primarily french, though franglais is very accepted. My daily workplace conversational french is rusty, but I’m catching on quick, I think. It’s all about forcing yourself to speak longer and longer sentences in French. 🙂

  3. Giving up perfectionism is the only way to become fluent. At least it was my experience when I moved to the U.S. and started attending college there and worked in an office. I was afraid to make people laugh when I talked (especially on the phone) so I used to wait for everyone to go to lunch before I returned phone calls. Once I stopped caring if people laughed or not, I became a lot more productive. 😉

  4. Well, gets to a point when you have to take a dive, doesn’t matter how graceful, nobody speaks perfect, not even native speakers, and people in Quebec are famous for making mistakes in french all the time.

  5. Learning a language is visual memory, at least a second language is. We learned our native language by listening and imitating, even before we knew what the words meant. Usage comes with experience — learning and knowing when to say something. How many comedians have made fortunes twisting our words back on ourselves?

    One thing you can do, at least as far as your written French, is to read. I still check in on Paris’ Le Monde newspaper on its website. I don’t always know every word, but I can get the gist of it, and it helps keep my French at least somewhat in use.

    Newspapers feature the living language. Read Montreal’s La Presse. You’ll get the local viewpoint in French, and then also, should they happen to throw in a little “argot” here and there, you’ll learn the local slang and how it is used. As icampillo said above, nobody’s perfect. Learn as you can, and people will be happy to help you out.

    Bonne chance, mon cousin!

  6. I’m in the same boat as you. I’ve been living in Montreal for five years, but I’ve only worked at a French-Canadian company for one year. Luckily, I think I gave up trying to be perfect during the interview process. In fact, I think it helped in interviews when I would laugh at my own mistakes. I was surprised to hear many people tell me, “don’t worry, quebecois don’t speak french right either!”.

    I’m surprised that you find email to be hard. I find this to be my prefered method of contact. With all of the spell checkers and grammar checkers built into programs, it’s easy to correct the frequent mistakes (sex of the words, plural adjectives). I find the phone to be the most difficult. If 90% of communication is non-verbal, we are already only getting 10% of the content when we talk on the phone. If you don’t speak the language well, I find that you miss many of the connotations, especially when you can’t see how the person is saying the phrase.

    Another advantage for me in email, is the possibility to be visual. I can draw or take a photo of what I want to describe. That way, I don’t need to write an eloquent paragraph describing the problem I have, but simply write: “voila”.

  7. Thanks everyone.

    I’ve been fortunately to fall into semi-immersion of spoken French and that’s really not my concern even though I’d like to improve.

    As a kinda funny aside, a couple years ago I went with the company hockey team to a tournament in Boston. You’d think it would be a chance for me to have a break from French, but it actually turned out to be another immersion since only a couple others spoke English. A whole weekend in an anglophone company speaking and hearing primarily French.

    I think I really need to concentrate on my written French. I’m sure my spoken French will follow once I know the rules. I learned the language through immersion with only some basic grammar rules, so my written French is really lacking.

    Raymond: Glad to make your acquaintence. You’re actually the kind of person I was trying to make contact with when I first started this blog. The reason email is hard is because the software my company uses does not have an automatic grammar check. So I have to write it in Word then copy-paste it back into the email. Plus there is garbage that is added to it in the transition. I’m also a visual person and often sketch up what I need to convey. (The advantage of years of art & architecture classes.) But our scanning capabilities leave much to be desired at the moment. Though a major sticking point has been writing professional letters. Though if I think about it, I’ve had the difficulty in English also.

  8. We use Outlook at work and the spell check doesn’t check for grammar. Therefore, it won’t recognize if I’ve used the wrong gender on a word. I end up writing everything in Word and copy-paste into my emails.

    I haven’t used it myself, but a program called Antidote is highly recommended. It’s like a super-spell check that is designed to pick up common mistakes that English speakers make. Here’s the link:

    Frank: I’ve been looking for Americans in Montreal on the ‘net too. There are so many of us, but it seems we don’t like to gather.

  9. You can get rid of the garbage coding from Word by copying/pasting from Word into Notepad. (Start–> Accessories –> Notepad) Notepad will strip all that garbage coding out. It’s another step, but it saves all the deleting and backspacing you would have to do otherwise. :o)

  10. Thanks, Raymond. That Antidote program looks very interesting. I’ve been fortunate that my boss is an American in Montréal. So it’s been nice to share notes with him. I’ve also found one fellow blogger who was also enticed to Montréal by his spouse. And interestingly we both came here for the first time within months of each other, then moved here years later also withing months of each other. It is possible that many who move up here are looking more for meeting the locals than those from back home.

    Cathy: Thanks for the tip. Cutting and pasting two times is easier than once with the editting. It’s another step, but it’ll save time.

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