My first word was “bouteille,” French for bottle. Every night, or rather, multiple times per day, my French mother would fill up bottles full of soy milk for me to drink (this being, of course, before research was done potentially linking excessive soy milk consumption to breast cancer and a slower mind). It’s okay, I turned out okay. Although I did forget how to spell “sewer” the other day and typed into google: “how to spell the poop place underground”. When that didn’t help me, I wrote, “where does the poop go” until I found it. Point being, maybe I drank too much soy milk for my own good. But any way, my first word… It was “bouteille”. I love to flaunt this fun fact when asked or not asked (let’s be real, after about the age of 2, nobody asks you or your mother what your first word was anymore). But to the world, I wish them to know, I am not merely American, I am also French.
But do I speak French?
Well, this has been a life long struggle. Hence, why I am here on the outskirts of Alençon, France as we speak, volunteering on a sheep farm as a WWOOFer (a.k.a. a volunteer with the organization Worldwide Work On Organic Farms where in exchange for food and a place to stay, you work on a farm). My main goal here is to finally, finally improve my French to a point where I am fluent. As fluent as possible.
How’s it going?
Well, I came in, as I usually do, thinking it’ll be no biggie. I have a solid base in French, I can say stuff, I understand my mom and her friends when they talk in French, I’ll be fine. Sheep are cute. And yes, I’m fine. And yes, sheep are cute. But I didn’t anticipate spending most of my day with a mumbling 16 year old apprentice and the farmer, who speaks French faster than news anchors. It often feels like a different language altogether. Sometimes I have absolutely no idea what they said. And having to say, “comment?” and “désolé j’ai rien compris” over and over again when all they’re trying to explain is how to milk a sheep or move this giant pile of hay over to the other side of the barn… well, it’s sad. After a week, however, I can confidently say it is getting easier. I also have some strategies to speed the process.
SPEAK: I force myself to say things. It’s so easy to become a wall flower when you are a foreigner in a foreign country. People become accustomed to you not knowing words and not knowing what they are saying. 16 year old boys might even say something in front of you that’s a bit inappropriate thinking you didn’t notice– oh, but you noticed! And you told him! And he was embarrassed. And it was great!
I carry around a little handy-dandy notebook (“mon carnet français”) everywhere and write down as many french words as I can that I don’t understand. Then I translate them and add them to an online quiz to study. Check it out. I add to it daily. (Often times French people don’t want to repeat themselves more than once and then spell out the word they just said quietly, quickly, and while mumbling– but you must force them. Respectfully, of course. But push, push!)
READ HARRY POTTER: As all sane human beings, I love Harry Potter and re-reading the books makes me feel at home. Currently I’m reading “Harry Potter À École Des Sorciers” (the first book) in French. I’d say the only downside is I learn odd phrases in French such as “une poursuite haletante” (a panting pursuit) and “des sifflements d’oie furieux” (furious goose whistles).
MAKE LIL VIDEOS:
Every night I record a little video where I speak to myself in French and check in. So I can map my progress with the language. This is what people do when they don’t have a thriving social life or friends other than sheep. Here’s a very short clip from one of them:
JOURNAL IN FRENCH:
I write a journal entry in French daily. Gotta get them memories of me pouring sheep yogurt into containers ingrained in my mind forever somehow.
CUDDLE CUTE BABY SHEEP:
While the family is very kind here and I get along with them well (better each day that passes)… I try to give these two baby sheep that I feed from a bottle a long hug every day. To keep me happy. These baby sheep and I can communicate without language. Plus, they don’t ask me to complete laborious tasks.
Here’s to hoping one day, I can speak fluent French. Let me know if you have any advice on how to speed the process. I must sleep now because I have to wake up early to give grain and hay to all the adult sheep, give the babies their bottles, milk the mommies, and maybe go to the fromagerie to make some cheese, yogurt, confiture du lait, riz au lait, creme fraîche, or something or other. Or clean things, lots of things to clean here. More on that later.
À toute à l’heure!