Reading and writing are two of the three components of mastering a language. They are very important but they may not provide as much fun and opportunities to reach fluency as speaking directly with others. So, let’s see how speaking with people in France will definitely help you become fluent.
As defined in Wikipedia, “Oral fluency or speaking fluency is a measurement both of production and reception of speech, as a fluent speaker must be able to understand and respond to others in conversation.”
Spending time in France is very desirable; you get a chance to immerse yourself in everyday life, observe the habits, discover the culture and taste great food! But the experience will be tenfold when you have conversations with people.
All people in France speak English
That is cliché! It is true that the French learn at least one foreign language in school starting at the age of eleven, but it does not mean that they had good teachers or remember any of it. Only those people whose job has something to do with English may speak to you in English, and those constantly interacting with English speaking tourists. In other words, don’t expect the baker to address you in English! French is THE language in France! Don’t be afraid to try.
A few tips: be prepared, respectful, and dive in
The best thing to do is to have prepared yourself for the experience; at home in the US and in France. Here at home, you want to learn to speak French; not just to read or write. You want to find classes that will promote oral interactions while teaching you the foundations of French grammar and vocabulary.
Don’t be naïve; acquiring a foreign language does not happen overnight just using an app. It is necessary to learn the structure of the language, the pronunciation and some basic vocabulary. The key is to focus on those key expressions and most common tenses and verbs. Once you are equipped with this basic knowledge, then it’s time to put it to work in-country!
In France, there is nothing more important than reenacting some of these simple dialogs you will have practiced at home, such as going to the train station and buying a return ticket to the French Riviera, asking for directions in Paris to walk to the Musée du Louvres, or asking for help if there is an issue with your AirBnB rental.
When addressing people in French, speak quietly, and take your time. Avoid big laughs. The French are rather reserved, and they speak in a much softer tone than the Americans. This might have to do with the high density of the population to avoid cacophony and keep conversations somewhat private.
Once the conversation has been initiated, keep going! A great way to make progress, is to pay great attention to the words used by your interlocutor and reuse the same expressions, words, etc…to provide answers or simply to summarize understanding. Don’t try to make complicated sentences; keep them short.
What if you don’t know a word, or your interlocutor takes over in English?
The answer is simple: look for a synonym or use the English word in French! Both languages have borrowed a ton of words from each other and you will be amazed to see that it works more often than you think! You may also know that in general, words ending in ~gist in English, end in ~logue in French such as ophthalmologist …ophtalmologue. That is just an example.
Now, if some people, despite your efforts, are responding to you in English; it’s a great sign! That means that they love your language and probably everything that comes with it! But still don’t give up. Explain that you want to improve your language and that it is only possible through regular practice. Explain that they will be part of your success if they can pursue in French, and that of course, corrections are more than welcome. Because it is quite a strain, especially for beginners, you will be happy to interact no more than 30 minutes at a time. Then, switch to English. Your interlocutor will be delighted to express himself/herself in English. Taking turns works great.
At the end of the day
Finally, at the end of the day when you reflect on your day in France, or watch your videos and pictures, pay attention to everything that was surrounding you in writing : all these billboards, bus stop advertisements, street signs, shop marquees, etc.…Try to read them out loud; some may be more challenging than others such as serrurerie or quincaillerie, but that will be another opportunity to ask for help on pronunciation and will sure lead to other rounds of fun!