Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

Last year when I started my job with company x they paid for two weeks of intensive one on one French classes in Paris for me. The classes were good and I learned plenty but the problem with an anglophone trying to learn French in Paris is that so many people speak English it's difficult to apply what one has learned outside of the classroom. Or maybe I should say that it's easy to not apply what one has learned if she chooses to. So after those two weeks my comprehension improved tremendously and I was able to understand when my colleagues spoke in French but I continued to respond to them in English.

As dysfunctional as that system sounds it worked for a while and I was a happy worker bee. During this past spring I started toying with the idea of taking a two week holiday to the south of France and enrolling in another 2-3 week intensive French course. My plan was to sneak away without telling anyone where exactly I was going and to return speaking more French than I had previously. Around the same time, my colleagues that are in charge of external training and development told me that there was still training budget left over for the year and it could be used to some additional French classes if I felt so inclined.

That's when the wheels really started turning. I put it out there that I was intending to take some French courses anyway on my own using my vacation days and if company x was so inclined I'd be more than welcome to have them absorb the costs of my holiday training course especially since communicating more in French is listed as one of my objectives for the year. To my surprise they agreed and so at the end of October I will find myself enrolled in the Instituit du Français in Villefrance sur mer just east of Nice. Sounds lovely doesn't it?

Well not so fast. Because my manager doesn't want to feel as if the company's money is being tossed out of the window, as of yesterday I was told that my dysfunctional system that I've come to love and enjoy will cease to operate. Going forward all team meetings will be conducted 100% in French and my contributions will have to be in French as well and participation is not optional. This is probably the kick in the ass that I need but the anxiety that I'm experiencing isn't pleasant.

So stay tuned to find out if L'Étrangère Americaine let's this French nonsense get the best of her and packs her bags and moves back to New York or if she steps out of the way of her own growth and achievement...


Greg said...

It sounds like one of those hurdles that most expats who have to learn French face. Scares the shit out of you but turns out alright in the end. It's probably just what you need to make that next step (sorry, that sounds really bad, but I swear I woke up one day and 'spoke French'. Still lots to learn though).
I bet you'll look back on the whole experience fondly. ;D

rhonalala said...

Crap! Sounds scary but doable.
I totally sympathize because I was fed the same thing for when I go back to Germany. I will be given a "grace" period and then no more english in the office.
Like you, I can understand German (well, that is pushing it) but speaking......nein!
Good luck in your classes and french in the office. Just think, you will be fluent in no time at all. Keep on smiling.

FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com said...

The only way to learn is to practice

I learned French the hard way, via Portuguese accents in Portugal, where no one spoke a word of English & my French was shaky at best

L'Étrangère Americaine said...

@Greg you make it sound like riding a bike you just start doing it one day. We'll see about that.

@rhonalala it feels scary as hell but I'm really the only one standing in my way at this point.

@FB sounds like a truly comical experience :)

Black and (a)Broad said...

Honestly, I thought this was a Dutch phenomenon. The Dutch themselves have asked me over the years why I've wasted time learning the language when most people will speak English to me (to try to show off their language skills, they add). I guess there's no such thing as particularity anymore! As hard as it'll be in the beginning, being forced to speak another language is the best way to master it. Before my oldest went to school, I spoke English 24/7. Then, I found myself having to communicate with her little 4-year-old friends who don't understand English. That training worked. I always swear that that experience helped me to pass the language exam required for me to apply for a Dutch passport! So, keep on speaking French. You'll never regret it!

jonnifer said...

This is a blessing. Immersion is THE way to learn. But if you're interested in taking classes, have you considered the ones offered by the mairie? They are not too chers but you need to sign up now.

Emily Marie said...

This is a good thing! When you're forced to learn you take in so much more. That's why I learned so much French from J - because I had no choice. Honestly it might be a little scary at first but it will be come habit.

sunshine jane said...

Ummmm...what did you expect? It's obscene that you didn't try to use your french more, while living in paris. Isn't that part of the point of living there, by choice? Or did you plan to move there and continue to exist in your own culture? You are an embarassment to all foreigners who want to live in and enjoy another culture while making an effort to assimilate.

L'Étrangère Americaine said...

oh sunshine jane you aren't so sun shiney now are you. It's easy to pass judgment sitting behind the safety and confines of your computer screen without having spent a day or even an hour in someone else's shoes.

Thanks for your comment and thanks for reading my blog.

Christine said...

Hi, I found your blog today. My family and I won a vacation to anywhere in the world. Here is the press release. http://news.prnewswire.com/DisplayReleaseContent.aspx?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/07-30-2009/0005069407&EDATE=

We chose France. May 2010, 3 nights in paris and 8 in Villefranche. At any rate, I am very excited to have found your blog.

Also, sunshine jane has some serious issues, non?

john MILLS-PIERRE, III said...

Je pense que l'experience sera parfait pour toi! Keep up the hard work.

I agree with L'etrangere, Sunhine Jane clearly has a black cloud over her.

L'etrangere I know you are trying hard - you comprehend clearly and have immersed yourself in the REAL Parisian cultural element - not the crap we see from lame American Stereotypes. Stay Positive and merely turn off the mute button on your mouth, jolie ;-)

Je t'adore,
World Citizen Blogger.

sunshine jane said...

If you don't expect comments both positive and negative in response to your words, you have no business posting a blog on the Web. grow up already.
And for what it's worth, lots of people would give their left arm to be in your position, so complaining about having to speak the native tongue where you work, with lessons on the bosses tab, really seems immature and just plain ridiculous.

au soleil levant said...

I think this will be great! I think you'll catch on quicker than you think you will, and in a few months you'll be amazed at how far you've come. And you get a paid vacation in the south for your troubles! Bon courage!

misplaced texan said...

We all need a little kick in the ass sometimes, don't we? Good for you for taking on the challenge and sticking with your goals!

For what it's worth I can't for the life of me understand the need to spread unsolicited negativity across the world à la Sun-not-so-shiney Jane. What "seems immature and just plain ridiculous" is a closed-minded, bitter individual who exploits the internet as a personal instrument to pass harsh judgment on perfect strangers.

I commend you for making the most of your life, L'Etrangere, and for sharing with us your success and tribulations during your journey.

Anonymous said...

sunshine jane - sounds to me like L'Entrangere's company didn't mind the way she communicated, and that in fact, some of the French people want to sharpen their English skills. So she's not "existing in her own culture". She's just admitting she's a bit scared about about the pressure to become fluent in such a short time. Having taken many French language classes, I know how hard it is as an adult to try and learn another language. Good luck L'Entranger!

Justin said...

Great post l'étrangère... it is tough work living and working in another country. I know how hard it can be, so many things to adapt to, language, culture, everything all at once. It seems almost like an impossible task because we all know just how hard it is to live so far away from home when so many things are just so different, then throw in not being able to easily speak the language, ugh I would kill just to be able to easily express myself just for one day in French... so hang in there and it will all come. It sounds like you have made a lot of progress already, and this may be just the kick in the butt you need to excel to the next level with you language skills. Great work!

Oh and it sounds like sunshine jane has never tried living in another country... what's that saying "grass is always greener"... how about she shuts her mouth until she has something worth adding. Nevermind the negative types who have their romanticized vision of what life would be like in Paris, until they step up and give it a try, all the people who have know they just have no idea what they are jabbering on about. there's my two cents.

Anonymous said...

I've heard wonderful things about that language school so it should be a good experience. I'm sure you'll catch on quickly!

Leesa said...

Hey J,

Oki then, from now on, you, me and Alex will talk in French!! I know that since I've been here, my French has greatly improved... But, there are as many English speaking people here in Antony, so maybe that's why... Also, the fact that Alex and I only speak in French... do we have a choice??? Also, since I studied French when I was younger, that was really my "saving grace." Though... let me tell you "book French" is NOT the same as living in the language... daily!
You will be fine... I can see it now... it will take time but you will arrive!!! Stay and don't think about going back!!
Laisse tomber cette femme negative, la femme qui porte les nuages avec elle... Mon Dieu! Il y a des gens qui AIMENT etre tellement negative pour n'importe quelle raison.. Oh... la pauvre!!
Anyhow... si tu as besoin de moi... je suis là, il faut juste de m'appeler... c'est tout...

L'Étrangère Americaine said...

I just want to say a thank you to all of my family, friends and readers for their wonderfully supportive and positive comments to this post.

I love you guys or better yet je vous aime bien. :) (Next time I'll do a recording and post it on my blog for you all.)

L'Étrangère Americaine said...

@Christine thanks for finding my blog and congratulations on winning a vacation. Seems like you and your family really deserve it after the challenging times you've had with your little boy. I'm sure you and your family will have a wonderful time in France.

I'll be sure to take lots of photos and write a post about my impressions of Villefranche.

J said...

l'etrangere - You will absolutely adore Villefrance. I lived in Cap d'ail (just right next to Monaco as a nanny). If you haven't been to that side of the riviera before, it's mindblowing.

Take the opportunity to visit up and down the coast while you're there, I'd be happy to recommend some little hidden beaches and spots to check out while you're there.

Also, the total immersion thing will hurt at first. You'll go home having headaches, trying to comprehend everything at once. Just take your time, don't freak out, and you'll find it will come easier.


Anonymous said...

I commend your effort, though I think that two weeks is a very short amount of time to learn to speak french fluently. I took 9 months of intensive French courses plus three months of evening conversation classes and could only communicate basic ideas after my first year in Paris. It takes time and effort to become fluent and it can be frustrating to communicate like a 4 year old at work, where you need people to understand and respect your ideas. I wouldn't feel bad about having spoken English so far, though I'm sure that in the long run you will be grateful that you are now being pushed to speak French. I just hope that your boss and colleagues have reasonable expectations of you, as fluency doesn't arrive over night. Best of luck!!!

Evolutionary Revolutionary said...

Holy Bitter Bitch Batman! Sunshiney Jane has some aggression issues, in addition to being a cowardice. She has closed access to her blog!

"If you don't expect comments both positive and negative in response to your words, you have no business posting a blog on the Web. grow up already."

To which I reply: If you don't want to admit to having a blog in the first place, then don't go around other peoples and leave nasty comments. My guess is she's a crap writer.

As for you, my dear, you know very well where you stand with the language and what you can achieve. It's scary but your fearless (and have improved leaps and bounds in the speaking department recently!) Keep it up!!

Jennifer said...

This is a good thing! You are living in France, you need to learn to speak the language. You'll make mistakes at first but that is part of it. No one is fluent overnight, so don't expect to be, even after an intensive course. But with this kick in the butt, you will be on your way! And in the end I think you will be much happier speaking the language.

Good luck to you. I'm glad I found your blog.

Cynthia said...

How is your French coming along? I have a fear of speaking any foreign language but I need to get over my fear - a hurdle like this would help BUT I'm in the US (at the moment).

Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

xounds scary but challenging and also like you will master French with no problem. Nice blog.

Shakesrear said...

When I moved to France, I had the benefit of 40 hours of one-on-one lessons. I didn't follow the teacher's syllabus at all; instead, I used her to practice speaking. I talked to her like I would anybody, but she helped me correct my errors at the same time. It helped me enormously because it's really the hardest part of learning.

At the same time, I spent my free time reading French magazines (with a dictionary) and French children's books and listening to French music. Basically, I cut myself off from the English-speaking world and I wouldn't allow myself to speak English at all (except for my French boyfriend who couldn't stand to talk to me in French).

One of the hardest parts about learning French in the culture (especially with friends and colleagues) is that you have a really hard time not 'tutoyer'. You can't really 'vouvoyer' with your friends and where I work, it's not done with colleagues, so I've never really learned how to do it.

After a couple of months of total immersion, I went through this period of nightmares where I was in these horribly complicated math classes (and very stressed out). I think this was my brain coming to terms with the new language. Once the nightmares ended, I was fluent.

Good luck! You'll be a better woman for it.

Sillyplatypus.com said...

So what happened????

How did you manage with working fluently in French???

I am VERY curious because I learned French to an intermediate level, then forgot it all, but I'm considering moving to Paris! lol.

I'm ONLY not coming because I am scared the language barrier will prevent me from being able to really work at a high level.

Charles said...

Let me know who you work for! If they are still needing people in France, I'd love to work for them.

I thought about coming to Paris to study French at the Sorbonne after I graduate. I plan to minor in French with my second degree (accounting).

I hope that you will manage the new office protocols well. The good thing is that you have total immersion. That is the only way to truly learn a language.

I have the same dilemma when it comes to French. I can understand it when written or spoken to me, but trying to respond in French for me is like pulling teeth.

Bon chance! Wishing you all the best. Joyeux Noel.