While there are glaring dangers in categorization and putting concepts and ideas into boxes, we generally need them as ways of understanding our world. It’s a way of identifying and making sense of everything, from knowing the difference between a table and chair, to strengthening your relationships or better understanding them.
When learning a second (or third, or fourth) language, it’s imperative to identify your learning style as to quickly cater to your needs and progress as fast as possible. Are you a visual learner? Kinesthetic learner? How do you learn best? For me, out of the four different types of learners (or seven), I think I’m all of them.
I’ve struggled with picking-up new vocabulary or kicking out old grammar habits. People tell me words and I can’t use them less than a minute later. I’m still making the same conjugation mistakes from three months ago. I’m even developing new, bad habits and regressing.
Malheureusement, the struggle is part of the learning process and it’s normal. I’ve realized I never remember the words people tell me until I use them. I can’t conjugate verbs until I can visualize what I’ve written in my notebook. I won’t use a phrase until I’ve asked for five examples.
However, the best way I’ve learned is through repetition. Sometimes exhausting but nonetheless imperative, I always have my thinking cap on and my listening ears sharpened. Listening for words and phrases I don’t know, or words I’ve previously learned but haven’t mastered, I’m able to learn through context and practice.
These are my everyday practices. (Not pictured: me in a pharmacy miming my symptoms or the store with vocabulary words written on the back of a receipt.) If you’re planning a trip to a Francophone country any time soon, here are just some words, phrases and notes to write on a paper and keep in your pocket, from my notebook to your service:
Ça m’est égal: I don’t care
Peu importe: I don’t care (between to options)
Je vous remercie: I appreciate it
Gare: train station (not to be confused with guerre: war)
En fait: in fact; used to connect ideas.
Proche: conceptually close, like friends; Près: physically close (to something)
Coucou: hey there (familiar)
C’est ça: Confirmation, “that’s right”
J’ai fini: I’m finished (not to be confused with je suis fini: I’m dead)
- Use a fork and knife when eating. Even if you’re only eating salad, you need to cut your lettuce or you seem very uncivilized.
- On the note of table manners, if you’re pouring yourself water, ask everyone else within reach if they’d also like water. Whoever empties the pitcher gets up to refill it.
- Finish your plate with a good bread-whipe. Don’t leave food on your plate.
- Always say hello before anything else, even if nothing else. No exceptions.
- If you’re not sure what to do when you enter a restaurant or cafe, you’re probably supposed to seat yourself. Unless it’s fancy, it’s probably self-seating. The waiter will be with you shortly.
The first time I used the words, I was scared and paused for approval from a French speaker. En fait, I always pause before a difficult conjugation because I’m imagining the way I’d write it in my notebook. When friends tell me new words, I ask them to spell it so I can visualize it. I return to my room at the end of the day and write down all the words and phrases I learned that day. I’ve learned half the cultural cues from keen observation, and the rest from making mistakes. The language, the behavior– it’s all apart of the cultural transitions.
Most importantly, I’m surrounded by wonderful people, and I’m forcing myself to go out and meet them. Colleagues, shopkeepers, fellow residents and the like are kind, patient and encouraging. I’ve had to put aside every ounce of pride and self-respect to communicate and make friends, and it’s so rewarding. And they respect me for it.
In addition to everything I just listed, I also check out French movies from the library, watch my favorite TV show dubbed in French, listen to French music, read books in French, do the newspaper crossword daily, and talk to everyone, even when I really, really don’t want to. It’s crazy, and I love it all.
It hasn’t been clunky and I don’t feel uncomfortable, but I’m excited for a refreshing 10 days in California for Christmas where I know the language, can express everything and anything, and can wander the isles of Target for everything and nothing.