My journey to learning French: A short story

0 Comment
arc de triomphe from wikimedia commons
French, as consensus would say, is the language of love. Not that I’m too much of a romantic but the French language attracts me. When I hear a stranger speak French, my inner voice screams, “Salut! Je suis ici! Je parle français aussi.” But again, I’m not fluent. Learning French can be difficult and frustrating but simultaneously rewarding–and that goes for any language. I often ask myself, when am I going to use this language? Living in Southern California, wouldn’t learning Spanish be a better endeavor? There are times when I would mutter to myself, “I wish I spoke Spanish instead.” But often, I find myself wishing that more people spoke French in my area.

“A cartoon hand holding a pocket watch…”

Let me tell you a story about why and how I’m learning French. First, this journey began when I was in junior high school. On a weekend, my mother and I visited Barnes and Noble. As I weaved among the wooden shelves in the gigantic world of books, turning right and left at every corner, I stumbled upon the language section. There it was–Barron’s Learn French the Fast and Fun Way. A cartoon hand holding a pocket watch donned the white book’s cover. I picked it up and flipped it around to the back cover. It promised me that I can learn the language by reading it “in just minutes a day.” I’ve heard spoken French on television, on movies, on commercials, in a song but I’ve never heard someone speak it before. I wanted to be that someone!

The book with the cartoon hand holding a pocket watch: Barron’s Learn French the Fast and Fun Way on Amazon

I held the white book the whole time I explored the bookstore and when it was time to leave, I showed the book to my mother. I knew we didn’t have much money to spend but I really wanted the book. Without a discussion about the impending purchase, my mother just took the book from my hand and motioned for me to come with her to the cashier. She bought it. We went to the car. I opened it and flipped the pages as my mother drove for half an hour. I got out of the car. I took the blue book to my room. I plopped my teenage derriere on my bed and I started reading. Voila! Bonjour, monsieur Barron!

The book had a few CDs that I could listen to. I guess that should be sufficient for me to learn how to say these alien words. I had a hard time at first getting the infamous French “r” sound. (trois, très, garçon, trouver). It seemed as though I was forcing the Mucinex phlegm out of my lungs. Eventually, I managed to make the sound and the others as well.

In my freshman year of high school, I opted to be enrolled in the French class and ignored people’s suggestions about taking Spanish instead. My French teacher was a nice lady, her appearance certainly French inspired. She started the class with “Bonjour, tout le monde!” I think that was the first time I heard a breathing human being speak French. She continued, smiling and nodding at the clueless group of students, “Ça va? Comment allez-vous?

She explained what those words meant, of course. She wouldn’t leave us hanging.

Throughout that year, I learned more about the language. I learned how to conjugate the present tense; I learned the regular verbs, pronouns, auxiliary verbs, gender, and more vocabulary. I could say, “Je mange une pomme. (I’m eating an apple)” or “Excusez-moi, ou est la banque? (Excuse me, where is the bank?)” (I learned this phrase when I didn’t even have any money, let alone a bank account!)

But this was all an interesting start. I had a great relationship with my teacher; she was very friendly to all her students and inspired all of us to delve into the more “cultural and sophisticated” things in life. She would take her students to museums, have a little party in the classroom, give us more information about student exchanges abroad, and etcetera. She would lend us verb books, charts, French movies, French magazines, and all other materials that could help us learn French. With her help, I knew I could learn French!

I took Madame teacher’s class for 2 more years. In those two years, I learned how to say arbitrary things in passé composé, the past tense. I also learned some l’imparfait, the future tense. Of course, I may be butchering the labels to these tenses but that’s how I remember it. I could finally say things like, “J’ai acheter du lait hier. (I bought milk yesterday)” or “J’ai mis le livre bleu sur la table. (I put the blue book on the table.)”

Then college came and learning French became more difficult…

I only took one French class in college, at Portland State University. I thought I could remember all the things I learned but my French professor conducted an intermediate level class purely en français. I knew I could understand but it became tedious as I would blank out on long instructions on writing about the countryside or what we like to do on vacation. Learning French this way became frustrating. It was no longer about learning with an airy attitude. It was so structured that I could hardly translate my thoughts into French. I guess I couldn’t learn French this way.

So I dropped the class.

Instead, I researched online, constantly looking for resources on learning French. I found websites for conjugation, vocabulary, slang, etc. I also went on YouTube to watch “Learn French with Alexa,” “Comme une française,” and “Easy Languages.” I still listen to Radio Lingua’s podcast, “Coffee Break French.” I would learn from some of the French natives who lived in our dorms at Portland State. I started writing down my own ideas in French. Then, I found Duolingo, a spaced-repetition language learning website. I would be on the website for half an hour to an hour.


Overall, I have attempted to learn French for over 10 years. I would get discouraged sometimes, thinking that it is quite impossible to learn and speak with confidence. In fact, I feel that I’ve learned more French in the past three years than any of the time prior to that. Being on the Internet and trying to learn the language definitely helped but I wish I could use it in a more natural setting.

This is why, Jessica and I are thinking of going to London and Paris next year to test my knowledge of the language I so desperately wanted and still want to learn.

I can read and understand some French now. I could even listen to someone on YouTube speaking French, and understand some of it. Although, I still have a hard time comprehending when slang is used. When I hear it spoken rapidly, I have to play it over a few times again. It certainly is difficult but I will press on and learn as much as I can. I hope I can at least learn more by next year, so that I may be able to answer a Parisian’s question. I certainly found some improvement since I picked up that white book by monsieur Barron.

The featured photo used on this post is from Wikimedia Commons.

What language are you learning now? Have you tried learning French before? Do you have any tips on how one could learn more efficiently? Please leave a comment below!


    Leave a Comment