A lack of communication skills, and the feelings of isolation that this brings, is often stated as the main reason that Brits return back to the UK. Learning a little of the French language will really help you as you begin to integrate with your neighbourhood and the local amenities.
What’s more, the French are very proud of their language, and the way to their heart really is through communication with them in their own words. Most French will be able to manage some English, but it’s not a good idea to assume that everyone understands it and you will win enduring respect if you at least try to master the basics. It is a common perception that the English are particularly bad at learning another language, and more than likely this is because wherever they go in the world, there is someone who can speak a few words in English, so why would they go to the trouble?
There are many stories of parents who embark on new lives in France, joining clubs and associations in the expat community, and sending their children to French schools, but never learning French – even when their children become fluent! Increasingly they become more and more isolated from the community, before giving it up and moving back to the UK.
It is really important to start taking steps to learn French ideally before you get to France, and certainly once you are there! Being able to speak the language will pay enormous dividends, and as well as making the difference to you staying permanently, it will also ensure you find it easier to understand the culture, deal with day-to-day authorities (such as the bank) and most importantly, build friendships more easily. Communication is vital to us all and taking French lessons at the outset will benefit you enormously as your life enfolds in France.
The French language is quite beautiful, and the Academie Francaise goes to enormous lengths to preserve it from Americanisms and jargon. It is more than worthwhile to learn a few words if you are planning on spending any time at all here – and there are a number of reasons why you should:
- First and foremost, more than any other nation, the French will appreciate you taking the time and trouble to learn their language – and will respond warmly if you do. Never worry about making mistakes – they will just appreciate you making the effort.
- Did you know that French and English are the only languages spoken on every continent of the world? French is an official language in 29 countries worldwide, including Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, the Caribbean and many countries in North-Western and Central Africa.
- French fashion designers, artists, writers, musicians, chefs and film makers have a wide influence on the rest of the world, particularly the west. French impressionist painters like Monet, musicians like Ravel and Boulez, novelists like Falubert and Camus have also had an influence on world culture.
- Many American films like ‘Three Men and a Baby’ are remakes of French movies. Who hasn’t heard of Christian Dior, Chanel or Yves St. Laurent? In many ways by learning French, you are adopting a whole new culture.
- French and English are related languages in a sense; French is a Latin language with German and English influence, whilst English is a Germanic language with Latin and French influence – what’s more they share a common alphabet, so learning French will in theory be much easier than learning Chinese or Hebrew.
- The French had a dramatic effect on English language for 300 years after the Norman conquest of 1066. Many people don’t realise how much this influence still affects the English language – think of words like toilette, rendevouz, fiancé, crème de la crème, bon voyage, brunette, c’est la vie etc.
- Last but not least, learning any language is GOOD for you at any age. You will feel a huge sense of achievement when you can make yourself understood, and it is always important to keep that brain dusted off.
When you continue your learning IN France, it is important to remember that France is something of a bureaucratic country. However maddening this can be at times, you can turn it around and use it to practice your French! If you have to visit the mayor (mairie) to find out about your property, your land or simply register for any course or local festivity, you can also listen to the way they explain things, the expressions they use.