Pamela MacNaughtan

I will be the first to admit that my language learning has been slow. I do okay when I visit a restaurant or shop, but whenever someone engages me in a conversation I panic. I hear maybe two or three words, and I have absolutely no idea how to respond. If I’m eating out, I say ‘Oui’ in hopes that I have been asked a yes or no type question. While this most times, this is often a dead giveaway that I am anglo and the person I’m interacting with will either switch to English, or look confused and speak more French.

I should be trying harder. I know this. I start in French and quickly switch to English. Too shy and embarrassed by my bad pronunciation – the only thing keeping me from ordering food for delivery!

This has been the norm since moving to Québec in December.

School Memories

As a child our family moved around a lot, and since there is not a standardized French program in Canada, I struggled to keep up with my classmates. In Winnipeg they start speaking French in kindergarten, and at the end of kindergarten our family moved to Ontario, where they start learning French in grade four. As it happens half way through grade four we moved back to Winnipeg. I was now four years behind everyone else. Two year later we moved back to Ontario.

It was insanely frustrating.

In grade ten, I dropped French and switched to a semester of Spanish. I was done, and at the time I had never even thought of visiting Québec, let alone moving here!

Over the last couple of weeks words and phrases have been popping into my mind. Usually at night. Most of the time I’m not sure if those words are French, or what context I would use them, so I find myself googling them to be sure, and then I take a pencil and write the words down so I don’t forget them.

And because I don’t trust Google 100%, I double-check the words in my French-English dictionary.

Tips from Locals

While my elementary school memories come into play every now and then, locals are always a good resource. I love getting advice from locals on the best way to learn French as none of them will say, ‘Take classes’, or ‘Hire a tutor!’. That is traditional learning, and boring.

“Do you know how I learned English? I went to bars and drank. For some reason when I drank I wasn’t as nervous about speaking English and I learned much faster”, an interesting suggestion from a restaurant manager here in the city, and one that seems a little more feasible than the ever popular suggestions of, “French kissing! You must do lots of French kissing. It will loosen your tongue so you can speak better”, and “Pillow talk is always the best way to learn French!”.

So there you have it. According to locals, alcohol, kissing, and sex are the best ways to learn French.

Everyday Efforts

I’m learning French in baby steps. I try to use my very limited conversational French when shopping, which usually only involves my type of payment and whether or not I need a bag. I’ve learned my address (Yay!), so I’m rather excited to take a taxi home and pretend I’m a francophone, even thought many of them assume I’m confused and drop me off at the hostel down the street from my place.

I use short phrases and say things like ‘c’est bon’, ‘comme ci comme ca’, ‘oui, c’est ça’, a lot.

I also make an effort to write in French when messaging with franco friends in the city.

My French is coming along. Slowly.


  • Savi and Vid

    June 10, 2014

    I can completely empathise with you Pamela. I’m the same when it comes to languages. I’ve been trying to learn Spanish for ages and it’s coming along. Slooooooowly 😉


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