Who's fluent?

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Who's fluent?

Post by peirol on Wed Apr 09, 2014 4:59 pm

I'm in the middle of reading "Fluent in 3 months" by Benny Lewis, a young Irish man who is a polyglot and has taught himself many languages. It is a very inspiring book, and (not surprisingly) the message is that anyone can learn to speak any language at any age if they work hard enough at it and -crucially - have lots of conversations with native speakers.

This started me thinking. I am always amazed when I meet English people who say "I've been here for 2 years and now I'm pretty fluent" - how do they do that? Is their idea of 'fluent' the same as mine? For me, fluency is the ability to understand any French speaker as well as I would understand if they were speaking English. Also I would expect to be able to say in French anything I wanted to say and could say in English, not necessarily with perfect grammar, but so that it could be fully understood. I would want to be able to nuance conversations about hopes, thoughts and feelings, and express humour, irony and subtlety, so that I could reveal some of my own personality and learn about the other person's.

After 6 years, I can converse in French but I still feel a million miles off my idea of fluency. I can understand most French radio, but it still drives me mad when I overhear people talking in the supermarket and I can't understand a word (mind you, the same might apply in Newcastle!)

I think that Benny is right, and frequent conversation helps a lot. He suggests finding a partner who wants to learn English and having a regular hourly conversation session, half in English and half in French, so that each of you learns from and teaches the other. My French conversation partner of the last 2 years has had to move away, and I am wondering whether it would work if I advertised in local shops for a French/English language learning partner. Has anybody tried this, and if so, did it work out for you?

peirol

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Re: Who's fluent?

Post by tocyvi on Wed Apr 09, 2014 5:21 pm

Without being overly cynical, generally speaking, if people are telling you that they're fluent after 2 years of living here, they're either a) greatly exaggerating their own ability or b) have a very limited view of what they mean by fluent. I very rarely come across Brits who are fluent; certainly there are some but they are not that common.

I have sympathy for those who come here with a limited or no knowledge of the language and who try hard to learn but I don't have a great deal of time for those who have been here for a number of years and yet are still unable to say little more than "Bonjour", "Ca va" etc. I accept that it's a lot easier if you had a good grounding in French at school, but you can't continue to use that excuse without demonstrating some efforts to helping yourself.

In my view, the simple fact remains that you can't completely enter into French life if you aren't a fluent French speaker.
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Re: Who's fluent?

Post by Myriam on Wed Apr 09, 2014 5:47 pm

I can only speak for myself, Peirol. I have been living in France for 6 years now as well and I manage quite well, but I do not have the illusion of becoming a near native French speaker within the next 2 years, if ever. I have spent 16 years in London (from 23 to 39 years of age) and after 8 years there, I considered myself a near native speaker, being bilingual.

I think it depends on several factors, like age, how much you mix with the locals, whether you work (in which case it goes much faster as you have to cope), whether your partner is French, whether you're reasonably good in the grammer of your own language, etc.

For me English was a lot simpler to learn than French, although the base was the same for the two languages to start off with, i.e. 5 years in secondary school.

Instead of finding a Frenchman/-woman who wishes to learn English, I would, if I were you, find someone who does not speak one word of English. That way you will learn much more French in my opinion.

The most important thing is to keep on learning and don't give up. French is a very difficult language to learn. I cannot imagine learning any language in three months. Don't let this polyglot guy put you off. Be patient with yourself. It goes in stages. Sometimes you think you're not progressing at all, then you take another leap and so on. Think of the progress you have already made. What you manage to say today, you wouldn't have been able to say 6 years ago.

Bon courage, you will succeed in becomimg more fluent. And remember, the French make lots of mistakes as well. Just read the ads on boncoin...  Very Happy .
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Re: Who's fluent?

Post by Myriam on Wed Apr 09, 2014 5:55 pm

tocyvi wrote:
In my view, the simple fact remains that you can't completely enter into French life if you aren't a fluent French speaker.

Well, that has its positive sides as well, as you do not have to get involved into all the gossip of the small hamlets/villages as you do not know all the families' backgrounds. It seems as though everyone in the village is related to the rest of them in some way or other. And as a foreigner, you will always be entitled to ask questions on no matter what subject.
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