Living the Language

Many readers have asked how Ben Blair and I are handling language learning for ourselves. The answer: French is the language we both studied in high school, and a little in college too. So we do know a few words. And I have to say, Ben Blair can do amazing things with the little bit he knows. So far, I have seen him interact confidently at all sorts of stores, at the school, on the phone and with our neighbors. He is so daring!

But our little bits of French aren’t nearly enough, so we do have a plan. We are trying to hire a tutor who will come to our home and work with us Monday through Friday. Surprisingly, a tutor is proving hard to find, but I’m crossing my fingers it will happen this week. In the meantime, let’s all be inspired to learn a new language after watching this incredibly charming little video.

Originally seen on The Paper Dialogues. Thanks for the link, Khali.

34 thoughts on “Living the Language”

  1. Bonjour. What a lovely little movie. I studied Italian in Florence with EF. Sadly, my grasp of foreign languages is sooo poor! But still it was a fabulous place to study. Wishing you lots of fun and luck with the French. I found that just talking, whatever you say or how you say it, right or wrong, will give you the confidence to keep trying. The less you say, the more frightening it becomes. I still struggle with my Dutch every day here, but have stopped worrying about how awful it sounds or how many mistakes I’ve made – nothing disastrous has happened, yet!!

    1. Hello Victoria!
      I’m assuming that you are living in the Netherlands -which is where I am currently living as well! Dutch is no where near easy but the more you try the more comfortable (and confident) you will become and the more the Dutch will appreciate it. I can honestly say that I have now come to the point after living here for almost 6 yrs where I feel confident enough to give someone what for in Dutch if need be and that is only due to the fact that I kept it up even when they would continue in English to me. Don’t hesitate, keep up the good work!

  2. Love the video. We have new american families arrive in the neighbourhood every other year and those who are daring, and just try to speak the language no matter what always learned it fastest. We even had one couple who would talk it at home too all the time = their german is amazing!
    The others sometimes left after 4 or more years still not being able to speak the language without that constant fearsome voice ..of course almost not understandable…
    A tutor is a great idea and always make people talk their language to you, even if their english would be great. We’re always tempted to talk english with them, but it doesn’t help, right? ;) (ok, the first 4 weeks, it helps)
    I speak french fearless but not very well, but it makes my ohsobeloved weekends in Paris a delightful time.

  3. Parlez-vous français?

    Excellent. Your Ben Blair is daring. Particularly for speaking French on the phone. It took me a long while before I felt confident on the phone – sometimes the words are so hard to make out. I’m not a big fan of French television but I found listening to tv (Arte) and radio (France Inter) helped me learn tons.

    I love this video (and the ones the same language school in other countries too!) particularly for the typography! I can’t remember where I saw it first, but I had to Google the whole team responsible for its creation – that’s how much it stole my heart.

    I don’t have any tips for finding a tutor and hope you find one soon.

    Bonne chance!


  4. I just happen to come across your blog. I find it fascinating! The decision to move to another country is just amazing. In this world today, the more diverse you can be and the more cultures you are exposed to, can only widen the view of your children. From now on, I will be a loyal follower. I have two little boys and would love the chance to move to a different country. Best Wishes!

  5. Gabby

    I’m so glad that you have taken both of my suggestions (well you prb don’t remember that I commented a few weeks back about this and for your children going to a French School). I’m really happy that the kids liked their first day and that they other students were so nice. I am also so glad that you took the pressure off of them and just told them to make friends and learn the language. That’s excellent! They will be learning so much just living in another country and learning about another culture. Which is more than what you can learn in a class room. They have many many years of school left but only 1 year in France so enjoy it!

    As for your schooling…I just hired a French Tutor to come to my home as well! It was a daunting task here in Paris as well. As there were no real websites or advertising other than craigslist. And I was nervous about using that. I ended up joining a Mother’s group and asked on their forum. If I were you I would check with La Mairie (Town Hall) and ask if they have recommendations. Maybe you have a school nearby who’s French Teacher only works half days. Or language school or even a University?

    Well good luck and most of all have FUN


  6. Show this to my young teen girl who is a student of the french language and said “look this is what you can do in Paris when you go someday!” She smiled. Fun video!

  7. These videos are fantastic! I am moving to London in September and it was fun to watch the London video. (Granted I already speak English of course!)

    I so admire you and your family for traveling and beginning a new adventure. This is sure to be something your children will cherish as they grow older and that you and your husband will be able to look back on with the fondest of memories.

    Bonne Chance!

  8. Try looking on for a tutor. If there is no one local, some tutors offer sessions over the web. Also, I know you want someone to come to you, but your local “mairie” might offer french classes.

  9. What a lovely movie! I want to watch it over and over.
    I’ve always wanted to be fluent in Italian. I remember some from growing up (my mom’s family is Italian), and before we went in 2004 I tried to pick up as much as I could. I was always willing to try speaking some while there. Most people we met were so incredibly gracious about it. And some wanted to practice their English with us instead! On a side note – my hubby was determined NOT to speak Italian at all. The funniest was when we were returning to our hotel one evening and the host greeted us (bella sera). My husband responded “bonjour!” Dork. : )

  10. Have you ever heard of a blog called Polly-Vous Francais? It has some interesting tidbits of information about French culture written by an American who loves France. Here is a link:
    Good luck with the language! I’m taking French now so I know how you feel (although you’re probably better at it than I am).

  11. I tried to speak french in shops (same as you – I took French in HS and college). They immediately knew I was American and spoke english back.

  12. When I took french in high school we were not allowed to speak english ever and if we did we got the Le Chat Noir – (a stuffed animal black cat) and we had to hold it until someone else had to use english then they got it.

  13. Try and ask at your Mairie if they have any Cours Municipaux pour Adults. Here in Paris they offer french classes for none francophones in every arrondissement. I’ve taken the first level and it’s great. Super cheap too – €145 for about a 4 month term. Here is the website for Paris Not sure if they have this elsewhere in France.
    We’re Americans who moved to London 2 1/2 years ago, and have now lived in Paris for 6 months so far. It’s been fun to read about your adventure. My 7 and 4 year olds are going to french public school and it’s been great. My 7 year old was communicating with her friends and understanding by her 3rd month of school.
    Bon courage!

  14. I lived in France as a missionary for my church many years ago. For two months I was tired ALL THE TIME from trying to keep up. And then one day it was like magically I could speak french. Don’t be afraid to just speak even if you feel dumb. It will come!! Good luck!

  15. I took the intensive summer language course at the Sorbonne and it is stellar. It’s such a great opportunity to interact with people from around the world, and the professors are top-notch. And I mean, c’mon – it’s the Sorbonne!!

    Oh wait – I’m getting you guys confused w/ your sister and forgot that you’re not in Paris, too. Never mind. ::blush:: I hope you guys are having the time of your lives!! France is a marvelous country.

  16. This video is so fun.

    I gotta tell you, it’s been my dream to live in France ever since I read “My Life in France” by Julia Child. I hope to do it when my children are high school and middle school aged. It would be so great to give them and myself that experience. Plus, my hubby served his mission in Scotland so I know we would be taking a few trips to the rest of Europe too!

  17. Gabby,
    I actually am fluent in french (I grew up in Montreal). If you are stuck and would like a couple of quick and fast lessons via Skype, let me know. I have to imagine that you would be able to find a “real” french tutor (perhaps in Paris, perhaps in Montreal) that would be willing to work with you guys via skype (who would actually know what they are doing, as opposed to me who would be winging it.) I’m in Houston, friends with Brene Brown, Katherine Center, and an acquaintance of Laura Mayes. My son takes lessons here in Houston via the alliance francaise. I will ask if any of their teachers would be willing to work via skype.
    (all of this assuming you guys are able to instant message or skype from where you are)

  18. Hi!
    I’ve been following your blog for almost 2 yrs now and really enjoy it. I admit it makes me miss home from time to time but yet I also feel like I’m still connected to American culture when I do stop by each day.

    I’m living here in the Netherlands with my Dutch husband and bi-lingual son, going on almost 6 yrs now…learning another language and culture can be challenging at times but is also fun. My husband and I say atleast if we should ever move back to the States that atleast we’ll have a secret language amongst us three :-)
    When I first moved here I joined the American Women’s club and that made a world of difference when it came to where to get help with questions I came across and frankly when I just was plain homesick. Here are a few clubs that I found in France: (American Women’s group Paris) (American club of Lyon) (American Women’s Group of Languedoc-Roussillon)
    They may be able to help you with how to handle schooling, daily living or how to connect with other families in your area. Since the range of expats living in Europe is so large many clubs span past their location. I belong to the Den Haag chapter but we also have members that live in Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Maastricht. The chapter in Amsterdam also covers many neighboring cities up north as well. So even though you aren’t living in Paris, they more than likely have other families that are also living around in your area. Hopefully they can help you out as well…knowlege is power right?
    Have a fantastic year and I’ll be following you each day!
    Take care,

  19. I am an American that married an Italian and I have been living in Italy for almost 8 years. We just celebrated the 1st birthday of our third child. Although, my kids were born here, they were a little slow in learning Italian because they were at home with my until they each started public preschool at 3. I watch tv in English and read to them in English. I also did ASL signing with them as babies and toddlers, as has been the fad in America for awhile. My idea was that if we decided to stay in Italy forever, that eventually English would be the language that they had less exposure to… I knew from observing other Italo-American families that the kids eventually became much stronger in Italian. I thought it was pretty sad when I met a 7 year old that couldn’t sing the “ABC song”.
    Anyway, when my daughter was 3 and son 2, and my daughter began school both needed to “learn” Italian (even though they knew basic words, I dont think they could form a sentence). They best thing I could do was
    1) make an effort myself and not complain. You put it right… you must be “daring”!
    2) get out and go places… like the park, as much as you can! Or do anything extra that comes out of school, like birthday parties (I think we have one a week!)
    I also recommend the tutor! Due to my husband’s job we meet a lot of families (from France, Greece, and Argentina to name a few) that come and live here for about 3 years at a time. They enroll their kids in school and get a tutor and before you know it, they kids are getting by pretty well. I do believe it takes some fearlessness and impulsiveness.
    Your audience helps a lot. Find friends that you are comfortable with and who are patient. I like the ones that finish my sentences!

  20. Katherine Mouille

    Being married to a Frenchman. I’ve had to learn French on the fly (some Alliance Francais courses, but mostly lots of French films, Paris Match, Gala magazine i.e. trashy reading, holidays in France) as most of my inlaws and hubby’s friends do not speak English (the trashy mags are handy in getting into French pop culture!) plus with both kids attending French schools overseas, I had to get my French up to scratch to be able to help with homework too.

    Do ask around at your kids’ school for teachers who are looking for some part time tutoring. Or post a notice on the school noticeboard. I found that there are usually a mom who’s either an ex-teacher with language teaching qualifications who either will do part-time tutoring or come to some kind of language exchange arrangement. Either way, it’s a great way to meet people as well.

    Aside from making and showing great effort in speaking the language – what I’ve learned is that the French put great store in “politesse” (even more so in a small town). The basic of saying Bonjour, merci, au revoir – every single time – esp. if you enter a shop. This extends to kids no matter how young. Altho’ they’ve never lived in France, this was beaten into our kids before they could walk- now you wonder why French kids are so well-behaved in restaurants?!? And stay on the safe side – vous voyez everyone unless they propose that you switch to tu-toi you.
    Good luck!

  21. we just moved from vancouver to montreal and thankfully i attended french emersion for my elementary and most of high school and, although i have not used it in 15 years eekk!, i seem to be getting the hang of it again – except i never learnt all these slang terms or every word in the dictionary so i am stumbling a bit. my husband, on the other hand as well as my kids, do not know a lick of french aside form the words that most people know so it is proving hard for them – most of the people at his company speak only french. he found some free pod casts on-line that he listened to on his commute that proved helpful.
    my 4 year old is picking it up like a dream as i run an at home daycare primarily with french kids and my 5 year old is at an english school with a french element but not getting it as i would have hoped.
    good luck with your adventure and learning a new language. it will be fun and stressful at the same time.
    one tip – get an english/french dictionary and some flesh cards and walk around your house and label everything in the french word – chair is chaisse, knife is couteau, sink is basin, etc. – not only will writing it down help you remember but it would make for a fun family game! keep a list and have them run around trying to locate the french word!
    bonne chance!!!

  22. Just channel all those days in the JKHB conjugating French verbs. I’m jealous of your opportunity to actually put those dormant French speaking skills to work! I’m loving living vicariously through your adventures.

  23. I too took french in high school and some in college. Recently Ive been wanting to brush up and extend my french speaking for that trip to France I will take some day:) I checked a different online sites and found Its great and teaches all different languages. You can work on vocab, reading, writing, and conversing. It might be something to check out until you find your tutor. And a huge thank you for letting me live vicariously through you. My husband’s job is the type that we would never be able to move oversees but Im hoping for a long summer some day!

  24. Et bien voilà ! Moi qui ne parle pas très bien anglais, je tiens peut-être là le début d’un superbe cadeau : un article en français (pourquoi pas ?!) !

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