The title of this post is one of those handy words that is spelt exactly the same in English as it is in French. In French it’s a feminine noun, and this female is feeling a lot of it right now. What’s the cause? What else, but language? It is now less than two weeks before I leave Switzerland for almost a month, during which time I will be speaking French even less than I am right now. Even less. That’s a grim thought.

It’s a disgrace really, how little my French has come along in the last three months. Sure, I’ve made progress; I’d have problems if I hadn’t made any at all. But if, in my remaining time here, some drastic changes do not happen and I continue to “progress” at the same rate, by the end of my degree I’ll still be floundering in the shallows of intermediate-level French.

It’s my own fault, probably. I still spend the majority of my days speaking English. How did this happen? It’s very easy to get sucked into the international student world, where English is the default language. I wouldn’t have this problem if I was in a flat share with Swiss people. Living in halls has its pluses and minuses, and I am fortunate to have befriended a number of native French speakers, but that was sheer luck. All it takes is one person who doesn’t speak French for everyone in the room to revert to English. As expressed in a previous post, it can be highly frustrating being a native English speaker. Hell, if I wasn’t, I’d at least be getting in some useful English practice too, right?

What can I do? I am actually imploring you, dear reader, to give me some advice. The situation is feeling rather dire, and I’m far too proud to return to England in the summer still sounding like a spastic en français. People I know who have already been on exchange all pretty much concur on one solution: cut ties with English-speaking friends. Surround yourself only with French speakers. Guaranteed success. I don’t doubt it, but it’s a bit heartless, no?

I keep telling myself that it would be so much harder without English, that I wouldn’t have the same kind of friendships…but is that really true? There’s not doubt forming relationships is easier in English, but I have likewise made some very good friends with whom I speak only French (well, ok, with the occasional English word tossed in). Sure, I’m not quite as eloquent when we are talking about “deep” matters, but I’m not so far off as to not make my (I like to think) more complex thoughts understood. In fact, it’s a good exercise in being more concise, without flinging around unnecessary vocabulary and turns of phrases.

In addition I feel so silly and ungrateful stalking the streets of Switzerland speaking in English. What happened to immersion? It’s like I can’t be bothered with or am uninterested in this lovely country, which is the exact opposite of the truth. If there are two words combined which I revile the most in the English language, they are “wasted opportunity”. Don’t let this year be one. What do you guys think?


7 thoughts on “Frustration

  1. Well, I had exactly the same problem when I lived in Zurich, and after a year I had learned close to zero german and it took me half that time to forget what little knowledge I had acquired.

    I’ve learned the lesson, and this time I really did follow that advice of yours and cut ties with any spanish-speaking person and even with english-speakers. Well in my case I had no ties to cut in here, I just had to look for french-speaking friends and avoid the others at all costs. Heartless? A bit, maybe, but do you really want to learn a language? 😛 I tell you, if during that year in Zurich I had learned as much french as I have learned already during the last three months (I arrived with absolutely zero connaissances of french) I would have been already glad.

  2. Abel! I had no idea you had such good English!! Don’t use it with me at all costs! Haha, que le français, français, français!! Mais merci pour tes conseils, t’as absolument raison, bien sûr 🙂

  3. It will be fine, you have a second semester =). And I think you learn a lot from the first experience/semester, do’s and dont’s. I’m really grateful for the anglo friends I have here, but next semester I really want to speak toujours in Spanish! Immersion is the only way. The xchange parties are fun but they really don’t do much for language learning. And yeah, it’s a good compromise to speak in french with non-francophones too. And if anglophones don’t want to speak French, then there’s your answer = cut. I’m leaving so I can say that hahaa!!
    I know we usually speak in English, but actually those couple of hours only in French this afternoon, and those times in Geneva, were actually fine and it wasn’t too difficult to communicate. For me at least, it kinda takes a few minutes to get into the rhythm, but I don’t feel like there were gaps in our conversations of what we would have said in English.. If that makes sense..!

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