One of the biggest challenges in living in a foreign country is the language barrier. Although we have been in France for six months, we still can’t speak a whole lot of French. We don’t get to practice as much as we’d like to because for eight hours of the day during the weekdays we are inside working. We go to the store everyday and get a little bit of interaction there, as well as on the weekends when we’re out shopping or doing things. But those interactions are minimal, and it’s not enough. However, we manage to communicate and get by. I can now pick up and understand what the cashier says for the price of my tab without always having to look at the numerical value on the cash register.
For a full on conversation, it isn’t going to happen. It’s hard not being able to fully express yourself, be yourself, show character, and at times the interactions can be humiliating or it has backed me in a corner to become more timid. A simple question that we can easily ask in the states is more difficult here, and even if we could ask something we have to brace ourselves with the long-winded answer we don’t understand.
Sometimes when we pronounce something, we aren’t understood. And we swear, in spite of our accent, we are saying it correctly enough to be understood. The word that gets us the most is grande, meaning large. I think it depends on the individual because sometimes we are understood and other times we are not. It’s that “r” that we’re not quite getting. We’ve learned that the letter r is the hardest to pronounce. Surprisingly, our French leasing agent in Paris told us he had problems pronouncing the English letter r. We thought that was funny because we wouldn’t think so. I guess because it comes so naturally for us. I also have a hard time voicing the letter r in Spanish as well, so maybe that letter is just challenging to the foreign tongue.
It’s unfortunate with the language barrier because we have met some people who are really friendly and we would love to have small talk, but we are limited to what we can say. Some of the most friendliest people we’ve encountered are at the stores we shop at. At Bio c’Bon in Aix-en-Provence, all the workers know us. We go there everyday and purchase two large bags of produce. They pretty much know how we eat and we think they’re a little curious if we’re really consuming that much oranges, almond milk and salad everyday. There is one particular female worker who is extra friendly with me. She looks at me with curiosity and smiles at me every time we lock eyes. Our conversations have been minimal at the register, or a couple of times when I have asked if they had something. She doesn’t speak English, and I speak little French, but through our interactions I know we could become more acquainted. She is the friendliest young female to interact with me yet. One day when Nick and I were walking on Cours Mirabeau, I looked to my left and saw her at a cafe with her friend. Our eyes met and she mouthed, “Bonjour.” I returned the greeting and smile. This friendly interaction outside of her job was nice to receive and it made me wish I knew how to speak more French.
Sometimes the language barrier can be frustrating. Sometimes it can be isolating. But, I have to admit our motivation to learn has plummeted because of our negative experiences here. Although, I am still willing to learn because it’s the only way to get by. The motivation to learn now is different from the time we were moving here. Nick has a more pessimistic view on it and would rather not bother, so I’ve become his tutor. I speak for both of us, translate when I can, and teach him words as I learn them. Fortunately at our next rental in Nice, the owner’s mother has offered to teach us French. Nick is resistant because of the time involved, but I may take her up on it, and she may be insistent that both us of learn. Either way, I’d love to be able to learn as much as I can. It could definitely alleviate the language barrier.