Learning a language at school or college can sometimes mean that you’re not very well-equipped for entering the “real” world where that language is spoken. For example, if someone in Geneva wanted a lively debate on 1) The advantages and disadvantages of renewable energy, 2) Racial discrimination in the French job market or 3) The plight of young people in the Parisian suburbs, I could happily oblige, following many years of stilted oral exams. But what about the mundane things about everyday life? I don’t remember being taught how to ask “How do I turn the dishwasher on?” or “If you reverse any further back then you’re going to run over that cat!”
That’s where I have to say au revoir to my English brain and bonjour to my French side. Accompanied by a few frantic hand gestures and pointing, it turned out that it is possible communicate your point, even if you don’t know the right words for dishwasher and reverse. Luckily for me, my hosts are very patient and are willing to act as walking dictionaries when my mind goes blank. I have hardly stopped speaking French since I got here on Wednesday, which is super beneficial but it also means that there are some words that I don’t understand and mistakes are made left, right and centre. As clichéd as it sounds, though, mistakes can be a very positive thing for making improvements and when they’re funny, that makes them even more memorable! Here are a couple of mistakes which have been made by both me and my hosts.
- On my first night I ate dinner around the table with the whole family. Tim, the son, was telling us about his trip to Australia where a woman who told him, in English, that she had just had “buttocks in her forehead”. Extremely confused, he had later asked a friend what had happened to this poor woman and it was explained to him that she actually said “botox”!
- It is well known that I sometimes forget to engage my brain before speaking. Yesterday while driving through Geneva, I saw a sign saying Croissant rouge and asked excitedly in French, “Can you buy red croissants from there?” After much laughter from my hosts, they told me that Croissant rouge was actually an international aid organisation like the Red Cross and not a type of pastry. Whoops!
For me, I’ve found that the best way of ironing out mistakes is by writing them down in a tiny notebook to look back on whenever there’s a spare moment. For you, it could work by repeating the word over and over, or perhaps by adding it to an online memory helper such as Memrise. Any other suggestions then let’s hear them in the comments!