Scratching A 30-Year Itch

Learn French? Moi? Nevah in a million years! That is SO NOT part of my linguistic plan for world domination… I’ve got enough on my plate with Spanish and Portuguese.

That’s what I would have told you four months ago.

I guess it may have been another classic case of the Lady Of The Cakes doth protest too much.

Deep down, not knowing a word of French (besides “merci”, which is a German chocolate brand and “bonjour”, which was plastered in glittery letters all over a T-shirt I owned in the 80’s) has always bugged me. Maybe French had been on my subconscious agenda for long time…after all, living first in Germany, then in the UK and now in Spain, I’ve been circling La France like a hyaena an unsuspecting antelope.

I started not learning French thirty years ago. The first missed opportunity presented itself at school in the form of elective classes. We had four options to choose from to supplement the standard curriculum. One of them was French and another one was EDP (Electronic Data Processing). I was torn. Heart vs. head. My Dad said that computers were the future. Since when did I ever do what Daddy told me to? Never. Except this time.

It was a terrible decision. IT class in the 80’s was a black screen with angry dark green letters on it. You had to type in stuff like C:\DOS\>path of despair<\ and wait for something mindnumbingly mundane to happen. Except that it didn’t, because you had forgotten a colon or your slash had leanings to the right instead of the left. That’s if you got to type anything at all, because one computer was shared between four people – the school could only afford eight machines, because its entire tech budget had gone on installing a state-of-the-art language lab that we were ushered into once a year, made to stand in awe of for thirty minutes, but not allowed to actually use.

But I digress… back to my Computersaurus Studies … does anyone remember punch cards…? This is how data was saved, as holes in bits of cardboard, before floppy disks, before diskettes, before USB sticks, before humans even knew what to do with their opposable thumbs.

Source: SAS und Chiffrierdienst

Ever glimpsed one of these?! Extracted by Computerpalaentologists from a bed of fossilised Betamax deposits, dating from the days when The Cloud was but a wet fart on the horizon…. (Source: SAS und Chiffrierdienst)

I abandoned ship after one torturous year. By then, unfortunately, it was too late to join the French group, and I missed out on three years of French. I still remember the teacher, a doe-eyed woman with short brown hair, whose upper jaw never moved when she spoke. How did she manage to produce any sounds at all, never mind French ones? I never got to find out 😦

In the ensuing decades, not knowing any French has been, if not an outright impediment, then at least a niggly, twisty, and slightly shameful thorn in my side. Two years ago, for example, I discovered Stefan Zweig (a long-dead Austrian author), who had the annoying habit of slipping smatterings of untranslated French into is prose. Also, people around me tend to make the assumption that I know French, like you’d just expect The Queen always to be wearing knickers, and pharmacies to carry Alka-Seltzer, anything else would be unnatural. A few months back, when a friend responded with “chez nous” to my question of where we were meeting that day, I had to feed these two words into the Obliterator Of Linguistic Common Sense, aka Google Translate, just to be sure.

And so, two months ago, I finally decided to bite the baguette. I’ve not yet uttered a single word of French to any living soul, but I’m listening to grammar and vocab podcasts daily in tandem with other online teaching resources. Luckily, there is a wealth of free material of excellent quality out there, especially at beginner’s level.

A girl needs a goal to keep herself motivated. To this end, I’m going to join a French conversation group in September, although it is making knees rattle just a bit when I think about it. Two of the guys from my German book club go regularly. They meet every week in a bar across the square from my building. It couldn’t be any more convenient. However, I have no illusions about my upcoming performance. I’m painfully aware that my conversational “level”, if you can even call it that, dangles somewhere south of zero while the other attendees are all fluent. I know from experience that my having a basic-but-coherent conversation in French is still a year away, possibly two. Only one paltry month and a half stands between me and total humiliation. But at least, that’s the one thing I’m getting pretty good at, as those of you who read my last post will know.

I shall need plenty of this to keep up my energies...

I shall need daily helpings of these to keep up my concentration…

67 thoughts on “Scratching A 30-Year Itch

  1. joannesisco

    At least with multiple languages already under your linguistic belt, you have a fighting chance … unlike me. My french is abysmal in spite of all my years of trying to learn.
    Bonne chance … by the way, I’ve learned from experience with the French in-laws that alcohol seems to help 😉


      1. NancyTex

        I am willing to bet that even with her deep love for her husband, Joanne would agree that CA French little resembles Parisian French. Kind of like comparing the English spoken in Manchester to that spoken by the Queen. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        And at least THAT is original. The Queen sounds just ridiculous…nobody has spoken like this since the 1950’s. She probably doesn’t want to sound like herself anymore, either, but she’s stuck with it…


  2. linnetmoss

    I love everything about the French language, even the silliness of Parisians who believe that they and only they speak the true, pure tongue. There is something touching about their losing battle to keep English loan words out of the language. And best of all they share my synesthesia of food, language and sex. Though I was a little dismayed to learn recently that tête de linotte (“Linnet-head”) means a ditzy airhead.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Thanks 🙂 It does help, for sure, even the German. I discovered recently, for example, that the French passé composé works just like in German with regards to using être vs. avoir.


  3. freebutfun

    I decided in high school French wasn’t for me when I hadn’t understood the weather forecast was a part of the French news we watched (I know!!!!). Funnily I actually understood a fair bit while in France in June, Spanish helps for sure. You’ll be fluent in no time!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Everyday Asia

    You are soooooooo dating yourself m’dear with that computer card! But yes… sigh.. I remember those. And being proudly shown an entire floor of the Manulife building being used for a computer…. probably with the capability now available on a typical smart phone! 😉

    And yes – wine certainly enhances your linguistic illusions of fluency!

    Enjoy!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. heatherinde

    You are indeed a trooper for taking on yet another language! Hopefully it’ll be at least more entertaining than those computer classes… but thanks for the solid lol about “C:\DOS\>path of despair<\"
    I had French in high school and a bit in university, and it's funny how words still pop in and out of my consciousness every once and awhile. Usually when I'm trying to come up with the word in German and drawing a major blank. A friend of ours who grew up between Germany and France and whose parents are French was unreasonably excited to hear that I spoke it once upon a time… and now likes to SMS me in French. As my teacher would say, Ohlalalalala, zut alors! (aka, like I don't have enough problems trying to make myself understood auf Deutsch!) 😉
    Good luck and can't wait to hear about adventures in French conversation!


    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Oh how I suffered! It didn’t help that the teacher had nothing but contempt for students whose mathematical abilities were below the standard set by him… he was also my Maths teacher… it could not end well, could it?


  6. Kim in Fiji

    THE BEST USE OF FRENCH EVER: In John Knowles novel “A Separate Peace” one of the characters was making up sentences in French. I will never forget them. They were, “Les girls en France ne wear pas les panatons.” and “Je ne give a damn pas about le francais.”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Anna

    I studied French for 3 years and then couldnt order a bottle of water when I went to spend a semester in Paris… after which I could get water but not a croissant. I am totally worthless at it. Funny enough, I started studying Spanish at the same time as French, and after the semester in Madrid that followed Paris I passed the Spanish gov’t foreign service language exam – I was totally fluent. So yea, French sucks. Sorry French people, but that language was super-mean to me.


  8. Sartenada

    I love this post. Thank You.

    I learned spanish when working 4½ in Las Palmas in 1969.

    Basices of French, I learned in school, but more when I started to read books in it.

    Two years ago I started to learn Portuguese.

    You should che my blog, beace it is in 4 languages since 1½ yers and before it in 3 languages.

    Have a wonderful weekend!I love this post. Thank You.

    I learned Spanish when working 4½ in Las Palmas in 1969.

    Basics of French, I learned in school, but more when I started to read books in it.

    Two years ago, I started to learn Portuguese.

    You should check my blog, because it is in 4 languages since 1½ years and before it in 3 languages.

    Have a wonderful weekend!


    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Hi there and thanks for commenting 🙂 I’ve also been learning Portuguese for two years now – I love it, but I do despair over the verbs! French will be far worse, don’t tell me…


      1. Sartenada

        Wow – for Portuguese! I have had Brazilian lady teacher. When on vacation on Madeira, we did not understand very much, because the pronunciation was different. 🙂


      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        My teacher is from Lisboa 🙂 But yes, Brazilian and European Portuguese are quite different. And islands always have their own peculiar accents… I went to Madeira eight or so years ago, but I didn’t speak any Portuguese back then. It would be interesting to go back now.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. restlessjo

    I’m fluent! 🙂 Well… I’m exaggerating quite a bit but I did find it relatively easy at school. But then, I had a brain back then. 😦
    A friend used to work with those funny cards. How times change! No wonder I need a new brain. 🙂


  10. Pingback: Is Learning Three Romance Languages At The Same Time A Route To Insanity? | Lady Of The Cakes

  11. Kim G

    I used to speak French pretty well, in fact was the top French student at my high school. But I didn’t have too much use for it, and over the years it dwindled. And dwindled. And dwindled. Then I fell in love with Mexico, so Spanish became my top priority. I worked like hell to become fluent, something I think I’ve nearly achieved.

    Then one evening a few years ago, my ex, “F,” and I were in a restaurant in Mexico City. We had a blonde waitress with a “funny accent.”

    Where are you from? I asked.
    Paris, she replied.

    I tried to speak French with her, but what came out of my mouth was Spanish with a French accent. I felt like melting into the floor. I just could not think of any French whatsoever.

    Though there are still remnants of it in my brain, it’s mostly gone.

    Still, the grammar and many words are very similar to Spanish, so you really should have no problem. The only problem will be the fact that the French aren’t exactly super-nice, especially if you mangle their precious language.

    ¡Cuidado, joven!


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we were forced to abandon Italian as it was simply impossible to keep it separate from Spanish in our brain.


    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I have virtually no recollection of Russian, which I studied for two years at school. I can still read and write, but that’s it. Use it or lose it 😦 And I still haven’t spoken any French to any living soul, but I keep working away at it every day… the day will arrive when I wan to test it out. Wait for the post… there will be a lot of whining.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: I Spoke French. And God, Did It Hurt! | Lady Of The Cakes

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