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My French Experience: A Coffee with Lindsey

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After moving to Paris five years ago from Colorado, Lindsey started her own photography business, Pictours Paris.

She had a more traditional career in marketing in Denver, but the move to Paris inspired her to explore a different passion. The idea came after photographing some friends that were visiting. Together, they realized that this idea could have real potential. And it did. These days, her clients are often couples and families looking for a way to capture memories of their time in Paris.

These days, she continues to book sessions with clients and she has a couple of new ventures with her husband - the opening of their restaurant, Zia, and the addition a new member to their family!

Read on to find out how all of these elements affected her French language experience.


BEFORE ARRIVING IN FRANCE

Did you study French before you moved to Paris?

No, zero. So on arrival, I had no knowledge other than bonjour. I remember my first day in Paris, somebody said bonsoir in the evening and I thought, “oh, I just learned something!” 

Even though I often heard my husband, Justin, and his mother speaking French on the phone, I didn’t pick any of it up. So I decided to do lessons once we moved here. 

Do you think that hearing it a bit helped you with the phonetics?

Not at all. In the beginning, it was total gibberish. I had no idea what they were talking about. He has a lot of family here in France, so when we were around them, if Justin wasn’t translating for me, I didn’t know anything, and I mean anything. It would give me headaches!

What were your feelings about learning French?

In the beginning, I was really excited because Justin’s family was very encouraging, saying things like “you’re going to pick it up so quickly". So, I was excited, but then reality hit. I started taking lessons and it was hard. I was really shy trying to practice; I'd get self-concious when I’d speak French. I was really intimidated by the language.

 

LEARNING IN PARIS

Did you want to learn right away? 

I really wanted to learn quickly when we moved here, but it’s taken a long time to get where I am now. 

Where did you take a course when arriving here? Was it helpful? What did you like about it?

I started by going to Alliance Francaise for 3 or 4 months. But when I started my photography business, I felt like I wasn’t learning anything practical in terms of business jargon and vocabulary. I quit going to class and hired a private tutor. She helped me with the right vocabulary. I did that for another few months and then I kind of focused on my business. 

Doing the class at Alliance Française was good because I got the basics of the structure of the French language. Then hiring a tutor was awesome because we could study exactly what I wanted to - especially in terms of marketing my business and the day-to-day - getting around, doing chores and things like that. 

When I had a need to learn different vocabulary and speak in a certain way regarding business or healthcare, that's where the larger classes were lacking. You can’t raise your hand in the middle of class and ask a personal question. I thought it would nice if they focused a few classes on “let’s go to the market” or “let’s go pay taxes” - do real life practice scenarios. It was more of “I wake up at 7 in the morning and go to bed at 10 at night” It’s not really language you use everyday. That’s why I think that having a tutor was so good.

I would also go home and email my mother-in-law or my French grandmother to practice. I think I definitely excel more in writing and reading rather than speaking. With speaking you have to think fast on your feet and it’s much harder. When you’re writing a composed email or a letter, you have time to think about it.

Not knowing any French, were you able to communicate easily when you arrived?

It depended on the situation. I was comfortable going to the market and practicing the basics, but once I started a business, that’s where things got harder. Going to the chambre de métier, paying taxes, etc. - you want to make sure you're not making mistakes with all these administrative things. At the beginning, it was easy but it gradually got more difficult in terms of what French I needed. Life gets more complicated the more you get settled!

But I also improved. We had a baby a few months ago and we spoke French with my doctors. I also worked with a midwife who spoke English, but we went back and forth between English & French. All my scans and bloodwork were done in French, so I became totally confident in those things.

When did your confidence kick in? 

This year! it took five years and I actually still struggle with my confidence. I work in English, my husband and I speak English at home, all of our friends socialize in English, so I really don’t practice as often as I should. But when we opened this restaurant, we became surrounded by French speakers all day, both with construction of the space and now, our customers. I’m speaking it a lot more everyday and feeling more confident. 

But speaking with family members, that’s where I struggle with being shy the most. I don’t want them to judge me because they’re so hard on Justin!

Do you have any tips for learning French?

Practice talking a lot when you’re out shopping. For me, it’s easier to talk to strangers than people I know because I’m never going to see them again. So don’t be afraid, make mistakes, just talk and talk and talk. 

Also, if you have friends, family or colleagues, ask them to correct you along the way. A lot of people will listen to you and you’ll be having a conversation, but you might be making mistakes the whole way. They're not going to correct you, so just ask them to.

Use new vocabulary. I try to make a mental note of a new word or phrase. Then I try to use it in the same day so I don’t forget it.

Watch TV. At first, you might not understand what’s going on because they’re speaking so fast, but by catching key words and phrases, you start figuring it out. And then over time, if you’re watching the same newscast every night, you realize that after a month of listening to the same person, you understand them better because you've adapt to the way they speak.

 

NOW

Are you continuing to make progress with your French?

Yes, I’m speaking more French because of the restaurant - French people are walking in all day. And having a kid has really motivated me to learn and perfect my French even more. If I’m in an emergency situation or something happens, I want to be able to communicate. 

 

A FEW FUN QUESTIONS

Tell us a story. Is there an embarrassing moment you'd like to share?

We were with Justin’s French family and I was texting his cousin to practice French. I wanted to say something like “I’m looking forward to seeing you soon” so I said Je suis excitée - I’m excited. I used that phrase several times with his family. And eventually, he told me “yeahhh you probably shouldn’t say that anymore. Because you’re not actually sexually excited to see me, your cousin.” So I learned not say that anymore!

What's a victory that you're particularly proud of?

When you’re learning, you have a lot of little wins all the time. But I'm proud of my first argument with a taxi driver. He started taking me the long way. I knew what he was trying to do; he probably thought I was a tourist. I put my foot down and told him not to take me all around the city. We got into a nice, little argument and he ended up going my way. It felt really good.

What is your favorite French word of phrase?

I definitely overused the word genial at the beginning. I love it! I also love to say more than just merci - things like merci mille fois or merci infiniment.

Do you have a favorite place in Paris?

Well, now I do... Zia! But, if we go out of our neighborhood, we like to eat at a restaurant in the 6th on rue Princesse called Le Bistro d'Henri. It’s an old bistro that’s been around for decades. My mother-in-law used to go there with her friends when she was living in Paris in the 60s. It’s just really good, home-cooked bistro food and they have amazing boeuf bourguignon

What’s an interesting cultural lesson that you have learned since being in France?

I feel like there’s a stereoptype that all French are rude and mean, especially to Americans. But we don’t find that at all. We have a lot of friends in our neighborhood that are really great and supportive. Even when we moved here, when I didn’t speak any French, people were always happy to help when you needed it. I was pleasantly surprised that the French are actually pretty nice. You will always run into the person who’s having a bad day or the waiter who’s grumpy, but overall, we really enjoy the French.


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Originally from Sydney, Australia, Matt currently lives in London. He comes back to Paris each month - usually for Lost in Frenchlation events. And though he no longer lives in France, he continues to learn French from afar. 

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Read on for more about her experience learning French in Paris! 

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