Learning to speak french
It dawned on me the other day that my french has now reached another landmark stage. I've now lost my self consciousness in speaking horrendous french to anyone, which was probably the biggest barrier to actually getting on and learning french. Actually I think it happened quite a while ago, but I hadn't noticed that I was no longer struggling. Doing the courses and bookwork is all ok, but really the only way to learn is to be in the situation where you just *have* to speak french, and there's no english safety net underneath. Everyone I know who's french speaks very good english, and while they're all very happy to let me flounder around in french, it usually breaks down to the point where we're speaking english again.
That also included most of my office bound life here - for the first couple of years here I was in the employ of someone else, rather than being my own boss (thank goodness those days are over!), and the company, while being french, was very very anglophone. In general everyone spoke english, although that didn't please everyone - there was one engineer in particular who hammer his fists on the desk shouting 'Français! Français!' when the meeting was moving a bit fast for him. Maybe not the most subtle method of showing your disproval, but I did feel for him slightly. I couldn't imagine being in a company back in the UK where we'd have to speak french or japanese or something in meetings. So, for those first two years, I spoke hardly any french.
Working for myself now means I have to speak a lot more french. Also generally there seems to be something or other to sort out over the phone (electricity being cut off, water leaks, etc!), and it's all going very smoothly.
Mind you, all that is mostly formal conversations with business partners, utility companies etc, and the next step is to get to grips with proper conversational french. Fast slang-filled conversations with half dozen people in a noisy bar type conversations. It's close, but not that close. I can now think on my feet quickly and come up with alternative phrasing when I don't know a certain word, but there's still a lot of words I don't know. The other day there was three of us playing tennis, and I wanted to say 'winner stays on'. The literal translation didn't seem to be understood, and I couldn't think quickly of an alternative, so I gawped blankly for a bit instead.
I think I'm in a bit of a no-mans land with the learning process though - I need more learning, but the local classes only concentrate on verb conjugation and tenses etc. I'm past that but still below any vague pretension to fluency. The only way forward now is just learning as you go...