Unfortunately for my naive study abroad self, I was nowhere near fluent at the end of my 4-month stay.
The study abroad Laura. The first and only picture of me from those entire 4 months with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
Clearly I should have written "take a better Eiffel Tower picture" on my list.
I made it pretend to be sepia otherwise you couldn't see me.
Even today I hesitate to call myself fluent, as it is such an all-encompassing word. Nevertheless, FBF insists that I am, and even I must admit that I have progressed tenfold since I first moved here back in 2009.
Going from not-understanding-FBF-talking-to-me when we first met to speaking-French-without-realizing-I-was when FBF drove me home the other day has taken a lot of practice. I've also picked up a few handy dandy tricks along the way.
Here are 3 tricks for speaking better French:
1. Fake it till you make it
A lot of the time when I don’t know the French equivalent for what I want to say, I say the word in English with a French accent. You’d be surprised how often this works.
I used this just last weekend. I was talking about things becoming decriminalized, but had no idea how to say that in French. So I just said “decriminalisé.” It worked.
2. Context clues
Especially while reading, but also during conversation, it is not important to understand every single word precisely. Don’t get hung up on one word! Listen to the rest of the conversation/read the rest of the sentence, and more often than not you’ll be able to deduce what the previously unknown word means.
If you look at the first sentence of this post, I left a French word undefined. But based on the rest of the sentence, I'm betting you figured it out. You might not be sure if it means trip, or stay, or sojourn, or study abroad experience, but you get the general idea. A lot of the time, the general idea is more than enough.
(P.S. Sorry if rule #2 feels like the SATs. The good news is it doesn't matter which answer is the "best answer," as long as you are able to communicate!)
3. Actual Friends
People are constantly warning us non-native French speakers to be aware of “faux-amis,” or false friends, which are words that sound same in both French and English, but have very different meanings. While there are a few (like mail), I’ve come to realize that most of the time words that sound similar tend to have similar meanings!
For example, the French word for Christian is chrétien. Although they are written very differently, to me they sound similar. The French one is pronounced "Kre" + "Tea-un," which to me sounds like "Christian" without the s (but with a French accent, biensûr).
This is why rule #1 works, and if you combine this with rule #2, you might even be able to discern the slight differences in meaning between the French and English words that actually do hang out together.