Studies say the best time to learn a language is to begin when you are six months old. If you, like me, missed that window of opportunity, then you have until age five to speak the language like your native tongue.
“Experts attribute greater difficulty to mastering a language after this time to the physiological changes that occur in the brain at puberty (less communication between the right and left hemispheres)” says sources at iVillage.
“Physiological changes at puberty” … ??? Trust me, trying to learn French was the last thing I was thinking about at thirteen!
So now that I’ve chosen to live in France, without knowing the language, learning French is a quite a challenge at my ripe old age. Nevertheless, I’m charging forward and have promised myself to learn French by Christmas. Yes, you heard it and it’s in writing. Now on with the lessons.
Learning French sounds
It’s hard enough to learn French, and the fact that the vowels are nothing close to sounding like American English makes it more difficult. Add to that fact, I’m a Southerner. My teacher, who is French, is learning that some of my sounds come from being Southern, then there are also anomalies that are rooted in where I was raised — Charlotte, NC. For example, when I say words like “oil”, “boil”, and “foil” they have three syllables. “Oil” is “o–e-ol“. It took me a long time to realize this strange pronunciation is a Charlotte “thing”. Or maybe it’s just me and my brother who talk this way. (I’d love to hear back from Charlotte friends about this.)
Learning French: Less than a mouthful
A big difference between French and Southern English is how you use your mouth in speaking. Southerners tend to use wide mouth motions. We seem to grin when saying some words, then drop our jaw when saying others.
Southern: “Precious” is said with a big smile.
Southern: “Ya’ll” can’t be said without opening wide.
French, on the other hand, seems to be all about using tiny, pinched lips.
“Puh, puh, puh.”
“Pity, pity, pity.”
In other words, I have to learn to shut my mouth!
Here’s a glimpse of my French teacher giving me my first lesson: