Getting ready for France: Thinking of languages

Language is fascinating. It has always excited and interested me. It is not only about different sounds and melodies we make with our words, but also about the way we think and see the world.

When I, as an adult, started learning foreign languages, I realized how many things different native speakers have in common. For example, there are phrases which are very difficult to translate from one language to another. However, sometimes languages which lave little in common share the same phrases and follow the same logic. I experienced this as I was mastering Spanish a few years ago, and I am seeing this now as I am working on my French.

My experience is limited to the languages which originated in Europe. My mother tongue is Ukrainian, and I speak English, Spanish, and, somewhat flawed, French. The languages I speak are quite close geographically, but they are not that similar. They show me how diverse my home region is, and how diverse the world is as humanity managed to produce such different and rich ways of communication.

When I started learning French, I could not help but notice that even though it was a Romance language with a heavy connection to Latin, it still made a lot of sense to me as someone with a Slavic language background. But then, very often, it didn’t make any sense. I understood why the French had different “you-s” when speaking to different people, but I couldn’t understand the logic behind many of their tenses. So, language learning was always a culture learning for me; it made me see how studying foreign words helps you understand the reasoning behind them and fill the gaps that were missing.

France as I remember it. Central Paris. Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

I have been to France many times before, but I have always used English to communicate with people. This time, I hope to use my French despite the many mistakes I am certain I will make. The good thing about me as a language learner is that I am never shy to speak the language however wrong I may sound.

I hope to be corrected by the French, and I hope to be able to pick up some of the sounds and phrases from them as well as get insights into their culture, local life, and society not as a mere foreigner, but as someone who is genuinely curious and invested in digging deeper. My previous experience in France – and the fact that I am from Europe – gives me confidence and comfort about my time there. But I am ready to shatter a lot of stereotypes that I may unconsciously have, and I hope to pick up some street conversations and other things that can only be appreciated when interacting with people in the comfort of their native land and language.

I want to take my time in France to learn the language not only via school, but also through going to community events, movie theaters, social gatherings, and other experiences which make you feel like you belong – to the language, and to the culture, too. I am already watching French movies and listening to French podcasts, and they give me a lot of insights into France as its own universe. The movies and podcasts are made for the French, so sometimes, I don’t only lack the vocabulary to understand the words, but also the cultural context. My goal with this summer experience is to see whether I can fill in some of the missing gaps, and whether my cultural knowledge will improve as much as my vocabulary – or even more.

I hope this will be a fun yet challenging experience because I know that languages are not easy. They require our time, love, and care so we can fully appreciate the power of communication that they give us – and the power to open new universes.