Learning French, on your own, can be done

At the age of 30, with a very thin base in French, without a francization program, can you learn the common language well enough to fully integrate into Montreal life? I did it, even though, at school, I was terrible at French and even though, when I left Belfast, in Northern Ireland, I didn’t even know the existence of Quebec.



Paradoxically, my journey to French began in a small town very English-speaking, deep in rural Ontario. By pure chance, the only two French-speaking Quebecers in town were colleagues and we became friends. Invited to dinner at their home, I was surprised to hear French spoken around the table. Intrigued by this parallel reality called Quebec, I decided to try my luck there and, in the summer of 1978, I left for good.

With the ink of the Charter (Law 101) still wet, I knew I had to learn French and that’s exactly what I did, on the job, without a teacher, no lessons, no grammar manual, nor dictionary. I rented accommodation near the tobacco factory where I worked, at the corner of Ontario Est and D’Iberville streets, I consumed television and films, songs and novels in French; I even went to Sunday mass to force my brain to “map” the prayers in French into their English version that I knew by heart.

A self-taught method

Then, after two years, I got a blonde and my knowledge of French took a leap forward. Besides my girlfriend, some neighbors helped me. A neighbor ornithologist told me that the large bird flying in a circle above was not an eagle, but a turkey vulture. A neighbor explained the term “syncope” to me, having himself “syncopated”; another neighbor, a “science po” graduate, suggested that “autarky” was a more accurate term than “self-sufficiency.”

Finally, finding words, bits of grammar and expressions that were unknown to me in a novel, I looked for their meaning in a dictionary or grammar.

I evaluate my progress using very practical means. In Small Claims Court, the judge understood my testimony perfectly. People who receive my emails say they are more concise and more readable than before. A kind but firm word to a neighbor and I no longer heard the high-pitched whistle of his shower after 10 p.m.

A term that is unknown to me immediately captures my attention in the chatter on TV: “babble” (Catherine Dorion), “blessed yes” (Claire Samson), “damn virus!” » (Patrice Roy). My expressions “every day has its own weather”, “I’m a Montrealer” make the neighbors smile. Finally, not too long ago, I dreamed that I was in a cafe. At the counter, I asked the barista, “Do you happen to have today’s newspaper?” » He replied “yes” and passed me the newspaper.

In short, learning on your own is possible, and for some, like me, it’s probably preferable. 45 years ago, in the torment of integration, whose vicissitudes were never ending, lectures, with curriculum, teachers and evaluations could have made me give up everything. I am happy to have gone it alone: ​​after so many years, I continue to learn, with pleasure and every day, my beloved adopted language.


reference: www.lapresse.ca

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