The struggle to speak without the boundaries

(Graphic by Serena Pece)
(Graphic by Serena Pece)

Whenever I tell anyone in France that I’m Canadian, they immediately assume that I can speak French. While I, like many of you reading this, did study French in elementary school and grade nine my skills are extremely limited.

I’m lucky enough to spend most of my time with a fellow Canadian who took his French studies seriously and can navigate through our Parisian neighbourhood with ease. Many of the exchange students at my school this semester, myself included, have found it difficult to adjust to these language barriers.

Laura Timm, a friend and classmate who is from Germany, has felt that language has been an incredibly difficult barrier to cross. “I usually try to ask for things in my broken French and people usually react really nicely and explain things slowly for me. But on some days I just stop myself from asking because I don’t want to be embarrassed in a larger crowd,” Timm said. “I don’t like that I’m not able to answer simple questions like being asked for the way to somewhere.”

Timm’s experiences are all too similar to my experiences and I often think back to my days in elementary school French. If I had paid more attention and taken things a little more seriously at the time, I wouldn’t be having such a difficult time.

Vibeke Finnemann Scheel, who is from Denmark, also gave me some insight on her experiences living in a country where she does not speak the language. “It is hard to feel a part of the culture and Paris when you constantly are standing outside, looking in,” Finnemann Scheel said. “It really makes it hard to meet native people, especially in France. I really wish I spoke the language and this will definitely affect my future travel plans if I ever decide to stay in one place for a longer period.”

The solution is simple: learn how to speak French. However, when you only have four months, you’re taking eight classes in English, and most of your weekends are spent outside of France, this task becomes challenging.

My appreciation for those people who move to Canada without speaking a word of English and somehow manage to make it work has increased drastically since this experience, as has my appreciation for the languages and anyone who can speak more than one.

I have found, however, that at the end of the day, there is nothing that a smile and a few simple hand gestures can’t work out.

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