This weekend I stayed with a French friend in Brussels, Belgium. Saturday was the French National Holiday, so I had two weeks before decided to only speak French on that day. I didn’t have anybody speaking French around, so I did a lot of Duolingo, watched some movies that I already knew, dubbed in French (one reason being that dubbing is more easy to understand than raw French in originally French movies), and planned to listen to French audio books (didn’t happen). Who knew that Ratatouille is even better in French?

Ok, so it turns out that I’m now at a level where I understand maybe two or three words in a normally spoken sentence, which is often enough to figure out the general topic, and sometimes some details about what is being said. My brain is not processing the language fast enough yet to be able to keep up with the steady stream of words. Meaning, if I had a recording, I could probably figure out most words (and, due to Duolingo practice, the meaning) of the speech of a clear French speaker. But of course when listening to live speech, the moment you’re trying to figure out the meaning of a sentence, the next one is already ongoing. Not translating in my head (I seem to have gotten rid of this in the last months) helps, but I’m still quite far away from understanding say 80% of a normal French conversation. Maybe I’ll try more movies + audio books, but it would probably be much more useful to actually find a French person that I can talk to on a regular basis.

Speaking French was also not easy yet, but I’ve come a far way from the paralyzing fear from speaking that had obstructed my learning of languages for decades. But I did notice that I did too often recur to simple phrases that I already knew, instead of playing with new variations, endorsing mistakes as a way to learn.

Oh, and I learned (from a very nice 5-year old) that I have fallen from the moon :) (her explanation why my French was not very good). I like that image.


I found something interesting: when you’re really sad, »les larmes coulent« down your face. In German it is “die Tränen kullern das Gesicht herunter”. I didn’t think that’s a coincidence, and so looked up “kullern” in Kluge (best German etymological dictionary). There it says it comes from “Kugel”, so “kullern” is what marbles kids play with do. Certainly there is some resemblance to a small marble when a tear makes its way down the face, but interestingly, according to Wiktionary and Le Robert (French etymological dictionary), “couler” comes from Latin “colere” which has to do with filtering. So my hypothesis would be that the “kullern” of Tränen has been influenced by the French “couler”, and thus two words with totally different histories have met and merged. Maybe not like Roy Batty’s “tears in rain“, but fascinating nevertheless :)

I know some French. After taking it for one year in school, all that stuck was “je veux être vigneronne, mais le dos fait très mal”, which a friend of mine did as a joke bad then. Then I did Pimsleur (all 90 lessons), and that helped quite a bit, and when I was in Southern France last year for two weeks, after about a week I felt able to do real conversations with local people; but I wouldn’t consider myself really fluent, I’m not at a point where I can sail around any hole in the road when I’m not immerged in the language for a week or so.

Last week at a party, I talked with three very nice people about my plans to concentrate on Language Hunting now that I’ve quit my day job, and with one of them I played a very short session avec une coupe vide et une coupe complete (we both weren’t sure if “complete” is the right word :). I didn’t know “vide” before.

Now I’m doing quite some duolingo (it has a French beta), and great as it is, I’m feeling like I’m not learning at even 10% the speed I could when doing proper Language Hunting :P