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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So I am a kid from Australia, and went for a summer program at ABS Paris and so far, everything is going alright, the program is solid and people are fun too.

There is just one bit of a problem, I am having a hard time speaking with my friends there. I have never worried about speaking in french because I have never had difficulties in french classes, BUT, now that i have to talk to fluent speakers, I cannot seem to find the right words to say.

Like every student, every young mind, I try to be a bit funny while talking to someone, but it's like I think too much about the words that are about to come out of my mouth (is it correct? will I sound funny? are they okay with my pronouncing?). So, I freeze one moment and refrain myself from making jokes.

Fortunately, ABS Paris is an american business school, so most of people there can talk both English and French, and for me it's refreshing. However, I want to be as open while speaking in french as I am when i speak in English. :frusty:

Am I thinking too much? do you people have some advice?

Thanks in advance !
 

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Yes, think less and just give it a try. Also, being funny and cracking jokes takes time, even when you are fluent the jokes and the quick wit come later (for most people).
 

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OK, you're overthinking.

Seriously, if I had a euro for every time I've heard from someone who has studied French long and hard, but still finds themself incapable of carrying on a conversation on arrival in France, I'd be wealthy (and probably living on some tax haven Caribbean island rather than in France!).

It's pretty much a universal experience for those of us arriving in France. The thing to remember is to not try too hard to be witty or clever. At the beginning, you need to just follow the conversation and say what you can say. If you get stuck on a word or phrase, try saying what you have to say another way. You'll doddle along like that for a while, until one day you suddenly realize that you're doing better than you used to. For me the "revelation" came when I had to switch between my two foreign languages (German and French) - something I had always had great trouble doing - and realized it wasn't as difficult as it used to be.

And, if you're surrounded by folks who speak both French and English, there's nothing wrong with tossing in an English word now and then if you need to. Your friends will "get" what you're trying to say - and might actually have their own difficulties in trying to find the French word you're missing.

In any event, what you're going through is a completely normal and ordinary "phase" in language learning. The other thing that may help is to try to remember NOT to try and speak at the same rate/speed as the people you're talking with. It seems to be a normal reaction to try to reflect the same rate of delivery as your conversation partner - but take a moment to take a deep breath and start out (at least) at a slower pace that is more comfortable for you.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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Agree wit Bev!
Look at small children playing together. The subjunctive does not seem to worry them?

Just jump in the conversation and enjoy it. Don't be afraid to ask for help to find the right Fr word.

If you are really trying to improve your Fr conversation skills I'd try to avoid conversations in English. I found that, for example my Fr conversation skills went from 5 to 6. Then a 10 minute reversion to English and my French was back at 5 ( or worse)....or perhaps it's just silly old me.

DejW
 

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Hi Nathan,
I agree with all posts above. As I remember my own experience beginning to speak French you should just keep to humble basics, make your point, be understood.
Just after the words come out of your mouth you'll probably think "I could have said it this way, or used that word instead..." no worries, you'll have it ready for the next time!
Keep your ears open and pick up phrases to enhance what you can already use.
 

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I found that in a classroom setting (for learning French) I was still somehow able to convey my sense of humor and had people laughing because I'm just oh so hilarious (....I'm sort of joking, although I do make people laugh). But that was in a setting where I knew everyone else had limited French, too. And other times, when I have private French teachers, somehow my humor comes through there too!! So I guess it's not impossible. BUT. Being among fluent French speakers who aren't teaching me (thus patient) would be different...and was different...I definitely freeze up, too. Because then you're self-conscious etc. But mayb the lesson here is that humor can still be conveyed even with busted french, and it's our own fear and intimidation that stops us?

I guess just go ahead and talk... like others are saying...and the more you do, and the more you see they understand, they more comfortable you'll get and then eventually your personality/sense of humor will start to come through, too. Maybe not as strongly or the same as before in English, but it'll still seep through. That is one thing that struck me...I can be very verbose and "deep" and all that in English, but once in French, I felt reduced to kindergarten level speech and I'm like...y'all...I'm smarter than this, I swear! I have intelligent things to say deep inside somewhere!

...it's interesting... [and Poloss is right...every single time I'd say something, immediately after the interaction is over I'd be going over in my head how I should have and could have said it and would be cursing myself for freezing up]
 

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Also what is funny in Australia might not be funny in France. Different cultures have different ways of expressing humor. (Mr. Bean?? -lol) So they may not "get it".

KJ
 

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Also what is funny in Australia might not be funny in France. Different cultures have different ways of expressing humor. (Mr. Bean?? -lol) So they may not "get it".

KJ
True.

It is interesting to think (well it was to me) how language itself might alter humor, especially obviously one's ability to speak in it. At first I felt like this was a "handicap" but then was like...well wait...I'm still getting people to laugh at my weird self... so I guess somehow my personality IS still coming through. :confused2: But it might not have been in the exact way it was in English, you know? It's cool to think about. And who knows, having a "stop" or a filter for my constant default joking demeanor might not be a bad thing anyway...haha.
 

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I didn't have lessons, I had to learn by ear once here, and I still am plagued with the habit of overthinking (after 27 years.) I still don't feel my "real personality" is able to come through with french.

I come off as shy, and too serious, and slightly passive in french. I used to be gregarious, funny, open...

I gave up on joking around, because humor isn't the same. I am not comfortable with mocking others as they do here- when I try, it doesn't work. I still have some self mocking humor come out, and that doesn't go over well either- people find it slightly troubling. They think I am serious and have really low self esteem.

I still have times I suffer from cognitive overload. Too much thinking ahead to judge what I should or shouldn't say, and how. I end up deciding to stay silent often, just to avoid being socially clumsy.

I see those who say you just shouldn't worry about what others think. I love the idea, but I find it unrealistic.

Or perhaps in big cities like Paris, with people who are open minded, or used to interacting with foreigners, it is easier. But in a small village (where the people have never been even to Paris) it is very difficult.

I suspect in your case, it will quickly get easier. You are already way ahead of me at my beginning. You probably need to relax and take your time, know that you will find yourself falling into the flow naturally sooner than you think!

I work in a job where people often need to speak english, and my colleagues speak it well, for the most part. But I noticed that even the most aggressive ones suddenly sound soft spoken, hesitant, and passive when they are having to speak english. Makes me wonder if one can ever have the same personality in your native language.

I met my husband in the states, and came here when we married, and suddenly saw a totally different person! He seemed so gentle in my country. I remember it was a shock to meet his native self.
 

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Bluesma I like your post, I find it interesting. Maybe we should do a thread of "personality in native language/country versus France" ... interesting to think how those things themselves could change.

I found myself feeling annoyingly acquiescing, smiley and going along with what people say (for the sake of ego-stroking) while in France...whereas those things seem to be expected in America and if you don't do them, you're kind of a jerk. But in France they'd kind of stare at me like "...uh...' as if I had no thoughts of my own. It made me look stupid or without my own mind, I felt. It's weird. In the US, people find me too quiet, rude, bizarre, unfriendly, blunt, even. In France and even other countries in Europe, I felt that I came across as overly positive and smiley and dumb. Lol! And in both, I do think I come across as timid and passive...

Anyway so it's interesting to me that you came across as open and friendly before but now are seen as shy and having low self-esteem. There is something to it...different cultures have different "normals"and social expectations...so coming across one way in one country wouldn't necessarily read the same way in another...
 

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I'm firmly of the conviction that you develop a "personality" for each language you speak. Part of it, I suppose, relates to the formalities and courtesies of the language and culture, and part of it is based on your range of vocabulary and cultural understanding, plus how willing you are (or aren't) to put your "self" out there in unfamiliar terms (language and customs).

I have different sorts of relationships with my American friends vs. with my French friends vs. with my German friends. And much of that is probably language based (though also customs/culture based as well).
Cheers,
Bev
 

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Bevedeforges I like that idea! There is something about it that really intrigues me. Maybe that's part of why I liked being in France, I felt I could "re-invent" myself or a little, or start with a clean slate. I don't know.

But yeah in America I'm too cynical and macabre/dark and intense, in Europe I felt overly positive and probably seem like a wishy washy doofus ...lol.... More than one of my French teachers seemed to find me oddly interesting, so at least there was that! My passion for intellectual things seemed more acceptable there in general, too. Or maybe it was just more common. (Sorry general public of the US)
 

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It is not just the fact that cultural expectations and vocabulary might differ for different languages, there are also certain emotional connections being made in one language vs another. Certain events one has lived through in one language but not another, what MOTHERtongue one has, the language one uses to speak to their children, if there was a traumatic event.

It took me a while coming from Germany (which tend to be very clear spoken and blunt) to adjust to the US, but I did learn to joke and in some ways I became more open, as the more subtle ways of expressing one's opinion suited me better. However, German's tend to not understand those subtleties ;-) I liked the ease of talking to anybody that I learned in the US. My husband is from yet another culture, which is even more reserved, when it comes to expressing one's opinion.

Now in France, I do enjoy myself here as well. It seems a good mix of politeness, and willingness to discuss nuances and express your opinion without anyone getting offended to quickly. It even seems expected to not give in too quickly but to stand your ground.

Personally I don't fully buy the whole the personality changes completely just by being in another culture. It is just not true for myself, nor my husband. Maybe, I have moved countries to often? (This is my 4th longterm stay in another country and culture). Of course, one changes a bit the way we talk and express ourselves depending on the people we are with, but generally people are the same everywhere, apart from certain culture customs. There are some differences about what is acceptable behavior and what is not, but in general things are more similar than different. Maybe, I am not sensitive enough or I just meet people that are more understanding of foreigners and their different ways, while ignoring the others.

I do agree, that a lot of people in France seem shy about speaking English (or any other language), but honestly language is for communicating, if you don't try you won't communicate. I've swayed quite a few people with that kind of thinking.
 

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What a very interesting thread.
I'm sure the way I speak in a conversation with French people is different from the way I speak in a conversation with English people, and I think it's partly because one tends to reflect the mannerisms and attitudes of the people you're speaking to. Which might explain why I get quite nonplussed speaking French with English people, as inevitably happens sometimes in anglo-french gatherings. It feels false somehow - as if we're both reflecting off of someone who isn't in the conversation.
But to return to the OP's dilemma, I was thinking of this from the point of view of his /her listeners. I'm sure his/her French is excellent but often natives have to make a certain amount of effort to make sure they're fully understanding a non-native speaker. It's actually asking quite a lot of them to also expect them to instantly understand a possibly unfamiliar type of humour. If they're not sure they've understood they won't risk laughing in case it wasn't intended to be funny and they create an embarrassing situation...
Do you always pick up instantly on their humour, or do you sometimes have to think about it for a few seconds before you start smiling?
 

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I'm not really giving an F. I'm just jumping in with humour and my bad French. The locals are all very accepting of me so far. When I opened my bank account I said "oh ****" in French when I had to sign hundreds of pages. The lady knew I was joking and we made light of it.

There is a local bar I go to and one owner only speaks French, but we have a joke and a laugh. I only know some basic French, but enough to understand a bit.

I've also found speaking to my friend's children helps too. The only thing is they find my accent hard to understand sometimes. But they get my humour. I worry less about being correct or what they think when I am trying to speak with them.

At the cafe I have a coffee at in the mornings, no one speaks English. It's a typical bar where the blokes come in and sit at the bar with an espresso and chat for 5 min before they go off to work. Most of the time I smile and nod and say hello and goodbye etc. I am not comfortable to jump in only because I am not sure what they are speaking about. I only get a very vague idea as I understand one or two words in the conversations.

If I am comfortable with the people around, or I know the subject they are talking about. I'll always try to join in. It's the only way to get better at speaking.

Maybe it's the Australian humour, but they seem to get it here in my little part of France.
 

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I actually started writing about some of my overthinking on interactions in the "Bistro" part of the site. Humor seems a rather innocuous challenge, faced with the challenge of how to approach conflicts!

The way you deal with problems with administration, for example - if you don't know how to do that correctly, you can have more serious problems than not being liked! It could result in financial or legal problems, for example.

Thinking about and adjusting your behavior according to local customs seems (to me) to be necessary when it comes to dealing with administration and in the workplace.

With your neighbors, at the local café/bar, it isn't that pressing.
 

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I'm not really giving an F. I'm just jumping in with humour and my bad French. The locals are all very accepting of me so far.

Maybe it's the Australian humour, but they seem to get it here in my little part of France.
I can vouch for it that the locals can find it refreshing to muddle around with basic speaking.
There's a more direct (and richer?) contact with the human being you're speaking to on that simple level.

A welcome change from the regulars always moaning about the same stories...
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I'm not really giving an F. I'm just jumping in with humour and my bad French. The locals are all very accepting of me so far. When I opened my bank account I said "oh ****" in French when I had to sign hundreds of pages. The lady knew I was joking and we made light of it.

There is a local bar I go to and one owner only speaks French, but we have a joke and a laugh. I only know some basic French, but enough to understand a bit.

I've also found speaking to my friend's children helps too. The only thing is they find my accent hard to understand sometimes. But they get my humour. I worry less about being correct or what they think when I am trying to speak with them.

At the cafe I have a coffee at in the mornings, no one speaks English. It's a typical bar where the blokes come in and sit at the bar with an espresso and chat for 5 min before they go off to work. Most of the time I smile and nod and say hello and goodbye etc. I am not comfortable to jump in only because I am not sure what they are speaking about. I only get a very vague idea as I understand one or two words in the conversations.

If I am comfortable with the people around, or I know the subject they are talking about. I'll always try to join in. It's the only way to get better at speaking.

Maybe it's the Australian humour, but they seem to get it here in my little part of France.
Ahahah,
I've never thought about talking to kids to practice. That's a very smart way of doing it. I'm going to visit my uncle's family in "Nice", they are a very big family with lot of children to talk to and joke around with :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
What a very interesting thread.
I'm sure the way I speak in a conversation with French people is different from the way I speak in a conversation with English people, and I think it's partly because one tends to reflect the mannerisms and attitudes of the people you're speaking to. Which might explain why I get quite nonplussed speaking French with English people, as inevitably happens sometimes in anglo-french gatherings. It feels false somehow - as if we're both reflecting off of someone who isn't in the conversation.
But to return to the OP's dilemma, I was thinking of this from the point of view of his /her listeners. I'm sure his/her French is excellent but often natives have to make a certain amount of effort to make sure they're fully understanding a non-native speaker. It's actually asking quite a lot of them to also expect them to instantly understand a possibly unfamiliar type of humour. If they're not sure they've understood they won't risk laughing in case it wasn't intended to be funny and they create an embarrassing situation...
Do you always pick up instantly on their humour, or do you sometimes have to think about it for a few seconds before you start smiling?
It depends, there are times I need to quickly rewind back what they are saying, because when they/we are talking to each other, they usually don't think about me not being able to catch up to some typical french expressions/sayings I cannot understand... this however doesn't happen too many times.

Apart from that, everything they laugh about makes me laugh too. I believe humour is Universal. I am in an american business school (ABS Paris) where a lot of peeps are foreign students... what I have noticed is that the "sense of humour" does not dependson the origin or the cultural background but more on the personality. What I found differs is the subject of laugh.

That's my take.
 
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