We had a fantastic trip to France at the end of last month. It’s one of my favourite European countries, and I adore the language. Twenty-five years ago I spoke fluent French and passable Spanish. There’s been a deterioration in the levels at which I speak both, but I still love the challenge of trying (ditto with German and Portuguese, of which I have a smattering).
I do feel a certain pride at being able to speak in other languages, however rudimentarily. We Brits aren’t exactly famed for our ability to speak in anything other than our native tongue, and it’s a nice point of difference. I realised this year that the trick to reinvigorating my French was not to worry about looking or sounding stupid, but to figuratively roll up my sleeves and get on with it.
And of course, the French people – who are delightful – were pleased simply to have someone try to speak in their language and were endlessly patient.
I’ve still got all the fundamentals buried in my brain. The trick is retrieval. It was about doing it, reviewing it, and readying myself for the next trip to the supermarket/restaurant/post office/bakery/conversation with the owners of the house which we were renting etc. Each time I spoke in French, and got what I needed, I felt better and more confident for the next.
At times I didn’t have the words and/or phrasing I needed, and what was interesting was how that forced me to be more inventive – and still got me where I needed to be. In fact at times I surprised myself with this ability, and was delighted by it.
Language is massively important. Get a word or phrase wrong and we can cause confusion, or worse, offence. I didn’t cause the latter (to my knowledge) but I did cause the former when I mixed up the words for picture frame and door frame (when trying to explain how a door had blown off its hinges during a storm).
But when we’ve got skin in the game – whether with clients or colleagues – that patience demonstrated by the lovely French people I met is something invaluable for us all to practise and receive, as it helps us get where we need in our conversations and in doing so build liking; trust and deep rapport.
I’m still dipping into the pocket French dictionary I bought, and downloading newspapers online – all in preparation for next time. The brain is working overtime and it’s worth it!
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