Group Blog: The Language that Prevails in Bi-Lingual Couples

Friday, November 7, 2008

It's hardly a secret that Gui and I speak English at home. We met and began dating in Texas for nearly half a year, and we lived in California for more than half a year, too. Besides the fact that I didn't know a lick of French when we met (well, that community college class that I got a D in and that provoked me to switch to the much lovelier Italian language doesn't count, does it?), we were both living and working in an English-speaking country. During the time when we were in a long-distance relationship, we communicated by phone, IM and email exclusively in English. It was just never even a question that we'd speak English. I don't imagine that our relationship would have been able to progress as it did if Gui didn't speak English so well when we first met.

When I came to France nearly a year ago, I began down the long and turbulent road to learning French - a road that I still currently see no end to. Although my initial efforts were admittedly half-hearted, some progress has nonetheless been made. We've taken the advice of others to each speak in our mother tongues, to each speak the other's language, to pick a day or two when all we speak is French, but nothing's quite caught on. On random occasions, Gui will bust out with speaking French out of seemingly no where and I'll of course respond in English, but it never lasts very long.

There are times when I feel guilty for making him speak a language that he can't fully express himself in, but when I ask him how he feels about it, he makes the point that, in fact, he can't express himself correctly to me when we speak French. How is that possible? I think it has a lot to do with how closely he followed American pop culture when he was growing up. I'm often shocked to find that he knows more words to English songs, more American colloquial sayings and more American movie quotes than I do.

Now, though, I wonder if using the excuse that it's awkward to speak in French to each other has just become, well, an excuse. Just last night someone asked us why we don't speak French at home - a question that I get asked nearly everytime we're out with people. And, after responding with the habitual, "well, it's just kind of weird for us since, you know, we always spoke English to begin with," I started wondering if I still believed what I was saying. And, frankly, it's not much of a good excuse now that my French is improving and it's obvious I need to practice it. People are usually nice and respond with, "yeah I guess it would be quite difficult to change the language in which you speak with your husband after a few years." But, not really. We live in France, and lord knows if we were living in Texas, there's no way Gui would be able to get away with speaking only French. Stepping out of my comfort zone is really what I need to make myself do. I know I often whine and cry about how much I hate the French language, but I really am eager to learn it. I wish so dearly that I could express myself to Gui's friends and family as precisely as I can in English - that I can have full-on conversations with Gui in his native tongue. I'm hoping that someday we'll be able to switch our common language to French, like so many other Franglo couples do. For now, I'll continue down this bumpy road and see where it takes us.

Check out the originating post for this group blog.


astrorainfall said...

Hope you get out of your comfort zone with Gui and French. He's really a great resource for you to tap into what real French people speak, as opposed to what is taught in textbooks.

My boy learned quite a bit of Mandarin by just speaking simple sentences to me while we were doing long distance but we def communicate the best in English.

I know it's hard but I guess that's why life is more interesting that way. Lord knows how many times I've put off studying Japanese or choose to lapse into English in Tokyo.

Fned said...
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Fned said...

I think you're on the right track Sarah... you're living in France and slowly but surely being completely submerged in the language.

I remember when I was learning French that Hubby (then Bf) gave me several easy to read books in French (like Paul Auster books for ex.) I would tackle them for days and every time I'd meet up with Hubby I'd ask him to explain the parts of the book I didn't understand. That would spark up a conversation of how I was liking the book so far, what I thought about it, etc. Obviously this conversation would be in (my broken and pathetic) French because the subject was already in French...

Sorry for the long comment, your post for some reason brought back that memory and I wanted to share! ;)

Have a nice weekend!

Evolutionary Revolutionary said...

Are you reading any in French? Like a book that you really like. That seems to be helping me. You can borrow Breakfast at Tiffany's when I put it down. :)

oliviadog said...

Hi there- I have been enjoying your blog for a few weeks now as I am about to follow in very similar footsteps as you have. I am from North Carolina and my husband is French. We enjoyed about 3 years in NC.

I spent the summer in Paris- something as a preview- before returning to NC to work for the elections (Yes we did!). During the summer, I went to school for 4 hours a day and after the first month, my mind was exhausted and my spirit troubled.

We spoke French at home occasionally, but the attempts would invariable lead to me feeling incompetent and my husband frustrated. Eventually, we stopped speaking in French at home because it wasn't good for our marriage! I am saying that with a smile btw. I will be back in Paris in December, where I will resume learning French and maybe occasionally practicing at home.

As far as stepping out of your comfort zone, from my point of view, just living in France is out of one's comfort zone - and your home should be the one place that you can relax with your sweetheart!

Kristin said...

Hi Sarah,
I've been reading your blog for a while now and I have to say this post made me think about our common language at home. My boyfriend is French and we've been living in Canada for 4 1/2 years now. We only speak French together because at first my French was better than his English and the first place we lived together was France. When you say that it would just be weird to switch languages, I have to agree. we have tried but never been able to switch to english. The few times we've tried we have found it really bizarre, almost like we have different personalities in the other language. So french it is for us.
Bon courage for your french studies, I'm sure you'll find yourself more and more comfortable with the language and in no time you won't even remember what it was like to not be fluent.

Kristin said...

PS If you're looking for some good french reading, try Marc Levy. You may be familiar with him already, but if not, have a read. He's a really easy read and good for expanding your french horzons.

misschris said...

It will come eventually. It took me three years to start speaking well (starting from scratch) I still speak English with hubby but now he speaks French to me.

I used to resent getting asked why we spoke English at home. It's not a polite question! It's probably outside the home that you'll really start speaking better--in jobs and in meeting French people.

misplaced texan said...

astrorainfall & fned: Thanks for the encouragement! I learn so much from Guillaume and I'm really lucky he's so patient with my impatient self. :)

evolutionary: Definitely looking for books soon - it's near the top of my to-do list!

oliviadog: I can see how the craziness could ensue; we're not rushing into or putting pressure on my learning French, but we still try to take it seriously. I agree that living here is definitely a step out of my comfort zone and I should remind myself of my efforts more often. Thank you!

kristin: Hi and thanks for the recommendation - will search for Marc Levy's work at the bookstore tomorrow.

misschris: I agree that asking that question can come off pretty rude sometimes - it's definitely frustrating. I love that some of my closest friends in France are French and they're the best tools for learning French in my opinion - even if Gui and I keep it English in our relationship. Now, finding a job to practice my French is a whole 'nother story...I need to get on that! ;)

Zhu said...

We also speak English at home because mister doesn't speak French.

We spoke Chinese at first because my English wasn't good (which most people find hilarious, given that I'm 100% NON Asian :D :D ) but I'm fine now.

I don't mind speaking another language... and to be honest, even though it was challenging, it added to the fun.

Cherrye at My Bella Vita said...

Hey. Nice blog. I'm a Texan married to an Italian living in southern Italy. We speak English, too. :-)

Emily Marie said...

I think it's a great excuse...J desperately needs to practice his English but as soon as I make an effort to speak to him we revert right back to Francais. It's what we're used to. I think it would really take a significant effort from the both of us if we were to change that....

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