Meet Mark. A native Montrealer who struggled to learn French until…
Updated: Jan 22
When I was a kid the single greatest block to learning French as an Anglo in Quebec was sheer embarrassment.
My parents both immigrated from the UK in the late 70’s and did not speak French well. It’s been more than 30 years since then, they can both get by now, though neither is fully bilingual. That meant that I had no one to practice with at home and most of my friends spoke English. In fact most of my neighborhood did.
I learned French in school like every Quebecer, but I never did well because I did not practice outside of class. I couldn’t practice with my family and friends, which left strangers as my only option. My parents encouraged me time and time again to speak French in stores or in public, but I was always so terrified that people would think I was dumb because my French was poor. So, I never tried.
I let that embarrassment take charge of my life for years. I avoided situations where I would need to speak French as much as possible. I did my class work and got acceptable grades, but I never managed to become a fluent speaker… until I needed a job!
Once I started working, I quickly discovered that English alone was not going to cut it. I was a young student living on his own for the first time. I needed to make rent, food and all the rest but the jobs available for an unskilled worker straight out of high-school with no French were not great. I took what I could get, warehouse work!
I had a lot of trouble at my first job until I met Saber. Saber had recently immigrated from Egypt and spoke six languages none of which were French or English. Over the next three months I saw him go from absolute beginner to conversational in both! Was I jealous? Yes, yes I was. So, I screwed up the courage and I asked him how he did it? He told me one simple thing.
“Talk to everyone, no matter how badly you speak. No one cares so long as you are trying.”
That was it. I had spent most of my life up till then embarrassed that I would look stupid. Saber, a 45 year old warehouse worker, showed me that my problem wasn’t that I was bad at French. The problem was that I needed courage!
I’m not going to say that I spent the next three months working my butt off and became a fluent speaker. Saber has a real knack for languages I just do not have! It took me a while, and a time or too I ran into a jerk, but most people I tried to speak French with were encouraging!
Now I’m bilingual, but I still practice every day, and I still make mistakes from time to time. I’m not embarrassed any more though!
We hope this short testimonial helps you get over your embarrassment when speaking a new language. But if you need some more advice take a look at this great Blog with five more ways to beat language embarrassment.