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There’s so many things I want to share with you about France and learning French (and lots more to come in the vlogs soon!)

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that fond of France before I starting learning the language in January. Whenever I happened to go there, it was always for a TV shoot and I remember the endless, super knackering drives from one village to the other on the vomit-inducing countryside roads. France is the third largest country in Europe area wise (behind Russia and Ukraine), so commuting is a nightmare, especially when you’re filming and trying to keep to a tight schedule. Lunch spots typically closed the moment we just sat down, same with supermarkets and shops in the evening. Getting food was a pain in the neck in general, not knowing the language certainly didn’t help. I was always annoyed and tired of being in France (even though I secretly always loved the sound of language).

I’m a linguist by trade. I studied German & English at uni and have been speaking Spanish since my teenage years. Ah, I also have fairly decent Italian. Wherever I travelled any of these allowed me to communicate with the local people. But not in France. France speaks French. Full stop. I couldn’t get through to anyone and that drove me nuts.

Paris and Parisians are a whole separate story. I did enjoy many things about Paris, but the vibe was kind of cold. Maybe because of the Parisians brusque attitude to everyone and everything, though mostly because I didn’t know a word of French.

Nevertheless, the love for this beautiful language remained (and that rrrrr sound, j’adore!) I’m not sure why I didn’t start learning it earlier. I guess I just found it really hard. Even though you might say the same about German for example. Somehow, I managed to learn 4 other languages (Polish is my mother tongue so that makes 5 altogether) and it only took 33 years for me to finally get around French.

When I began my challenge in January I thought it would be waaaay easier.. hey, I know a few other languages?! Still, learning any language from scratch takes a lot of effort. Yes, some words and phrases sound similar to Spanish or Italian, even Polish has some French words! But the pronunciation …I have a fairly good ear but French is tre complicated.

So how does one manage to learn a language in 3months from absolute zero? Hmm maybe not fluent but lower intermediate level at least.. You have to LIVE the language. Basic 15-30min daily minimum: memorising WHOLE PHRASES, not only single words (especially the useful, obvious travel related sentences that you 100% know you’re going to use), speaking those phrases out loud (even at home to yourself), listening to the French radio (I didn’t understand a word at first…but either way it was soothing), songs, films, magazines or even following French Instagram accounts. I also recommend 1:1 conversation lessons (I found my teacher on I started off with two ladies intially and then stuck with Claire. She is uber-patient and was also super excited for my French adventure!

Knowing that I’ll be travelling to France AND testing myself in real life situations definitely motivated me to be disciplined in my challenge . Discipline is core. You can’t just study for 10 hours one day, then nothing for weeks and then pick up the book one day before you fly out to France. It has to be EVERY DAY.

Now, onto the roadtrip finale. It took a while to find a travel companion / assistant/ cameraperson for the shoot, who also speaks French. In the end it was the lovely JP ( Jean-Pierre ) who I know from ‘A Place in the Sun’. He was brilliant. Easy-going, always smiling and great at vlogging. Thank you JP for the 6 days together, I thoroughly enjoyed your company.

The challenges on location started right at the airport. Someone in the queue to the passport control chatted us up and I had to try and say something in French. And I did! ‘J’apprends le francais depuis Janvier’ (I’m learning French since January). 'J'aime Limoges' ( I like Limoges ;-) Very basic stuff, but it was perfect for small talk.

Then I managed to get the car from the hire place. Yet again I did the whole conversation in French with the guy at the desk. Had to focus when he was going through all the prices, numbers and how much money he was taking from my credit card, but I said ‘plus lentement’ (slower) and it was fine. I spoke the language all the time: also at the creperie later on I ordered all my food in French. I was super excited that I can finally converse with the French in their own language and the ‘barrier’ that I always felt before just.. disappeared.

Day two was picnic challenge in Limoges. I went to the local market and had to get everything in French (it’s NOT a supermarket;-) Yes, I probably made loads of mistakes, but I managed to explain what I want to buy and I understood how much I need to pay most importantly!

By the way, we ended up at a surprise wine tasting festival in Bergerac that evening! That was my first ever wine tasting (before the one at Chateau Feely planned for the next day) Yup, it’s the same Bergerac which was nightmare on a couple of TV shoots..

Day three was a proper vineyard tour and wine tasting, bits done in French and English. Again, I might not have understood everything that Caro (the owner) said to me, but I got the context. Luckily, she is originally from South Africa, so she did the slightly complex stuff in English. Loved it, the art of wine making is truly fascinating!

Day four we drove to rainy Clermont Ferrand and did a tour of the Marcel Michelin rugby stadium. I’m quite keen on rugby: my ex-boyfriend was Irish and he was a big fan. That kind of stayed with me (same for my Irish twang). Would love to go for a match next time but at least it was fun to visit...the changing rooms which you don’t normally get to see;-)

Day five shopping challenge. I needed to get shampoo, conditioner and hair pins. And clothes of course! NOT easy as you may think;-) Yes, I could have gone straight to the supermarket, but I decided to test myself at the smaller counters where I had to speak directly to the shop assistants.

In the afternoon, I did my macaroon making/baking with the amazing Nelson at 'Nelson Cuisine et Vous'. The loveliest, generous guy who not only taught me how to make these sweet, round biscuits (I guess they are a type of biscuit..correct me if I’m wrong), but also he kindly gifted me with a bottled of bubbly for my b-day, an apron and a proper chef’s cotton white ‘jacket’ (not sure what they are called ?!).

As I write this blogpost, the macaroons are just travelling in my hand luggage to Warsaw. Oh, last but not least, Nelson gave me a big chunk of Cantal cheese, yum!

And let's not forget about the most amazing birthday dinner with JP’s parents. I had a chance to try some local specialities including la truffade: potatoes with mix of local melted local cheeses with meat served on the side (jamon style slices). Full fat, but sooo tasty. Melted cheese is equally good as chocolate in my world.

Day six: McDonalds breakfast (oh the the hometown of Marcel Michelin) and drive back to Bergerac airport. With the macaroons, books from Caro Feely, lots of shopping and even more wonderful memories from this amazing trip…I was in desperate need of an extra bag to fit it all in.

I will be back in France soon with my friend Gosia and then with my dad for the St Quentin- Monaco rally. I’m continuing my daily 15mins of French (just did it on the plane;-) and hope to be fluent in a year or two ;-) It’s much quicker to learn a language when you’re actually IN France…but I’ll stick to my weekly lessons with Claire (whenever I’m in London) and travel whenever I can to France.


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