Friday, May 26, 2017

Flirting with French by William Alexander

Image result for flirting with french

As someone who has tried over the years to learn French, I can certainly empathize with the brain pain and heartbreak of William Alexander in his book Flirting with French. The subtitle says it all: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me & Nearly Broke My Heart.

This is his tale of not only wanting to learn French but really wanting to be French. Before a bike trip through Brittany and Provence with his wife Anne, Mr. Alexander decides to buckle down and learn les mots française. As he is 57 years old, this is not the easiest of tasks and his time spent studying using a Rosetta Stone language course has mixed results. 

Once back to America from his trip, he redoubles his efforts to learn his bonjours et bonsoirs. In addition to laughing at his comic struggles with this self-imposed task, I have been treated to, among other things: a brief history of the Battle of Hastings; the quirky workings of the Académie français, the official authority on the French language; and a chapter on his attempts to make croissants from Julia Child's recipe (they were délicieux).

I took two years of French in high school. I have bought and listened to numerous French language instruction tapes, have at least three French-English dictionaries on my bookshelves plus a variety of How to Learn French textbooks, and have taken adult education classes in the language. 

I have been twice to Paris on my own and was determined to at least speak a little of the native tongue. I think it paid off although my speaking to someone and my understanding of their response were two different things.

Alas. I am in the same boat (le bateau) as Mr. Alexander. The striving to be fluent in this beautiful language has been more of a dream (I wonder what it is like to dream in French?) than a reality. And yet, I persist.

I am reminded that there is no word in French for seventy, eighty, or ninety. No wonder numbers are so difficult. And don't even get me started on the wacky assignment of gender to words. For example, beard is feminine; chicken is masculine. Go figure.

This book is full of fun and fun facts and le français. Even if you don't speak a word of French (although you know you want to), I think you will find this witty book a treat.

Have you had any experience trying to learn a language as an adult? What were the results?


  1. Yes, yes! Moi aussi! I had four years of French in high school and was reasonably fluent. But, alas, no one to talk to after school. When I finally had a real French friend much later in life, I was embarrassed to try to use my rusty French. I've retained many nouns, but verbs, adjectives - non. I also had a year of Spanish and a year of Latin in school and I've forgotten pretty much all of those. As an adult, I've tried several times to learn Italian. You'd think that with a couple of Romance languages in my past, Italian would be a snap. But my old brain just refuses to accept a new language. I think if we lived in France or Italy, things would be easier. When we were in Mallorca, some of my Spanish came back while shopping for groceries. There's always hope!

    1. Bonjour, Joan. Yes, I also had Latin in high school but never any formal Spanish. Just what I've picked up over the years. (l lived in California for 10 years and I couldn't help but learn a phrase or two.) I tried learning Italian in preparation for a trip, and like you I thought it would be easier - but to no avail. Just enough to say hello, goodbye, and thank you. Oh, and how to order an espresso! It made it fun to at least try! I think you are right - the key is having someone to converse with on a regular basis. Thanks for sharing your experiences with me!

  2. I took French in high school, too--three years of it. Sadly, I've forgotten nearly all of it, though I still retain random words (for example, la piscine = swimming pool). I've been to France twice, and my French helped me read signs and order at restaurants, but when it came to speaking to real, live French people--not so much. I could understand more than I could say, but not by much. A few years ago, learning to speak French was on my life list, but I don't know if I still have the desire. This book sounds like fun, though. Perhaps it will reawaken my desire to learn?

    Have you ever seen the mini-series A Year in Provence, based on Peter Mayle's books? The British couple in the show speak fairly good French, but they throw English words into their conversations when they can't think of the French words--it's fun to watch.

    1. Bonsoir, Kathy. Well, the fun is in the trying, don't you think? I love to toss the odd French word or phrase into my conversations. Yes, I do think this book might reawaken your desire to learn French. It is surprising how quickly it comes back.

      I love Peter Mayle. I have seen this series - with the lovely John Thaw - and have read the books as well. I have read quite a few of Mr. Mayle's comic mysteries. Always fun to be in France with him.