Inspiration is the key!
Comment ça va? Now, if I wanted to say “very well” I would have to say “très bien” although I am aware some accents would be missing, or would appear misplaced. This has always been my biggest problem with French: written accents.
There’s “é“, “è“, “ê” or “ë” and yes, if your native language is English (or Germanic, for that matter) there’s a high possibility you will have to make an effort. It surely is more difficult for you to learn French than German, isn’t it? In French you have different ways of saying things, technically ‘idiomatic usage‘ (I’m not being too technical here, I won’t be a grammar teacher right now), like “J’ai 30 ans” (literally, “I have 30 years“) when you speak about your age, or “J’ai faime” (literally “I have hunger“) to say you’re hungry. A whole world of differences will open like Pandora’s box: you will have to learn what is male, what is female and when or how to apply it to articles or nouns, and then pronunciation won’t be too easy to learn, but that’s the one thing you should not worry about!
Once you overcome these practical problems, le Française is not a hard language to learn and you will find yourself picking it up gradually and spontaneously. As previously mentioned in the article “When Britain met French: what since then?“, English and French share more words than you’ll ever imagine.
French is, afterall, the first ever foreign language I have studied. I’ve grown attached to it, forgot about it, tried to reappropriate myself with it, then forgot about it again. It’s an on & off relationship I can never grow tired of. In Europe, the last generations of students have been introduced to the study of foreign languages knowing English was on top of the list, the non-plus-ultra of spoken languages for communication in the whole world.
You can imagine how stunned I was when I first found out that French had a similar role in the past. At King Louis XIV’s court French was not just the official language, as it reached its peak in usage and popularity in the courts of Europe, in international communications and in many other fields, enjoying a supremacy which continued through the centuries, including the expansion of the British Empire. Only with the rise of the United States as the world’s biggest superpower English established itself as the world’s most chosen language in communication, and this happened approximately during World War 1. Before then, French was largely learnt in various contexts, especially by aristocrats: if you had a role in society, you HAD TO speak French. Despite all these changes, French is still one of the world’s most spoken languages and it is also an official language for many countries worldwide.
But it’s not just about being out of the spotlight. In 1994, the Toubon Law was introduced in France. It was seen as a protection of the French language against the ever growing use of English in public and commercial communication. It seems as a big step in preserving a language, one we could perhaps only compare to special laws that protect minor languages or near-extinct dialects. It certainly isn’t the case with French.
It does not matter that times change. Historical, cultural and social connotations cannot be washed away from a language. French was, and still remain, the language of love, kindness, romanticism, hope and high ideals. These cannot be viewed as stereotypes, but as starting points. What is true in such statement? The only way you can find out, is to learn the language yourself, and by then you’ll have forgotten about the question. You will have discovered that the French language is much more than that, that you will be able to communicate with foreign people in France, North-America and Africa, and that it is the one key you needed to fully comprehend new cultures and new perspectives.