“Homing” My Voice in Bordeaux, France

“Homing” My Voice in Bordeaux, France

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“Homing” My Voice in Bordeaux, France

My first month abroad in Bordeaux, France was met with much of my own hesitation when it came to going out of the house. Actually, I do love being out and about—cafes, window shopping, exploring, but speaking another language can be terrifying and embarrassing. Like a few other study abroad students I’ve talked to, I construct a phrase in my head and replay it over and over, but when I have to produce a sound, what comes out it not nearly what I practiced so pathetically.

For example, every day on my way home from the tram, I pick up two baguettes called “flocalines” from the local boulangerie. “Deux flocalines,” I tell myself before saying it out loud. “Deux flocalines.” It really should not be that hard.

Phonetically: [døflokalin]

Realistically: [blablabla]

The lady at the front looks at me. “Deux?” she verifies with two fingers.

“Oui,” I nod.

For a month, I would practice the two words in my head over and over again before I reached the front of the line, psyching myself out. And each time, it was less and less painful. One day, for Madri Gras, when the staff dressed up in costumes, I even had a small conversation. I walked away smiling, warm baguettes in hand.

By removing myself from Bordeaux for a weekend, I now see how familiar Bordeaux has become.

It’s hard to see progress without some kind of removal. At the moment, I am traveling back to Bordeaux from a weekend trip in a town called Biarritz, twenty minutes north of the Spanish border. While there, a friend and I were relying on GPS and physical maps to get us from our hotel to the city center and around as any tourist would.

But traveling back from Biarritz from a town I have never seen before to Bordeaux, where I’ve lived for over a month now, I feel like I’m going back home, or at least my home here in France. By removing myself from Bordeaux for a weekend, I now see how familiar Bordeaux has become. It gives me hope for discovering more in the next four months I have here.

I’m starting to see improvements over dinner conversations as well, and I think this is also due to the “removal-to-see-progress” effect. I live with a host family: parents and two daughters (one who is currently abroad). However, a week ago, a new study abroad student joined our household. She is a sweetheart from Japan who has been learning French for a short period of time, so naturally, conversation is still a challenge.

I wonder if the lady at the boulangerie has been noticing anything different. For her it might mean nothing, but for me, it means the world

Suddenly, I was no longer the new student at the table. The shift in roles was, in itself, a removal. At this time, I noticed that in comparison to one word answers (my comfortable choice of answer a month ago), I was able to recount stories with more detail. (Don’t go thinking that I’m some French genius. I make silly mistakes constantly, band six-year-olds would laugh if they heard me speak.) But until there was a shift in the dynamic, I did not notice myself actually improving.

I wonder if the lady at the boulangerie has been noticing anything different. For her it might mean nothing, but for me, it means the world: to “home” a voice in a town of foreign sounds and to see progress through removal.

 

“Homing” My Voice in Bordeaux, France

Related Reading

How I Quit My Day Job and Finally Pursued My Dream of Speaking French
Moving to France on a Whim
Moving to France and Redefining Home

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Real DealOn the Real Deal, women share the highlights and challenges from their recent trip–and what they wish they knew before going.

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