The Best Days of Their Lives

The everyday stories of family life, told with love and joy

Parlez-vous Francais?

Parlez-vous Francais? Un peu, mais est-ce que c’est bien? Je ne pense pas.

When I first went to a beer-drinking Dads’ social in Geneva I learned that from a range of time spent in Geneva from one year to five, none of the guys I met had managed to get fluent in French. Admittedly it was a small group to generalise the data from, but I feel that I can say with authority that a lot of people who move to Geneva don’t end up with fluency in French. I was determined not to be like that. But that was then.

The thing is, you can get by in Geneva without speaking French. Lots of people who say that they only speak a tiny bit of English turn out to be better at English than I am at French. At a bird hide on Sunday, I chatted with B who said he spoke only a little English. He knew the names of the birds in English as well as French. His English was very good. I have the same experience again and again in shops. I fall into the easy position of using English and it works. I, at least, am on safe ground.

But I didn’t come to Geneva to always stay on safe ground. I came here with the intention to be a little bit vulnerable and to test myself and my abilities. I came here to continue learning in the journey of life. And sure, I’m doing that in lots of ways. But not really in French.

Of course, I started well. I learned about, and installed, an app on my phone called Duolingo. I did a lot of practice early on. Almost every day. I took test after test on phrases, adjectives, plurals, adjectives, pronouns and so on. And somewhere along the way I stopped. I couldn’t even tell you exactly when, but I suspect it was as early as mid-September. And four months passed and I told myself that I was very busy and it was okay. I was still practising. Once in a while I would do some Duolingo. Occasionally I look at the headlines and pictures in the free 20 minutes newspaper. I read the odd sign. I speak French occasionally in the shop or Post Office and someone says my French is very good, especially as I’ve only been here such a short time. Of course, I’m kidding them, I knew all that French before I got here. At the weekend, I realised that soon we will have been here for six months. And what will I have to show for it? Nothing.

Red-crested Pochards in flight over Lake Geneva

Red-crested Pochards in flight over Lake Geneva

So what to do? Today, I had a trial lesson with Maria at Le Français en Famille. Maria set up this school in 2008 to teach parents who wish to take French classes and have their children in the same premises at the same time. I took part in an intermediate lesson. The cost is only ever so slightly more than we have been quoted for private tuition per person (so little difference that it is effectively the same). The key benefit for me is that I can do it in the day, in time that is already at our leisure and Mtoto is in the same place. The class was of five students including me, but only three of us were in attendance today. We practised speaking, understanding and listening and the whole class was conducted in French.

The class takes place in Carouge, close to the centre, so it was easy to get to. Mtoto managed in the creche reasonably well, but did come crying to me with around ten minutes left to go. But he said that he would go again, which was good. Also, us three students went for coffee/play afterwards, which meant that Mtoto got that all-important getting-to-know-you time with at least one of the other children who were there.

In particular, I think that the benefit I can gain from doing a class is the discipline of doing an hour a week, plus homework, so I’ve got a small foundation. Then, if I am committed I can do some Duolingo too and carry on with the small things like practising speaking French with people I meet day-to-day and with family and friends who speak French, like Edward and my mother! It’s got to be done! C’est necessaire!

2015 birds: Thanks to B, mentioned a few days ago, I’ve learned about some birds that I spotted in the past few weeks but hadn’t identified. Yellow bunting and White-cheeked Pintail have been added to my 2015 list, while the Common Reed Bunting was there already.


A Gull, at Lake Geneva.

A Gull, at Lake Geneva.

I saw a couple of Gulls today. Did you know that there’s no such thing as a Sea Gull? I learned this on the Guardian Weekly football podcast of all places. Apparently, there are lots of different types of Gulls, but none of them are Sea Gulls. A Black-headed Gull, I can tell you that one. In the summer it has a black head. In the winter it has a black spot behind its eye. But what the other Gulls are, well, they continue to all look the same to me, no matter how many times I look in my bird book. Nonetheless, I saw a couple of different ones today, I just don’t know what they are!

Black-headed Gulls in the foreground and A N Other at the top

Black-headed Gulls in the foreground and A N Other at the top

Janathon: Still walking, a couple more miles today, but my knee is still tender so I’m still resting it as much as possible.

It's all Greek, I mean French, to me

It’s all Greek, I mean French, to me


  1. C’est dificile, non? Mais c’est important pour Mtoto aussi de voir que les deux peuvent apprendre le francais ensemble et l’utilizer avec des enfants de ses annees qui n’ont pas appris l’anglais. Voici que je n’ecris beaucoup mais un peu.

  2. jez

    23 January, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    Merci pour votre commentaire. Je pense que je vais chercher une garderie en Français et poursuivre la Duolingo.

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