Bavarder / Confiance

An all-too-familiar challenge for many language learners is the early struggle of trying to bavarder (chat). We could all sit for hours debating the environment, immigration and political affairs, but throw us in a room with native French people and you’d find us stumbling over our words; our minds frantically flicking through mental vocab lists, trying to find the right thing to say while constantly racing to keep up with the fast-flowing conversation. And then voilà, you’ve got it! Only by then it’s far too late, the topic is long gone and all you managed was a few “oui”s and some confident head nods which may or may not translate as a desperate “please don’t think I’m rude or ignorant, I understand almost everything you’re saying and I really want to participate but I just don’t have the words”…

This was particularly the case towards the beginning of my time abroad, before I had learnt enough chatty French to be able to contribute naturally to conversations and respond with ease. While it’s true that neither school nor university can ever really prepare you for conversations with native speakers of your second language, here is a small list of just a few of the useful phrases I wish I had known from day one:

  • ça va aller                 (it’ll be OK/alright)
  • ça se voit                   (it’s obvious/I can tell)
  • ça [a] été ?                 (how was it/was everything OK?)
  • tant mieux                (good/all the better)
  • tant pis                      (never mind/too bad)
  • je [n]’en sais rien     (I have no idea/I wouldn’t know)
  • on s’en fout               (who cares/it doesn’t matter)
  • c’est chiant                (it’s boring/a pain the arse)
  • c’est chaud                (that’s rough/tough/can you believe it?)

And words to throw in pretty much wherever feels right, to make you sound like a true French[wo]man:

  • alors              (so/well)
  • c’est ça          (yeah exactly/that’s it)
  • bon                (right OK/well)
  • ben                (not pronounced like the boys’ name, but rather as the sound a sheep                        makes, and translates as ‘well’ or ‘of course’)
  • ouaaais         (you’ll rarely hear ‘oui’ in a colloquial conversation; drag out the                        vowels and make it sound more like “way”)

The last three on this list are often clumped together, in a strange mix of sounds that go something like “bonbaahhway”. Now don’t try telling me that French isn’t the most beautiful language you’ve ever heard…

It isn’t just these small turns of phrase that will help make your French sound more natural; confidence is arguably one of the most important things in terms of language learning. You need to be confident enough to give it a go in the first place, then confident enough to try out new words and participate in tricky conversations. But, most importantly, you need to be confident enough to get back up again when somebody knocks you down – and by that I mean, literally mocks you (be it alone or in front of others) because you made a grammatical error or your pronunciation wasn’t perfect. I beg you please, correct me, because otherwise I will never improve, but don’t you dare stand there and take the mickey because I’m not yet flawless.

At the end of the day, you have set out to do a wonderful thing by learning a foreign language. And maybe you’ll never master the complex rolling of the ‘r’ or the impossible vowel combinations like ‘eui’ or ‘aou’ (and don’t even get me started on asking somebody to put the ‘bouilloire’ on for a cuppa), but so bloody what? The point is you are trying, and that should never be mocked.

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