Living in a foreign country #2-Parlez vous anglais?

Here we go for the second amendment on the “Living in a foreign country” series.

One of the first thing that might come to your mind  when thinking about moving abroad is whether or not you will be able to connect with people in the same way that you would with people speaking your mother tongue. So today I wanted to touch on the whole language barrier challenge, a few tips on how to overcome it and share my personal experience in moving to a couple of English-speaking countries which hopefully will help you out if you are going through something similar. C’est parti!

1. Don’t be lazy and do your homework. Yes I know thank you captain obvious but preparing the move by making sure you know at least the basic grammar and vocabulary is necessary. Being able to ask a question and everyday vocabulary before you move somewhere new will make your life so much easier especially if you are moving to work or to study. Just think of having to search for a place to live, asking how many people live there, asking for directions, reading labels in a supermarket, buying a transport ticket, those are all situations in which you are most likely to find yourself in the first few days. So if you haven’t learnt that language at school, check out the multiple other options now available thanks to the internet. One of my favourite app to use to improve my spanish is Duolingo. It’s free, has different levels and is very playful so you don’t get bored.  Another great way to get your brain used to the sound of a language is to watch movies in that tongue. Whilst I learnt English at school and was capable of putting sentences together, I didn’t truly learn real life vocabulary until I started watching all my TV shows and movies in English. First I would put English voice with French subtitles. Then once I grew more used to the idea, I started putting English subtitles on and tried to understand. I remember very clearly being 16 and watching a One Tree Hill episode in English with English subtitles. I’m not going to lie, after 10 minutes I was totally confused as to what was going on & couldn’t tell if Peyton was still in love with Lucas or not but just go with it, it will get easier.


2 .Don’t be scared of failures. It’s 2010, I’m 20 and I get the opportunity to study in America for a year through my university degree. Of course I take the chance, pack my suitcase and head to Montana for a year. I will leave the “Cowboy Country” experience for another time and keep on the topic of the language… at this point I think I can speak English pretty well. As mentioned above, I’m then watching things with english subtitles, I am studying English as part of my university degree and I think I’ve got this in the bag. Spoiler alert… I was WRONG. I got by talking to people in everyday life but going to university with lectures in English on topics like Law or the Civil War or even Entertainment Management was HARD. For the first two months I had no idea what was going on in some of my classes, and had to ask my classmates for their notes that I would then spend ages copying next to a dictionary. I was constantly panicking trying to see what other people were writing down as I didn’t know what the F I was doing there half of the time. When the first assignment came around, it was on a Shakespeare play which made things even harder. I stayed in the library for nights in a row , reading the play in French then thinking what I would say and trying to translate it  and was panicking so much I could feel the heart attack coming. In the end I got a rubbish grade compared to what I would have been used to get back home so I had to work extra hard the rest of the semester to make up for it.  I managed to turn it around but that first experience definitely was a lesson- don’t ever take your knowledge for granted.

3. Do know how to laugh at yourself: It’s 2012 I moved to the UK after the US & I’m going to karaoke with my friends from uni. It’s my turn to pick a song so I ask for  “We love papayas“.  Needless to say I didn’t know “Relight my fire” wasn’t about tropical fruits… It’s 2012 again ( a bad year for me and songs). I hear “Skyfall” from Adele for the first time and ask my friend why she is saying “Let the sky fall cookie crumble” wondering why on earth she would sing about a dessert. The real line? ” Let the sky fall when it crumbles“… go me. It’s now 2013, I got my Masters degree and started working. My boss is talking about her wedding anniversary and how she needs to find something for the ‘amber’ year. In my head I am suggesting “cufflinks” which are the little clips men put at the end of their shirts & blazers. What I actually said to her was to get some HANDCUFFS. Cuffs heh? They are confusing. Ooooh boy did I want the ground to swallow me that day.  It’s 2016, I’m doing a presentation in front of a room full of people. I am so nervous instead of saying “Hello, my name is Marine” I say ” Hello, Marine is my name” and people replied to me like Yoda in Star Wars during the whole rest of the session… And that is not including all the times I said “shaking the bee hive” instead of ‘stirring up the hornets’ nest“, “kill a bird with two stones” when it should be “kill two birds with one stone“, “take your socks off” instead of “pull your socks up“,  “a pain in the ask” instead of a “pain in the arse” or  “I heard it in the vineyard” instead of saying “I heard it on the grapevine“… I am a never-ending  source of entertainment for my social circle.

My point with all this is, learning a new language can be tough, I get it.  But if you don’t take yourself too seriously and you just keep pushing yourself, you might even surprise yourself. I will never forget the day I woke up after dreaming in English for the first time, it felt so great to think my subconscious could now work in two different languages, like a superpower!  Every year my English goes downhill after going back home for Christmas so  I know now that without practice I would lose a lot of vocabulary and expressions. The best way to go about it is to keep trying, to thank people when they correct you (even if you think they are being condescending they are not… they are just trying to help) & to let the mistakes be funny anecdotes you can laugh about with people. And in doubt, always remember to take your socks off (LOL).

Till next time,



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