I still need to study French, that is obvious.

For people who study a language, we want to know?
"Am I fluent? Can I stop studying? 

I am in Francophone, West Africa, in the small city of Natitingou, Benin, and it is easy to become language arrogant.
I want to say,
“Yes, I speak French.”

Then, I today I read the French word,
“Souhaite.”

Vous souhaite un agreeable sejour.
(Without the proper accent marks.)

I think to myself, I am clueless, I cannot sound this out.
How in the world do I say,
“souhaite?”

Yep, I still need to study my French, I cannot stop.

French Text message

Yes, I need help to read the French text message.

I study French for 1-3 hours daily.
I listen to words on my computer.

“Ecole”
“Ecole.”
“Ecole”

Then I venture out into the public, and I say the words I learned. And guess what, I am still talking French badly, the locals do not understand my French, some do, others don’t, it is a language lottery, many people here in Benin pretend to speak French, and never admit the only speak the local language.

But the proof in the pudding is when I read a word such as:
“souhaite.”

And, I wish I had a clue on how to pronounce it?

Yes, I can get around in French speaking countries, but I am still a long way from being Fluent, if there is such a thing?

There is written French, and there is spoken French. Generally, my guess is that only 1 in 50 of the Benin people can write a French sentence, and spell all the words correctly.

The local’s girls send me text messages from their cell phones, and LOL. (Do you speak Chat?)
I have to be Fluent in French to translate the text message from French to English.

Whatever the case, somewhere along the way, there will come a time when:

1. I will read a word, like “souhaite,” and have a good idea on how to say it, without the tapes, the computer programs, just because I am able to phonetically sound it out.

2. I can hear a word in French, badly pronounced, and still understand.

3. I will receive a text message on my cell phone, with abbreviations, shortened words, and slang, and understand.

4. Watch TV, and not have to concentrate.

5. Hear the locals telling a joke, and realize I am the main subject of the joke and walk away.

6. I will know for sure, when a local speaks French.

Here is a real funny insight into Francophone Benin, West Africa.

Many people believe I am from France, because almost no Americans come to French speaking Africa. Then, because he locals assume I am from France, they ask me questions about France, and my wife, and children, and tons of questions.

Finally, in desperation, I say,
“I am American, I speak English.”

They acclaim, “Really?”

Yes, and think to myself,
“And, obviously your French is almost non-existent, nobody that truly speaks French, would mistake my French, spoken with an English accent for a Frenchman.”

Plus, I do not have a scar on my neck, and I do not smoke…

Andy Graham
2013 Natitingou, Benin West Africa

3 comments

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Bill99 from has written 5 comments

Very true. As I learned German I would go through some of the same except I was in Germany but I first learned in western Germany and then I went and lived in Munich. I thought I was being understood at times and they would groan, snicker, roll eyes, etc as Bavarian German is different. Not a lot but enough that the Bavarians in their own way are much like our old time southerners, We are proud of our language, yall. Can be very different and difficult to communicate at times.
Many Europeans today speak better English than we do and there is a mix of America and England English.
But in France, except for the tourist areas, they will often act as if they know no English and force you to try and speak some French then after you do so they speak very good English.
Just a game that DeGaulle made popular throughout France.
I suspect any French person would ignore many of the Africans speaking French and start with English.

diva4d from wrote 1 comment

Google Translate has little speaker icons, making it possible to listen to any word and hear the pronounciation, Andy.

Ed226 from wrote 1 comment

Ok, so my French is the weakest of all the romance languages. Having said that, I (also) had to look up the pronunciation of that one (souhaite) and it would seem that it would be something close to sweaty in English. Of course the meaning is different, but I had to chuckle when I thought of how the pronunciation of this word was making you sweat. The answer was there in front of you! lol Sorry, I just couldnt resist. Great article, very interesting read.

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