‘Do not correct me everytime I murder the French language’

There is a time and place, argues Nick Inman, and constant corrections can do more harm than good

I will never be able to distinguish between a ‘dessert’ and ‘desert’, or ‘crying’ and ‘raining’

Even though my spoken French is pretty good, I still make plenty of mistakes.

It is fairly obvious that I still need to be corrected but that is a moot point.

I definitely do not want everyone I talk to to set me straight about every little mispronunciation or mistaken conjugation. Yet I do want to know where I go wrong so that I can improve.

Two impulses vie within me all the time: to soldier ahead or to accept criticism.

Allow yourself to speak, even if it is not perfect

My friends know this and intelligent, considerate strangers intuit it. There is a balance to be struck between allowing me to blunder on and stopping me every time I trip.

There is nothing to be gained by a listener halting me in my first phrase to help me get it right, and doing the same for every sentence thereafter.

A big part of speaking a foreign language is allowing yourself to speak it, even if it is not perfect.

I find it helps to imagine things the other way around, and even to turn the tables, if you are able.

By which, I mean you can suggest to a friend that he or she speaks to you sometimes in English.

That way, you will both develop a high degree of patience and tolerance.

Read more: How foreigners’ errors speaking English can help improve your French

It is almost impossible to speak French perfectly

I have been told that many French people refuse to speak English because they find it hard to give themselves permission. Their education has left them so frightened of committing a faux pas that they would rather not try at all.

It does not help them when I say that English has no fixed rules. That only makes them more disorientated.

French, by contrast, is nothing but rules and it is understandable if any of us take fright. It is almost impossible to speak it perfectly.

A few rude people give corrections mid-sentence

Which brings me to a big secret. Do not assume that every person you encounter speaks perfect French.

They might have a better command of the grammar than you, but the chances are they cannot remember everything they have been taught.

You can make mistakes in your own language, so it is understandable that you will also do it in another.

There are some people – very few – who give corrections mid-sentence, but I can assure you that it is more a way to make themselves feel better than an aid to you. Done wrongly, it can be very rude.

Read more: How to gain confidence in speaking French

So should you invite friends to correct you?

Only if they respect the context and understand your limitations and your needs.

If you are having a heart-to-heart, correction is strictly out of bounds. And to drill into you the proper past subjunctive of ‘to skate’ will probably be a waste of time because you will have forgotten the information when you next need it in three years’ time.

With my most intimate friends, we have an unspoken agreement. It is all a game.

They know I will never be able to distinguish between a ‘dessert’ and ‘desert’, or ‘crying’ and ‘raining’.

We all know that it does not matter and if they think it does, they are being pedantic, which they are allowed to be sometimes.

If I offer them some ‘arid landscape’ after the main course of a meal, they are the foolish ones if they pretend that they do not know what I am trying to say.

Do you know what? They love it. My daily murdered French is part of who I am and it brings laughter to their lives. They are the first to admit that theirs is an impossible language with far too many illogical rules.

I do my best to improve, and I welcome constructive criticism when it is given with empathy in the right moment.

However, I cannot guarantee I will not make the same mistake tomorrow.

Three common errors to avoid

1. Beaucoup des

Always say beaucoup de + noun, even if the noun is plural: J’ai beaucoup d’amis à Paris.

2. Pendant/pour

Beginners often use pour (for) when they should be using pendant (during): J’ai étudié à Paris pendant trois mois is correct.

3. Visiter/rendre visite

When visiting a place, visiter is right. For visiting a person, use rendre visite à quelqu’un.

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