To speak someone else’s native language, is like walking a mile in someone else’s shoes…

You’re able to see more clearly from their point of view. You’re able to meet them in the middle. You actually learn the cultural significance of certain things, without having to go through the lens of translation.

I’m a big proponent of translation- and that’s a discussion for another day- but when you have the option, learning at least the basics of a language for travel, or taking the time to learn someone‘s native language enough to communicate with them is priceless.

When I lived in Aix-en-Provence, France there were a number of things I learned by speaking French to my French friends, that I wouldn’t have learned at home in the US.

You don’t need to say “Bonjour” each time you see someone, if you see that same person multiple times a day. The first time is fine, then maybe a joking “Re-bonjour!” and after that just nod, or ask the question/conversation you wanted. I think I say “hi” or “hey” as a sentence starter or as a minor greeting when I re-enter a room to talk to someone in English, and “Bonjour” isn’t used that way culturally in France.

If you’re on “Tu” (informal you) terms with someone, and you accidentally say “Vous” (formal you), it’s quite insulting! They see it as a rejection of your friendship, or becoming colder with them. I did it by accident a few times, but managed to quickly get past that mistake.

In textbook French, they mainly use “Nous” for the pronoun “We”. But in everyday conversation, “On” (informal we) is much more common. It becomes more than just trying to fit in and sound more French, you realize it flows better and my friends would respond differently when I used the more common phrase.

Making myself sit still through the credits at the movies and take my time to enjoy it with my friends. Having endless happy hour and staying patient until dinner time at a cafe. Having a multi-course meal at a French friend’s parents house, each course standing or sitting in a different room in the house, until you finally end up at the dinner table late in the evening. Having a few cans/cups of beer down at the port as you chat casually about philosophy, world politics, the meaning of life, you know as one does. All of these moments, taught me so much about the value that French people have for enjoying the moment, finding pleasure in the small things, being patient/taking your time, and really having a conversation with your friends.

Not that I don’t do some of these things at home with my American friends, but I feel like these moments gave me an insight into French culture. I wouldn’t have had these moments without connecting in French with these friends. You don’t *have* to travel to France to experience this, either. The internet has made the world a smaller and smaller place. Just being able to connect with someone in their language, and try to see things from their point of view, can change how you see things in your own life.

One of the many reasons that I won’t ever regret learning a language! I have so many unforgettable experiences, that have taught me so much about the world.

Plein de bisous à tous xx

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