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When beginning life from scratch in a new country, or simply attempting to learn a new language, a sense of humor goes a long way. Even more so when the city in question is Paris, and the language happens to be French.
There are not enough rules of thumb or instruction that can prevent someone from committing many a social faux pas in a new country. Especially here, since France is what is called a “high-context culture.” High-context cultures use communication that focuses on underlying context, meaning, and tone in the message, and not just the words themselves. So, as a foreigner in Paris, it is easier if you can learn to laugh at your cultural mishaps than to let the fear of making them keep you from expressing yourself or trying to connect with the French. Humor is a way to be kind to yourself when you make mistakes. You just have to dive in and figure it out as you go!
When it comes to their language, the French are a country of perfectionists. They are taught to speak good French with proper grammar from a young age. But don’t let that be a cause for alarm or for intimidation! Yes, you might meet a French person or two who seem overly eager to correct your already shaky language skills, but if it’s any consolation, know that they would probably be even more critical of other French people’s French!
And indeed, there is something truly admirable about France’s love of their language. You can observe the same desire for perfection when they try to improve their English. They happily welcome, and sometimes demand, corrections; after all, how can people let each other speak with erroneous grammar?
Some aspects of the French language that took me some time, energy, and a couple of exasperated tears to be able to contend with: the sheer number of silent letters in every word, the power of French accents to completely change what words mean, and the classic gendering of everything.
The first French teacher I had in Paris was wholeheartedly receptive to all the complaining and groaning in class whenever one more grammar rule was taught, after which 10 other exceptions to the rule were added. Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the guilty pleasure of commiserating. But the moment I started to make any real progress in French was, not to sound cheesy but, it was when I accepted French language just the way it is instead of wanting it to be something else. I stopped mentally resisting and just went with the flow, regardless of whether the grammar makes sense to me or not.
And every now and then, when I need to feel validated about the confusion and quandary of learning the French language, I just go on Tiktok —really!
Through all the highs and lows of living in Paris and learning this beautiful but phonetically complex language, the following TikTokers have helped me learn to deal with it’s weird and wonderful peculiarities by serving up lessons with a huge dollop of humor!
If you haven’t checked them out yet, you need to do it asap!
Suberville’s account will have you in splits and nodding your head in agreement. His TikToks highlight the weird quirks of the French language, as well as all the initial exasperation of learning it. Like, why does French have so many similar-sounding words with completely different meanings? Or why does the word for mother-in-law (belle-mère) literally translate to “beautiful mother” in French?!
This account is run by an online French language school based out of the U.S.A. with native teachers from France. Their TikToks will teach you a whole bunch about “standard” versus colloquial French, how to pronounce names of French brands, different ways to say oui or non, and even how to sound like a dour Parisian in a bad mood. In the end, you will surprise yourself with how much you end up learning while laughing away at their TikToks!
Alexandria Macleod, who goes by the name Tatty Mcleod, is a French-English TikToker. She is an actor, writer, director, and award-winning comedian who has garnered acclaim for her works. She has also performed at L’Apollo Théâtre and L’Alhambra Théâtre in Paris, as well as London’s Lyric Hammersmith and Southwark Playhouse. Her TikTok skits present the humorous juxtaposition of French and British language and culture. Not only are her observations witty and sharp, but they are also hilarious.
Alex and Tom are two French guys from Paris who live in the U.S.A. with the humble dream of teaching French to the world. They make TikToks teaching French pronunciations and the funny side of learning French. But the duo became really popular creating TikToks of themselves trying to pronounce English words and poking fun at the trickier side of learning English. It does make you appreciate the difficulties in learning English that we very often overlook.
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