What I’m really thinking when you correct my French

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France

What I'm really thinking when you correct

Learning a new language as an adult is no easy feat. Becoming conversational in a foreign language is more or less doable with some hard work, but what about when the ability to speak a foreign language well is a necessity just to get by and be understood? That’s when it all gets real and casual language learning gets a whole lot more serious.

Let’s talk about how it feels to be corrected by a native speaker and what I’m really thinking when you correct my French.

GO!

When you correct my French

Anyone learning a new language will tell you it’s a process. Some days you feel like you’re making progress and are on top of the world and other days you just want to run and hide. It’s frustrating and time consuming and maddening but fun and wholly worthwhile. And it helps to laugh at yourself.

Roundup of hilarious expat language flubs >>

Now about this correction business. When I mess up, I want to know about it. If you correct me, I hopefully won’t make that mistake again (or at least not too many times). If you don’t correct my French, I’ll keep on saying the same thing incorrectly and how is that cool? It’s not.

I really, truly, like when French speakers correct me when I speak. I tell people straight up to please correct my French every time I mess up. How else will I learn? Sometimes they do and other times they do not, for whatever reason. But what about a random stranger on the street correcting you? That’s kind of awkward. But if I know you, even just a little, please correct my French! Really, I welcome it.

Frustrations of living in another language >>

Luckily at this point I am understood 99.9% of the time and am not making mistakes constantly. But I do make mistakes with grammar, the gender of nouns I don’t use that often and most commonly with irregular verbs or compound tenses I either don’t know or don’t use much. I absolutely want to be corrected. I think. Kidding aside, in the moment, it can leave you feeling defeated and worn out or even embarrassed or hopeless (depending on one’s mood) but corrections are 100% necessary in order to improve.

when you correct my french (2)

Let’s have some fun.

Here’s what I’m really thinking when you correct my French:

Je suis allée chez la notaire.

Wait.

I think it’s le notaire.

Is it le?

Is she gonna correct me? Leave me here wondering. Maybe I was right all along. The notary is a woman. Has to be right.

Yeah, I was right. It’s totally la.

Nope, there it is, the correction. It was le.

Merde.

Merci.

I hate you.

Really.

I wonder how your English is….

I still hate you.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh, I feel like a moron. Again.

Why did I study Irish in college?

Pull it together, Diane. No one cares.

I don’t hate you.

Thank goodness someone feels comfortable enough to correct me. It’s the only way I’ll learn.

Where can I get a glass of wine? What time is it?

Why is this language so freakin’ infuriating?

But I kind of like it.

I have made progress.

I have, right?

Pretty impressive conjugation skills you’ve got there. How do you know that? You’re, what, 5 years old?

I’m quitting French.

I should probably study French grammar more often.

No, I’m quitting.

Blah blah blah. OOOPS.

Oh damn, I knew that one!

Really, it wasn’t a mistake. I know it’s la chaise.

Why’d I say le?

AHHH! I feel like a moron.

Again.

I make that mistake ALL the time.

I should probably write that one down. Hold on a sec.

Why do I never have a pen? Un stylo. See, I knew that one.

Ah F it.

When will I learn?

This is making me nervous and I think I’m going to mess up more if you don’t stop correcting me!

Oh no, did I just conjugate with avoir? I think it’s être. I know it was wrong.

It was wrong, right?

I think all English speakers make that mistake. I’m sure of it. Such an easy mistake to make. I’m not the only one.

No big deal. No one cares.

Look, she forgot you messed up already. It’s fine. Carry on.

Cool, got it. Thanks for correcting me. You get what I mean though, right?

I said that AGAIN?

Really, it’s le?

Wait, are you sure it’s le? How do you know? Could have sworn it was la.

Are you done yet? I’d like to finish my sentence.

Oh no, I forgot what I was saying.

Did I say I liked being corrected? I think I lied.

Blah blah blah.

Wow, did I just finish an entire conversation without one correction?

Did she forget to correct me or was she just being polite?

I’ll look that up in the dictionary later.

Did I actually manage to not make a mistake for once?

It’s about time.

Today’s going to be a good day.

I love French. 😉

 ***

So pretty much, that’s what goes through my head when I’m speaking French.

So let’s talk about you

How do you feel when people correct your speech? Is a gentle reminder OK once in a while or do you hate it? Is correcting you something you want people to do all the time? Does it matter if the person doing the correcting is a trusted friend, a random stranger or a family member? Does the tone or timing matter? Take for example someone interrupting you mid-sentence to correct the gender of a noun versus someone gently saying at the end, “Just one thing, I wanted to point out it’s la table not le table. Just so you know. I don’t want you keep on making that mistake.”

When the French language makes you want to run and hide >>

Do you correct other people’s English? Do you like when people correct your French?

(I personally don’t correct others’ speech unless the person tells me to or they are really stuck and are clearly looking to me for help.)

Tell me if you can relate!

 

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What I'm really thinking when you correct

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Comments (37)

  • BacktoBurgundy

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    Wow – a lot more goes on in your head than mine! Which is probably why I still make so many mistakes. I too like being corrected, especially when they do it in a really nice way, such as within their response they repeat back part of what I’ve said but in the correct way. To me it implies they think I’m intelligent enough to pick up on it!
    BacktoBurgundy recently posted…Attempts to Keep WarmMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Well, most of the time I just think, “Cool, thanks, gonna try to remember that for next time” but that doesn’t make a very interesting post, so I went for the slightly more thorough version. 😉

      Reply

  • AdA

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    I’m French and live in the US. I run into the same problem but maybe 100 times more: a French person likes to correct another person’s French, I don’t know why, I guess it’s cultural. An American person doesn’t want you to feel bad so she’ll never say anything except if she doesn’t understand anything at all. I hate this… 😉

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Haha, makes sense. It’s like a contest of who is more right. I even see that here among French people. The grammar can get really complicated and people get very serious! I think if you explain why you want the person to correct you, in most cases they will. Bon week-end !

      Reply

  • Anita

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    Haha, I’m totally like you! I appreciate when people correct me but impulsively, I hate them for a short moment.
    I find it funny how French people seem need correct spontaneously when you make a mistake, compared to when I lived in the US and American people would just never corrected me. And I’m sure I make mistakes in English too.
    Do French people you don’t know correct you all the time too? If I go to the boulangerie and ask for “un meringue”, the boulanger will automatically repeat: “une meringue ?”. And there you go. Another mistake. Another word learned. And hopefully, thanks to that, in 20 years neither you nor I will make any mistakes anymore! Erm… I hope so!
    Anita recently posted…Pequenas crises cotidianasMy Profile

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    • Anita

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      Ugh, typo… *correct. The fun just doubles the more languages you speak! :p

      Reply

    • Diane

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      No one aside from my family will correct me. I think as long as I’m understood, no one chimes in to fix anything. Sometimes if I’m struggling or looking for a word and ask, a stranger or acquaintance will but never unprompted. I understand though, I’d never jump in and correct someone speaking English if 1) They were understood and 2) Didn’t ask me to. Wouldn’t bother me though, clearly I need help lol

      Reply

  • Cynthia

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    What a great post, Diane ! I grew up in a household that was like the united nations. There were four other languages spoken besides English. Everybody corrected each other so I’m really open to that with my french. Now my french friends and I help each other with corrections and it works out great ! After I earned my diploma in Scottish Gaelic I learned to lighten up. I’ve found that a basic personal study program with a casual approach and less stress has worked best for me. I love enjoying being in the moment with my french friends. We enjoy sharing the language over food ! That makes it even more special !

    Reply

    • Diane

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      And wine! So cool that you grew up in a multilingual household, Cynthia! That’s great that you have some nice French friends now and you’re all open to corrections. Only way to improve, right?

      Reply

      • Cynthia

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        Yes, that’s for sure ! It is the only way to learn ! Our house was a lot of fun ! We never got bored because we did language ! Now there is even so much more to learn ! The more I learn the more I find I don’t know ! It’s amazing !

        Reply

  • Melissa

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    When I first moved from Ireland, a certain person used to alway correct my pronunciation of certain English words, or my use of European vocabulary. It drove me mad, it was like this person thought I didn’t know English properly, or that the words we use in Ireland are just wrong! I used to smile and agree knowing I wasn’t going to change. I know I am never going to prounouce “garage” like an American and I am fine with that. I am happy to sound different and if no one understands what I mean, they can/and do ask me.
    In my office one of my colleague’s keeps a “Book of Melissa (a book of Irish slang, quirky sayings, and my terminology). At least I am keeping everyone entertained and on their toes and not losing my heritage. The funny part is when I do go home, my mum gives out to me for sounding so unIrish.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Oh man, so a native English speaker was correcting you, another native English speaker. Now that’s not my style at all. Ugh. I had an Irish coworker whose “three” was always “tree” but it wasn’t a mistake! So annoying. How do you say garage? garr-idge? I love Irish pronunciation 😉 What part are you originally from?

      Reply

      • Melissa

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        Diane, I am from Wicklow (its south of Dublin/in the commuting belt), I go home alot. My husband always remarked about three too, he lived in Ireland and found the missing Hs amusing. Words prounounced pretty differently include schedule, and appreciate. and I prounouce garage like garridge. I also say cot instead of crib, queue instead of line, boot instead of trunk, lift instead of elevator…the list is pretty long. 🙂

        Reply

        • Diane

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          Now I’m curious about appreciate. I think schedule is shed-yule or something like that (hard to type it out).

          I went to Dublin once but then drove west to Galway, south down toward Cork then Waterford and did the loop back up the Dublin. Beautiful country!! (and people)

          Reply

  • Christine

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    Hi Diane! I wish people here were correcting me! Even my English teachers do not want to correct me when I try so hard to pronounce some English words. Gosh, sometimes it is like if I had mash potatoes in my mouth! I feel like a moron too, all the time! So when I ask people to correct me, they say: Oh no, your accent it is soooooo cute!!!! Really ?? My husband doesn’t want to correct me either! The trouble is that, if people don’t want to correct me, I feel alone in this terrible world, and so I don’t talk to much and become more shy than I use to be. hahaha.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yeah, it’s a touchy subject. When you correct someone, you don’t want to come across as a know it all or for the person to feel discouraged or embarrassed. So we often just don’t correct others (who maybe want to be corrected) and then 20 years later we’re all still making the same mistakes! The accent is one thing — I’ll always have one — but mistakes have nothing to do with one’s accent. So I agree with you, totally want to be corrected. You have Skype or Facetime? I’ll correct you 😉

      Reply

  • Christine

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    yeah !! my ID skype is: lylou45120 !!!!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      I will add you 😉

      Reply

  • Aurore

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    (Sorry for the long post!) I have so much to say on this subject, especially because I know both sides of that situation! 😀

    So when I speak a foreign language, I really appreciate to be corrected, because for me it’s the only way to improve, and if I’m always repeating the same mistakes without noticing it, it’s really problematic. So I’m not offended to be corrected, I’m really grateful about it 🙂
    But it is extremely rare that someone takes the time to correct me… I always speak Japanese with the Japanese staff of the bookshop I regularly go to, and I do feel that I’m losing my spoken Japanese fluency (I was there 7 years ago, and I don’t have the chance to speak it much in Belgium)… but the shop lady never corrects me… I know that I’m a customer but I really wouldn’t be offended if she’d say “did you mean […]? maybe it’s better that you say […]” :/

    Now from the other side : if someone is clearly a tourist and is asking me for directions in French, I’d be so impressed and happy that s/he makes the effort to try to speak French instead of speaking English, that I would feel bad to bash his/her efforts by correcting le/la and little things like that. If I get what that person wants, it’s the most important. If it’s someone that I know is learning French, an expat who really wants feedback and wants to improve, and that I meet regularly… I think I’ll correct him/her if s/he makes the same error several times, but I’ll do it after s/he has finish to say what s/he wants to say, because I think it’s plain rude to interrupt someone as soon as a le/la mistake has occurred. Who cares if you get the message?!

    I even can give you a third point of view, the one of a Belgian French speaker speaking to a French French speaker! 😀
    There is something that French speakers do that I just HATE : pretending to not understand something just because it’s not standard French from France. I find it utterly rude! For example they would say “oh you said “septante”… that’s for “soixante-dix”, right?” (is it that difficult to notice the “sept” in “septante”? Like, seriously?!).
    Before going to France, I thought that except the pronunciation of 70/90, we had the exact same French, but French people never fail to point the differences when I speak (it seems we don’t pronounce “8” the same way in Belgium, we say it more like “wit” instead of “u-it”, same for juin, we say “jwoin” not “ju-in”) and I hate that they keep on playing “find the differences” and interrupting me when I try to have a conversation! This is not cool, and whatever they might say I ain’t going to change my way of talking anyway! :p

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi there, you bring up a lot of great points.

      I have to start off here w/the other dialects of French — the being right thing with French from France and French spoken in Belgium. Tom could relate when I told him about your comment on this over dinner. He did a hilarious impression in an old lady voice of the “proud, proper French lady” in her perfectly superior French. He also told me the only time he’d correct another French speaker is when someone who might not know a word means something else in another region (said gosse for example, in Montreal means male genitalia and in France it’s like a gamin, same in English for fanny, we say fanny pack in American but in New Zealand it’s a vagina).

      No dialect, in my opinion, of any language is superior to any other so the French people who pretend they don’t understand septante just seem crazy to me!

      I bet the Japanese woman just doesn’t want to possibly offend you by correcting your Japanese although you’d find it helpful. And since you’re a customer, there’s an added dynamic there. Also, totally agree about the tourists. It’s great they’re making an effort and that’s not the best situation to correct someone. They probably won’t be improving their French or using it once the vacation is over so there’s no point, but like you said someone serious about learning or someone who needs to speak well for whatever reason, then corrections become important.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! (still have to film that video for an upcoming post where I try to say your name!)

      Reply

  • Jackie

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    I don’t mind being corrected in any language. My husband corrects me but only when we are alone.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Tom hates correcting me in front of other people even though I ask him to anyway. Those observing might think it’s rude so I think that’s why he holds back and tells me later but for me to remember the mistake, it’s best done in the moment.

      Reply

  • Ze Coach

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    I can relate Diane.
    I’m French and I leave in the US. I feel that French people have a tendency to correct more than American.

    It looks to me that very correct French is important to French people. When I go back to France for vacation, my French friends sometimes correct me because they see that I have forgotten a little bit of French or I use direct translation of American expression.

    On the other side, American rarely correct me though I know I make mistakes. I tell the people I know that I would like to be corrected. Some tried a couple of time in the beginning but they stopped. Some told me they don’t because they wouldn’t want me to feel bad. I think that over here, if people understand you, it’s good enough. And they are used to so many accents of people coming from so many places around the world.

    Another great post Diane, thanks.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      You make an excellent point about Americans (well at least in bigger cities) being very used to accents and people who sound different. In New York City, my office had mostly Americans but other native English accents from the UK, South Africa and Australia as well as a bunch of people from Asian countries and a few from other areas of the world where their native language was not English. We all managed to get by and in a professional context, no one corrected anyone because as long as you were understood and your presentations were free of errors, everything was fine. But I do think that if you specifically ask someone to correct you, they should do it most of the time. I do know some people just won’t correct others no matter how much you ask (like my mother in law, she’s great, speaks 3 words of English and never corrects me, just out of habit I guess). I also agree that correct French is very important to French people! So funny they correct you when you go home! Thanks for checking out the post 😉

      Reply

  • Ashley @ A Lady Goes West

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    Oh this is a good one! I must say, although I’m not trying to speak a second language, I definitely like it if I am correct by someone with my English. I’m a stickler for grammar and always want to correct others, but don’t. Unless of course it’s a family member, in which case I jump on them and scold them for their errors! hahah! 🙂
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    • Diane

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      You do like when people correct you in English (though you’re a native speaker?)? I think it all depends on the tone and who is doing the correcting. Like sometimes people like to feel superior and point out the mistakes of others and embarrass them. Both other times, if an English teacher pointed out my mistake in school, that’s totally different. One that kills me is “There’s” when it’s “There are.” Like “There’s 5 benches in the gym.” NO it’s THERE ARE. Thank you for sharing your perspective!

      Reply

  • Jan

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    Great post, Diane! I am attempting to learn French at the age of 63 (well, in all honesty, I have been trying for 5 or 6 years) and I welcome corrections. My French son-in-law began learning English at about the same time I started French. He asked why I seldom corrected him and I confessed that I found his mistakes cute and endearing. He then told me that he feels the same way regarding my blunders. We now often correct each others mistakes, but he is way ahead of me and speaks English fluently! Which is pretty amazing when you consider that at their home in France, he and my daughter speak French almost exclusively. I am planning another visit in April and can hardly wait!
    Jan recently posted…Baby, It’s Cold Outside!My Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      That’s so awesome to hear, Jan! So glad you enjoyed the post and that you’re learning French. I’m sure your son in law really respects that (learning just so you can speak to his family or always had an interest in the language and country?) and it’s great you both feel comfortable offering corrections. I’m amazed by my husband’s fluency in English as well considering he’s never spent more than 2 weeks in the US and has lived in France his whole life (and his job is in French). I hope you have a great visit in April! What part of the country do they live in?

      Reply

      • Jan

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        Diane, I have always loved all things French, but never in my wildest dreams did I think my youngest daughter would move to France! I have now visited 5 times and my goal is to become fluent enough to hold an actual conversation with members of Mathieu’s family and with friends of Darci and Mathieu. They live in Orleans, where Darci is both teaching and studying. She has applied for citizenship, so it looks as if there will be many more visits in my future. My husband and I want to take an immersion course in a couple of years, after he is retired. We plan to live in France for three months of each year.
        Jan recently posted…Baby, It’s Cold Outside!My Profile

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        • Diane

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          Oh wow, that sounds wonderful! With a little bit of time, you’ll get conversational in French. Listen to beginner podcasts or audiobooks in your car next time you’re out running errands. Even 10 minutes/day helps familiarize your ear w/the language. Sounds like a great plan 😉

          Reply

          • Jan

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            Thanks Diane. Most recently, I have been using Duolingo at home. In the car, I listen to French vocalists, which is probably not too helpful. I love the music though, and I find that I am recognizing more words and phrases. I also have Lynn McBride’s book “How to Learn a New Language with a Used Brain”. I have many other books and aids to help me. I WILL get there! My daughter’s first trip to France was for a 3 1/2 week immersion course. She had already had French in high school and college, but when she returned from France, her fluency was amazing!
            Jan recently posted…Baby, It’s Cold Outside!My Profile

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          • Diane

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            Excellent, well keep up the good work and have a wonderful weekend! 😉

            Reply

  • Amanda Elizabeth - Meet @ the Barre

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    I took so many years of French growing up and would always try to speak it when I was over there. Sadly I have totally lost all of it! I would love to get back into it and Spanish as well!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hello, happy to see you here! All it takes is a commitment and then staying consistent with the language learning. If you drive to work, podcasts are great, even just 10 min/day will help your ear to get used to the language again. Whenever you can squeeze it in. I’m sure it’ll come back to you!

      Reply

  • Alan

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    I want to be corrected, but I am not nearly as advanced as yo. I still get the blank look that the person I’m speaking with has absolutely no idea what I was try to say. At least they didn’t understand anything after “Je.” 😉 Same thoughts pass through my mind along with, “Why did I study Germans in school?” and “At least in Spanish and Italian they pronounce all the letters!”
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  • Chris

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    My boyfriend corrects me all of the time and when he does it he always looks so sad, I have to constantly tell him “its okay you can correct me” lol but I swear I won’t guilt trip him on in lol

    Reply

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