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Things I Should Have Learned in Kindergarten: French

Studies say the best time to learn a language is to begin when you are six months old. If you, like me, missed that window of opportunity, you have until age five to speak the language like your native tongue.

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You’ve missed another milestone if you haven’t mastered a language before puberty. During puberty, the physiological changes that occur in the brain aren’t conducive to language learning. There’s less communication between the right and left hemispheres.

So now you know what I’m up against at my ripe old age. Nevertheless, I’m charging forward and promised to learn French by Christmas. Yes, you heard it, and it’s in writing.

On with the lessons!

 Learning French sounds

It’s hard enough to learn French, and the fact that the vowels are nothing close to sounding like American English makes it more difficult. Add to that fact I’m a Southerner. My teacher, who is French, is learning that some of my sounds come from being Southern, and some anomalies are rooted in where I was raised —  Charlotte, NC. For example, when I say words like “oil,” “boil,” and “foil,” they have three syllables. “Oil” is  “o–e-ol.”  It took me a long time to realize this strange pronunciation is a Charlotte “thing.”  Or maybe it’s just me and my brother who talk this way. (I’d love to hear back from friends in Charlotte about this.)

 Learning French: Less than a mouthful

A significant difference between French and Southern English is how you shape your mouth. Southerners tend to use wide-mouth motions. We seem to grin when saying some words, then drop our jaw when speaking other words.

Southern: “Precious” is said with a big smile.

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Be prepared to fall in love with France, all over again!

Southern: “Ya’ll” can’t be said without opening wide.

French, on the other hand, seems to be all about using tiny, pinched lips.

“Puh, puh, puh.”

“Pity, pity, pity.”

In other words, I have to learn to shut my mouth!

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