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Living in France now - feeling overwhelmed!

I started Duolingo a few months ago (at a pretty slow pace) in preparation for coming to France to live/travel for about a year. I've been in France for 2 weeks now and I'm feeling a bit lost!

I don't just use Duolingo - there are other resources as well. Memrise, Busuu, Lingvist, Frenchpod 101, Coffee Break French podcasts that I use as well.

I thought I was doing well and I can do okay to hold a basic conversation if the person I am speaking to knows I am English and deliberately speaks more slowly for me.

But listening to real people engaging in conversation I am almost totally lost! I can pick out the odd word and phrase here and there but if you were to ask me what they were just talking about, I really wouldn't have a clue!

It feels quite overwhelming, like I'll never be able to get to that level just by 'practising' in this way. Has anyone else had this experience but found that they were able to understand locals after living in the country for a while?

What makes it worse is that I am half French! My mother is French and although I never kept up the language it feels somehow wrong that I am struggling so much in what should be a second language for me.

I need some hope :-)

April 28, 2018



I think that the main source of your discomfort may be your high expectation as a person being "half French". If I were in your situation, I would try to reduce that stress by not telling people about this fact. There's nothing wrong with your French skills as you have acquired them, and you should refrain from comparing your skills with "what they should be". I'm quite sure that many people in your situation, even having a French mother, would experience the same difficulties just because in their previous life there was a lack of exposure to the actual language spoken by various people.

So my recommendation would be: Treat yourself as a simple learner of a foreign language, without the burden of any special expectations, and enjoy this foreign-language learning in the country as a very exciting experience.

Do you have a chance of attending French classes in your location?

I suggest this because this helped me immensely during my first trip to England, at age 15. I was sure that I would be able to communicate because I had quite good marks in English at school -- and then I understood close to nothing of what people were saying.

Having daily classes in English helped me regain my confidence because I saw other learners from many different countries who experienced similar difficulties. We talked about our experiences and supported each other, and the classes gave me the confidence back that I was actually good. On this basis, I was much more able to deal with the everyday situations, and in the three weeks of my stay in Brighton I learned more than in several years before.

Bon courage ! :-)


Have you seen this podcast? https://www.innerfrench.com/podcasts

I've been using it to improve my listening comprehension. The content is targeted towards intermediate adult French students. (If you try it, I'd suggest starting w/his 1st entry. It's interesting.)

Things I like:

  • I can read the transcript while listening to the podcast. This is helping me to "hear" the words inside of the stream sounds (this has been a particular challenge for me).

  • The speaker is careful to enunciate, and speaks at a manageable rate. For me, hearing things spoken clearly/crisply is a helpful bridge to everyday conversation. (Obviously, not everyone will enunciate as this gentleman does, but I find it a helpful learning tool.)

  • Interesting content which helps me push thru to understand what he is saying.

Enjoy France! What a dream!


Oooh no I have not seen that one, thanks for the link! I have been enjoying the Coffee Break French podcasts so far. There's a lot on FrenchPod101 as well but I find the quality really varies there.


@ W-Ruggles-Wolfe thank you very much... I listen to a podcast and I like. The teacher speak clearly... and the subjects of podcast is for adultes


Yes I think you are right. I had this idea that once I got to France all the language would just come 'rushing back' because I learned a lot of it as a child. But that just hasn't been the case! Some has come back of course but not that much :-)

No classes aren't really feasible as I move around every day or two but I get a lot of opportunities to chat with locals which seems to be helping.


There's one more thought that occurred to me in the course of the day: Even though your mother may have taught you French in your childhood, the French spoken in France today may differ considerably from what she knows; it depends on how often and how long and intensely she has returned to France in the course of time.

I once became aware of the story of a forum member in a different forum. They claimed to be a native speaker of language X, but other native speakers of that language X said that this was not the case. After some back and forth communication, that member said that they had been raised as a child in country Y with language Y; so that would normally be their native language.

However, they had moved to country X with language X 40 years ago, and meanwhile they felt no longer attuned to their native language Y because they hadn't been in country Y for all these years. So it didn't feel right to that member to claim language Y as their native language. Their use of their language X of 40 years, however, didn't feel like the native use of that language to other speakers of that language X. A real dilemma.

I certainly don't want to say that this is the case with your mother. I'd just like to point out that language knowledge obtained some time ago may not help very much in a language environment of today.


Yes that certainly is the case, she's lived in the UK for over 60 years now!



When I was in college I did a study abroad one summer in Mexico. I thought my Spanish was pretty good before I left. I took two courses at a university there, lived in a home with a Mexican family, and took cultural trips with my American classmates on the weekend.

I remember my ears feeling physically exhausted after listening so hard and trying to understand what was being said around me. It was like eye fatigue after reading too much. Like you, I could do okay if people slowed down and were careful with their word choice and pronunciation. But normal folks on the street - not a clue!

Have faith, and hang in there. By the time I came home after about 8 weeks, I was thinking and dreaming in Spanish. I still wasn't fluent, but things were clicking into place.

I had some American friends who hung out with other Americans and didn't have host families that were as friendly and accommodating as mine, and they learned very little. So don't give into the temptation to hang out with English speaking folks. Keep at it - it does take time.


I have barely seen any other English people hehe! I find that telling people I am travelling France for the whole year interests them and they enjoy chatting with me and slow down a bit so it's easier for me to understand!


I'm an American living in France as well. Don't rush it. Honestly, it takes at least 1-2 years minimum for people with minimal French knowledge to be able to understand and maintain conversation with the native speakers. The worst thing you can do is put pressure on yourself. Just go with the flow, and the rest will come to you - especially if you're interacting with natives on a daily basis. :)


When I was 18, I lived in Spain for a year. I had studied Spanish in school for four years before I went, but on arrival I found I could understand absolutely nothing said to me. After two months, I still felt I had utterly failed at learning Spanish. I then left for few weeks to travel around other parts of Europe. I spent that time entirely in areas where I did not speak the languages at all. On my return to Spain, I was shocked to find how easily I understood Spanish. Far from needing to concentrate, I experienced, for the first time with Spanish, the sort of automatic understanding by which native speakers cannot fail to understand conversions around them. It was very much the experience I would have expected had I been hearing English again. My Spanish, of course, had not improved while I was gone and is still far from perfect to this day, but my expectations had been reset. While immersed, I had focused on the difficulties I still had with understanding. My frustration and the accompanying anxiety had perhaps even hampered my ability to understand. On returning, I experienced for the first time how far I had come.


This is a very interesting and inspiring experience! Yes, I think that our expectations can cause anxieties, which in turn use up our energy that we would need to actually understand ... Having the much more difficult environments in the other countries helped you get out of this situation. Really cool.


One thing I've found really helpful is the Mimic Method site (https://www.mimicmethod.com/), which really focuses on the mechanics of pronunciation—how your mouth makes certain sounds in a language. It is really transformative for listening comprehension, because there are certain sounds in any language that you mentally cannot hear until you train your mouth and ears to recognize them.

One tool emphasized there is learning songs by starting at very slow speeds. Getting to understand the phonetic alphabet, and then listening to slowed down songs—and recording the actual sounds you are hearing, versus the sounds you'd expect to hear based on the pronunciations of individual words—is really eye opening. That's one of the reasons actual speech is so hard is because people don't talk in words. They talk in syllables. And the syllables people use to convey a sentence are not often the same ones they'd use if they pronounced each word separately. These song exercises are a great way to help your brain to internalize that.

Note that there's a lot of great content in the blog posts on the site. If you can't afford any of the courses, you can still learn a lot by looking at the free resources in the blog posts!


Thanks, I shall check this out, though the idea of songs is a bit off-putting :-)


French was one of the languages I studied in high school, all in all for a total of 6 years. Most certainly wasn't my best subject, but didn't flunk it either. Despite the number of years, endless vocabulary lists studies, books read, grammar books studied, and both written as well as verbal exams done for years, the only people I could communicate in French in were other classmates or other non-native French speakers.

Speaking to a native French speaker on the other hand? It just made me feel wondering what I've been doing with my life during those 6 years.

From what I know from current colleagues who've actually lived in France as part of e.g. their PhD most of them not till after roughly 6 months start to truly feel they're starting to get a grasp of the language, and not till after like 2 years or so of living there reach a point in which they are at a comfortable level of speaking with native French speakers.

What really doesn't help is that many French people when talking to foreigners tend to keep rambling on at super speed or move on to broken English if anything at all :p. The in-between of French in a slow, easier to understand pace, is something that I've always found hard to come across when conversing with French people.


hehe yes I have had the experience where they try to speak English and that is often more difficult to understand than the French lol!


I swear I've been learning French for 12 years and I'm still not perfect. And my dad is from a french speaking country too. Don't ever stop practicing. Speak french as much as you can. You'll become fluent someday if you don't quit.


That is great that you actually went to France! That is a bit of an odd situation, though. I think you should keep on learning, and maybe develop your French skills a bit more. Félicitations!


hello Caroline i have the same problem to speak english, i am french and the duolingo vocaburaly is disconnected from the reality ....... if i can help you i make it with a great pleasure ....... have a good day donald


I had the same experience when I first visited France. I had many years of French at school, but very poor conversation skills and no immersive experience. All I can say is to be patient and things will slowly become easier and easier. Someone told me it was like being in the middle of a dense fog. At first, you can't see (understand) anything but as you remain in the middle of the fog, it starts to thin out and you can recognize a few things here and there. After a while, without realizing it, you can recognize/understand almost everything. That process is not very long, just a few weeks seem to do the trick. If you had a strong formal preparation, you will soon recognize what you had learned.


I was like that with Spanish when I first went to live there ... just keep on going... the low points eventually become less frequent... your fluency will improve... most of all, people will appreciate your efforts - good luck.


Another site that I've used with learning to hear/read French is https://www.newsinslowfrench.com/ It's updated weekly, so hopefully it'll help with your listening skills.

Bonne chance!


Thank you, another resource I had not come across before! I find that personally, I learn better if I go over the same material / concepts in lots of different ways rather than just endlessly repeating the exact same thing.


What great advice you've gotten. I wish I had this discussion board and the presence of mind to ask for help like you did. I will add just one thing: learn to be ok with speaking bad french. I'm serious. Every conversation you have you will be aware of all you don't know. Try hard to be ok with that. You make mistake after mistake and that's how you learn. Have fun speaking bad french! It will get better.


hehe yes I guess it is not so bad!


A lot of those programs are only for reading and listening practice of simple phrases. What I would recommend is trying not feel completely overwhelmed, like you "should" be at a certain level. Instead, try to sit down with a friend and just have a simple conversation. Getting that practice just speaking casually will work immensely. A lot of courses focus on grammar and reading, not actual conversation. Also, the Language Hacking books by Benny Lewis might help, as well as his Fluent In 3 Months course.


Language Hacking is a great resource. The focus on conversation skills above grammar, reading, etc. is the key.


envy! how come you are in france? yeah, on the bright side, you are now doing immersion french! do not give up, you will get there!


I decided I wanted to travel, so I sold almost everything I owned, bought a motorhome and came to France! :-)


That is so cool! You should write about your experience one day. Don't give up!


Oh I am! I have a blog, YouTube channel and Facebook page where I document everything :-) Look up "Slow Cooked Adventures" if you are interested :-)


Have you tried https://www.fluentu.com/ - I think it's one of the best ways to make the leap from coursework like DuoLingo to understanding native speech. It teaches you through carefully selected YouTube videos to which they've added interactive subtitles.

When I was a kid I met a Turkish kid on vacation who became completely fluent in English by renting American movies every weekend and watching them with the Turkish subtitles. He didn't take a single lesson. FluentU takes this concept a huge step further. Try it out!


I've seen the website but unfortunately the style of learning (video) doesn't suit my lifestyle now that I am traveling as I have a limited data plan for Internet and video content just eats up too much.


May I ask what level you achieved on Duolingo before you visited Paris, s'il vous plaît?


I'm sorry. I just realized that the level is visible next to one's name. I'm new to all this.


Only level 11! I think I did not practice enough!


i have lived in trance or 6 months now and still find it difficult. All you can do is try and then try again. Learning french and speaking french are poles apart - it is not easy especially when you take into account local dialects and the speed at which someone speaks to you. But the main thing is to keep trying your best.


Have you tried the site conversationexchange.com? It's free and you can use it to find native speakers to practice French with via FaceTime or Skype. You help them with their English, and they help you with your French. It's fun and low-key, and, since you are in France already, it could be a way for you to meet locals if you have been struggling with that.


Have you tried conversation exchange.com? How did it go?


Conversation Exchange is an excellent resource. I've met with a couple of native French speakers on there (both in person and via Skype). The only problem I had was that their English skills were far greater than my French skills, so we wound up speaking mostly in English the entire time. Again, that was more a problem with me than the exchange itself. I highly recommend it!


I've been wondering about this too, that is, how long it takes to be able to understand spoken French. I watch French movies with French subtitles and have no trouble understanding that way, but without the subtitles I really can't make sense of the conversation.


hope you keep having an awesome time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


I COMPLETELY agree with you! I took up French on Duolingo because I was planning a trip to Paris...all by myself!!! I studied for four months before going and I felt like I was doing well...until I got there and couldn't understand a damned thing. Lol.

I also work with a few French-speaking people. One woman is Austrian, but lived in Paris for a time and is fluent. The other woman is French-Canadian...completely fluent. And the guy is FROM France. Sometimes I sit and listen to them at work and catch a few words, but...they talk so FAST!!! sigh It's frustrating.

So...on my trip to Paris...it was great fun, but kind of lonely...I had no one to talk to except the stray English-speaking person...whom I latched onto as soon as I figured out they spoke English. Lol.

A funny side note...I must look French...to a lot of people...I can't tell you how many Americans came up to me with their feeble attempts to speak French...just TRYING to find out where they were or where such in such was. I would let them talk in broken French for a few seconds (in the interest of hoping to hear things I recognized), then stop them and say, "I speak English. I'm American." They'd laugh. But the great part is that I'm REALLY good with directions (my BF calls me a human compass)...because I studied maps like a crazy person before going (not because I'm a compass)...so I could tell them where everything was. grin


France has such a mixture of people, plus there are so many other countries that speak French, that everyone is assumed to be a French speaker while in France. I get it all the time, too. lol


I give you hope then

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