Parlez-vous Francais? by
(296 Stories)

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

Parlez-vous Francais?  

When I retired after my long and happy career as a New York City high school librarian I had many options.  I could apply for a waiver and return to work part-time at a city school, sharing the week with another librarian as some colleagues did.  I could apply to the public library for a position.  I could try my skills in the private section.  I could join the Peace Corps and run a library in a country were libraries were scarce  and sorely needed,  as one admirable friend did.

I considered but rejected them all – as much as I loved being in the library world,  I felt I’d been there and done that.

Then I thought I might pursue my earliest dream of a life on the stage and audition for a neighborhood theatre company.   I could no longer play an ingenue,  but surely there would be some roles out there for a seasoned,  older woman!  But I rejected that idea too.

But one thing I had always wanted to do was to speak French.  My husband Danny is an excellent linguist and speaks French beautifully.  His Hungarian-speaking mother and his German-speaking father met and married in Paris in 1937,  and two years later fled Europe for South America on the cusp of World War ll.  They took their common language – French – with them,  learned Spanish in their new Bolivian home,  and Danny learned both languages as a child.

It happens I studied French in both high school and college,  but I must admit I’ve always spoken it poorly,  or as Danny would unkindly tell me, “Tu parles francais comme une vache espagnole.”  – you speak French like a Spanish cow.

So now that I was retired I was determined to finally master that beautiful tongue and enrolled at the renown Alliance Francaise.   I studied there for an academic year,  and the following summer went to France for a language immersion experience with my teacher Marie-France,  and Tricia, Janeen and Deborah,  three lovely women from our class.

We had a fabulous time with lots of laughs and adventures, and of course great food and lots of wine.   My vocabulary increased,  and I mastered more French grammar,  but my ear and my pronunciation –  toujours terrible!

So even now when I speak French to my husband,    “Il m’ecoute comme une vache espagnole.”  – he listens to me like a Spanish cow.

– Dana Susan Lehrman 

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

Visit Author's Website

Tags: France, French language
Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I admire your determination, Dana. Keep at it! I was good at French once upon a time (I think, as a singer, I had a good ear for the inflection of the language), but long ago lost all my vocabulary. Don’t let Danny get you down. Speak it with him. The only way to improve is to use the language, so maybe ask him to be less judgmental and more helpful?

  2. I’m jealous! You make life such a great adventure. and make me want to learn a foreign language And nothing is better than pairing one’s studies with a trip to Europe! In spite of Danny’s comments, I’m sure you can still get by in French. Come with me to Montreal and be my translator!

  3. Marian says:

    You have inspired me to revive my French, Dana. A group of close friends, all of whom spoke French, hosted monthly conversational get-togethers for 25 years, but the next generation didn’t want to take over the group. By now I have forgotten most of my grammar, but my comprehension and reading are pretty good. At least the native speakers in our group didn’t tell the rest of us that we spoke “comme des vaches espagnoles.”

  4. Suzy says:

    What a fun story, Dana! I had to use Google Translate on your comment to Marian, because I am a Spanish-speaker myself. My French vocabulary consists only of the delicious food items you can order in a French restaurant. Although when I was 20 and on my own in Paris, I discovered that if I spoke Spanish with a French accent it worked pretty well, and the natives seemed to understand me.

    Also love your picture of the Spanish cow. Painted in the colors of the Spanish flag. Very subtle. 🙂

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    What a great retirement idea, Dana. My husband, for reasons unknown to me, wants to learn Yiddish. I guess the two of us could save a dying language. That’s on the to-do-in-the-future list.

    • Oy!
      But seriously an interest in Yiddish seems to be a phenomenon now in NY (where of course there’s a large Jewish population!). Classes are given in many places and there seems to be a resurgence of Yiddish theatre.

      Has Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish come to Chicago yet? If so don’t miss it!

      My parents spoke Yiddish and I understand a bit but certainly can’t speak it, but my linguist husband is fluent having had a German/Yiddish speaking father.

      And hope you’ve read The Joys of Yiddish!

    • Here’s to saving Yiddish! Attending a high school that was 98% Jewish, and being half Jewish, and having a copy of The Joys of Yiddish on my bookshelf forever, I’ve been known to toss out an expressive phrase now and then. And now my husband, who’s not Jewish, calls our sweet dog a “shayna punim.” Sometimes nothing says it like Yiddish.

  6. Oh Dana, I salute you! I’ve tried to learn French but can’t seem to help pronouncing vowels as if I’m speaking Spanish, which I’m somewhat familiar with, but unlike Suzy, no one can understand me and I get embarrassed and then just say it in English with a French accent. No one seems amused. You go!

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Your decision to dive into French with your friends sounds like a brilliant idea! It seems that you had a lot of fun doing it too. I have a friend who grew up as an English speaker in Montreal and decided to work on his French after retiring in BC, returning to Montreal. He does pretty well, but still hardly sounds like a native, so don’t think you are alone with your struggles. It doesn’t matter.

    • Thanx Khati, a shame your friend didn’t take advantage of learning French while a child in Montreal when it would have been easier!

      Yes it is a struggle, but you’re right, in the greater scheme of things, not such an important one!

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    I just started learning French. We hope to go back next Fall.

Leave a Reply