Living in a foreign country is an experience unlike any other. Especially when the language is completely different from what you normally speak. It can be a bit challenging when you still have so much to learn in said foreign language, but when you slowly start being able to have conversations with the native speakers there is almost no better sense of accomplishment.
When you take a language class you go through a lot in a short amount of time. And I’ve seen that the first things you learn are the most important. These include what would seem simple: days of the week, months, numbers and the alphabet.
A fellow American in Paris (not Gene Kelly) and vloger that I found explains how to speak like a native while abroad. And no it’s not an easy 10-step program. It’s a lot of work and practice and messing up and being corrected by your waiter (speaking from personal experience). So I’ve combined what I’ve seen on her vlog with my own personal experience here in Paris to make a guidebook of sorts of things you should try to know BEFORE living in a new place with a new language. These may seem elementary, but why think you can just jump in to a new language with out first understanding the most basic of basics?
The alphabet: know how your new language says the alphabet. At least know how to spell your name. Even if all the letters are the same they’re going to be pronounced differently.
Numbers: 0-20 is a must. 0-50 should probably be the recommendation though, just because you’ll probably pay more than 20 (dollars/euros/crowns/pounds/etc..) for a few meals. With this, you should also know how to say floor numbers. So you should know how to say “Je vive à la troisième étage” (I live on the thirteenth floor) and not “Je vive à la treize” which translates to I live on the 13.
Days of the week: this is most helpful when talking about due dates (for those studying/interning abroad) as well as when to meet someone or when you’ll see them next. I’ve found this especially helpful when figuring out drink specials.
Months: how long are you abroad? You should at least know your arrival month, departure month, and the ones in between. But it’s just twelve words, so definitely try to know them all.
In the end, you gotta just go for it. You can’t spend half your time abroad too scared to say anything. Yes, you will pronounce words wrong or mix up a few words here and there, but as long as you’re trying the native speakers will help you out and appreciate your efforts. Even if you’re just traveling, you should try your best to know basic hello and how do you do’s.
I was warned that Parisians are very rude and have zero tolerance for Americans. Which is true only to some level. Imagine people flocking to your country and expecting you to speak their language the whole time. That’s what they don’t like. And understandably so. But once they see that you’re putting in the effort to try to speak to them in their country’s language, they’ll be so helpful to you and to your language abilities.
So don’t be afraid to go out to a café by yourself and speak with the waiter in French. They might speak in English but you must try to answer in French. They’ll appreciate it, and it’ll help you further down the road. And one day, they’ll smile and answer you in French. And before you know it you’ve had your first conversation in a new language. It’s a wonderful feeling (speaking from personal experience).