Friday, 21 October 2016

Oh God I'm losing my French!!

I already knew my oral French was becoming a bit rusty at times, like not remembering certain words or mixing both languages, but I didn't expect my writing to be affected that much.

Today, I had to write a professional e-mail in French, and although it was about six lines long, it took me more than half an hour to figure out how to make sense in my native language. I occasionally write business e-mails in French to existing customers or business partners, but I know them personally, so the tone doesn't have to be too formal. This time, it was to someone completely new and whom I only spoke once on the phone. Well, I definitely struggled!

When you start learning a new language, your first instinct is to translate everything in your head. You think about a sentence, then translate it into the foreign language. The result is that most of the time, what you say or write doesn't sound native. Well, that's what happened to me today, but in reverse. For some reason, I was thinking in English while writing in French, so the way I was writing didn't sound proper French at all!

Then I had a problem about the opening and the ending. In English, a simple "Hello", "Hi" or a formal "Dear Mr X" would fit the bill, but in French, it's a bit more complicated. I thought of writing "Bonjour Monsieur X", but when I looked it up online, I learned this wasn't the way of addressing an unknown person, especially if that person has a higher rank than yourself (a CEO for example)... Bloody French hierarchy rules!! In the end, I had to go with "Cher Monsieur X." I know this is the exact translation of "Dear Mr." but in French, it just sounds a lot more formal, and not really "natural".

The ending was something else altogether. In English, you can finish off with "Kind regards" or "Looking forward to hearing from you" which is simple and goes straight to the point. But the French have this way of ending with big words and expressions that could be longer than the actual e-mail! I wanted to say I was looking forward to his reply, but it sounded very abrupt in French and if I had to add something else, it would have been once again over-the-top formal. So I ended with "I am looking forward to your reply and I wish you a good week-end", which sounds a bit silly in English to be honest.

All that made me realise the English language is so straightforward compared to French. You get right to the point, no messing around. The French like to put the form along with the substance, so I can understand how hard it can be to learn how to write in French. Not only you have to know the words, but you have to understand all the subtleties that go with them.

All I hope now is that I get an answer to that e-mail because I have put a lot of effort in it!!