Monolune

My French is Frequently Rejected

My "attempts" to speak French are frequently rejected in Montreal. When I buy food or go to the supermarket, the cashier would often start by saying "Bonjour, hi". My response of "bonjour" has almost always been ignored. The cashier would invariably respond in English.

French rejection

Once, I tried to be persistent. That was when I received a supermarket membership card. After the usual "Bonjour, hi", "bonjour" was exchanged, and after he gave me the membership card, I asked him "comment ça marche?" and he responded in English. Again, I asked him "comment ça marche?", and thankfully on my second try, he responded in French. That was not an isolated incident.

I can try to be persistent, but it gets tiring after a while. It gets tiring when people assume that you don't speak French. It gets tiring when people assume that you don't speak French and do not give you the chance to speak. I have found that this reduces confidence and motivation.

I think my sister once said, "you do not look like a person who speaks English". To extend that a little, she would have said that I do not look like a person who speaks French. It's demotivating. It's demotivating when all the things you say in French come with English replies.

It's a challenging environment. It makes me feel out of place when I speak French, even considering that this is Quebec. It's challenging when people look at you twice when you speak French, as if it was something they never expected. It feels strange when people are surprised that I speak French.

Another story: I usually experiment with changing the default language on my laptop and mobile phone. Recently, I have been using French as my main language, and recently, a person beside me asked if I was "trying to learn French" after seeing my computer output messages in French. No, I am not "trying to learn French". It's just like the millions or billions of people who are not trying to learn English when they set their laptop's language to English. Yes, I want to increase my vocabulary and improve my grammar, but no I am not "trying to learn French"!

Yes, my French is not the best thing in the world. Yes, I speak with an accent. Yes, I look like a foreigner, and people assume foreigners only speak English. I guess people assume it's a waste of time trying to speak to someone whom they believe is trying to learn a language. I guess it's fortunate that French is not my first language. Imagine how rejection would feel if your first language is rejected (sometimes I feel really hurt when people reject my English).

There are slightly brighter sides to this. I found that my French has some use. There are times when I give people directions, and I once resolved a potential misunderstanding between two people (one who only spoke English with an accent that the other French-speaking person could not understand). I've also noticed that the suburbs of Montreal are better environments for speaking French, probably because downtown Montreal is more linguistically diverse.

I think I have to improve my French significantly. Sometimes it feels that whatever I do, I have to be a million times better than average for people to recognize that. I will have to learn French to the level beyond that of the average native speaker, just like I have for my English. Thinking of all the available French literature, I am looking forward to excellent French. I will always have an accent. I will not let that stop me. I have an accent in all languages that I speak. If accents stop me, I will stop speaking, and that is not acceptable.

I still feel sad of how frequently my French is rejected, but at the end of the day, there is little I can do to change what others do. What I can really do is to improve my French to a level where there will no longer be any doubts about ability. A million times better.