I've always prided myself on the fact that despite it being 13 years since I left high school, I've always been able to remember a basic amount of French. And it's taken me far dammit. I've used this to smash down language barriers throughout my travels; haggling in Morocco, finding my way on the streets of Paris, communicating with wayward bus drivers in Spain, conversing with randoms in a park in Tokyo. And sure, it was never perfect. I don't know my numbers between 40-99, so haggling involved me protesting something was too expensive but never being able to name a price and upon asking for directions, I could never remember left from right, but still, I COMMUNICATED.
Recently, my French wall of pride has crumbled slightly. The other night I revealed to a friend who speaks fluent French that despite my poor 'vocabulaire' I could get around places, like shops for example, with relative ease. To demonstrate my grasp of the language, I even said my standard shop phrase to her; 'je regarde', which I thought meant, 'I'm just looking'. After she recovered from what I soon realised wasn't admiration, I found out I'd been walking around saying 'I look' like a broken robot: I look, I look, I look. Embarrassing but not as embarrassing as what I found out last night.
As part of my French phrase repertoire, I often crack out one of my favourite, most useful phrases; 'can you repeat that more slowly please'? After my mother, fluent in French, almost fell off her chair and started hyperventilating from laughing too hard, she pointed out that I'd been saying, 'can you repeat that more softly please'.
I've been making the people of France speak more quietly for years now.