Learning from your mistakes

Have you any stories of mistakes you have made in a foreign country?  I have several.  One of the first one was probably when I was fourteen years old, staying for three weeks with a French family in the Loire valley, near Tours.  It was Easter and the whole family was gathered round a sumptuous meal, chattering away and enjoying themselves.  I was slightly ill-at-ease, not being used to eating what looked like raw meat, though now I would call it charcuterie.

The fact that my host had turned on a tape recorder to capture the occasion for posterity didn´t inspire me with much courage to speak, so I mostly just tried to listen to what other people were saying. 

Eventually, though, someone must have turned to me and asked me about friends at school.  I remember wanting to say that my friend was chatty (or vivacious or gregarious).  My vocabulary was rather meagre and the nearest thing I could think of was “she talks without stopping”.  I knew that sans arrêt meant “without stopping” and so felt fairly sure that it would be OK to say “elle parle sans arrêt”.  

The whole family burst out laughing. 

It was great that they found me so entertaining, but the reason for their mirth was completely lost on me until they explained that you don´t pronounce the final T in arrêt because it makes it sound like a fishbone une arête.   She talks without fishbones.

Several decades later, I am one of the few English-speaking people who know the correct word for a fishbone in French, and you do too.

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About Fun with languages

Blogging about learning languages, making it fun Hobbies: paragliding, cycling, reading, BBC radio 4.
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2 Responses to Learning from your mistakes

  1. Oh my goodness, what a funny story! I remember making my fair share of mistakes when I was learning French. I once tried to tell my French teacher “je faisais des betises” (I used to do silly things). But I told her “je vais faire des betises” (I’m going to do silly things)! XD

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