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Life in Rural France

Living the French Dream….The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

People line dancing in the town square in Ruffec France

Why I Started Line Dancing to Learn French

Probably one of the strangest sentences to ever come out of my mouth happened a couple of weeks ago. I was attending a business retreat with 19 other fantastic entrepreneurs and we were sitting in the bar chatting away.

We got onto the subject of where we all lived and of course I launched into my usual rhetoric of living in rural France in the beautiful Charente region, living my best French life. Then someone said to me, “so can you speak French then”?

And there it was….the question we all dread being asked when we’ve lived in a country for a substantial period of time and still aren’t fluent in the language. Or in my case can barely string a sentence together.

“Well”, I said, “to be honest I’m still struggling with it all. It doesn’t really come naturally to me. I started line dancing to learn French.”

Yep, that last sentence actually did come out of my mouth. Because of course the first thing you do when trying to learn a new language is learn to dance. Naturally, the two go hand in hand.

Now to me it was a perfectly normal thing to say because in my head it did make perfect sense, but of course, I was privy to my own thought process behind this. Spoken out loud though it made no sense at all.

French Lessons VS Conversational French

So I’ll level with you. I’ve been living in France for six years now and my French is still awful. I did try taking lessons but it didn’t really work out because it felt like being back at school. Long lists of verbs and copious amounts of homework didn’t really do it for me.

Plus I just found it so boring. I felt like 12 year old Kylie again gazing out the window during class and daydreaming about more exciting things.

Clearly that wasn’t working so I needed to find another way.

I then did some conversational French with Stefan’s girlfriend, one of my neighbours here in Chez Le Coq. I was actually going OK, but then they had a falling out and the girlfriend was shown the door.

I was back to square one. 

I knew I didn’t want lessons and there wasn’t really anyone else who had the time to sit and just “chat French” with me. I needed to think of other ways to immerse myself in the language without feeling like it was hard work.

Time went by and I was still no further forward. I blamed it on work, not enough time, not having the ability etc. etc. Until finally, it hit me just how much I was missing out on. 

Why you need to learn French when you move to France

Living in France and not speaking French stops you being able to fully embrace the culture and the social aspect of life here. And of course, makes every day tasks and admin a bit of a nightmare. Not to mention it is rather rude to expect the French to speak English to you in their own country. I mean why should  they?

And don’t get me started on just how important the word “Bonjour” is in France.

It was a chance visit to a garden centre down the road that ended up giving me the solution to my French speaking problem. I was having one of my little gardening episodes where I get all enthusiastic about the garden and go plant mad.

They never last very long and usually my enthusiasm has waned or completely died within a week. Anyway, this little episode was all about herbs and vegetables. I decided I wanted a herb garden and to grow my own veggies.

Garden boxes with herbs in a French garden

The Best Way to Learn French

So I dutifully took myself off to the garden centre to purchase what I needed. I was thoroughly confused by the variety of tomato plants. How on earth was I going to negotiate asking for help, in French?

Just as I was whipping out my phone to use my Translate App Deepl, I heard an English voice. Looking up I saw that it was coming from one of the assistants. Oh thank God, I could ask for what I needed without the drama of having to actually attempt speaking French.

Which by the way is a total cop out on my behalf.

Anyway, as we got chatting I asked her if she could speak French. She told me that when she got the job at the garden centre she didn’t speak a word of French. But now, two years later, she was fluent. 

I asked her how on earth she managed to be fluent in such a relatively short space of time. It was then that she dropped this little nugget.

“The only way to really learn a language is to put yourself in a situation where you have no choice.”

The Garden Centre Assistant

She told me that at the garden centre they’d employed her to speak to all their English customers. But of course, she’d also needed to speak to the French customers. And that’s how she’d learnt, out of necessity and not being able to hide or avoid it.

The penny dropped. That’s what I needed to do. I needed to put myself out there in a situation where I had no choice but to speak French. Now obviously I didn’t want to work in a garden centre, I already had a job running my own business, so what could I do?

And that’s when the idea of line dancing came to me. A couple of months earlier I’d been to see a friend of mine in a line dancing exhibition in Ruffec, a mediaeval town about 20 minutes away, and I’d been absolutely fascinated. 

The Quickest Way to Learn French And Have Fun

People line dancing outside the Marie Town Hall in France

Did you know that line dancing is HUGE in France, bigger than in America, and there are groups everywhere.

In fact, I read somewhere that 4 million French people enjoy line dancing as a hobby. I kid you not.

Anyway, she told me she was the only English person in the group and the whole thing was in French. It was genius. That’s what I needed to do to learn French, start line dancing.

My next challenge was to find a class for beginners, or as they say in France, débutant. It wasn’t hard and after a little bit of Googling I found a class in Fouqueure, a little village just past Mansle about 20 minutes away from me. 

I emailed the instructor, who it turned out was also English, and asked if I could join. She explained they were halfway through the year but I was welcome to come and try it out.

She also told me that everything was in French, exactly as I’d hoped.

I’ll admit I was really nervous walking into class on my first night but I forced myself to do it. Looking back it’s no wonder I  was nervous, I mean I wasn’t just learning French I was learning to dance as well.

And I was walking into a room full of French people I couldn’t communicate with.

A Gauche ou à Droite

All’s well that ends well though because I absolutely fell in love with the dancing aspect. There’s a funny kind of buzz you get once you master the steps of a dance and find yourself moving as one with everyone else in a big square formation.

But it certainly hasn’t been plain sailing and I didn’t take to it like a duck to water. Remembering my right from my left is a challenge at the best of times, but in a different language it takes it to a whole other level.

Line dancing group practicing in a room

Then of course there’s the steps. They have all sorts of interesting names such as:

  • Rocking Chair
  • Grapevine
  • Step Touch
  • Hip Bump
  • Lock Step

And there’ve been a few dodgy moments where I’ve been going in the completely opposite direction to everyone else.

Not to mention Julien, who stands behind me and has danced professionally, salsa not line dancing, who loves to embellish each dance. So of course, when we face the other way, as there are lots of changes of direction in line dancing, and he’s directly in front of me. I have to remember his love of adding extra steps, twirls and spins.

This can be more than a little off putting when you first start off, not to mention the cause of a few near disasters. 

Bottom line though, it’s working. I’m definitely not fluent but I can now understand a lot of what Coxie, my instructor, says without needing my Translate App.

And the bonus is that I’m absolutely loving it.

Who knew so much fun could be found in the Salle de Fete (village hall) in Fouqueure, somewhere in the Charente, on a Wednesday night between 7.15pm – 8.15pm.

Want to know more? Fancy joining me on a Wednesday night? Here’s the link to ADANC, the association that hosts my line dancing classes.

À bientôt et merci beaucoup!

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