My Language Barrier Experience in Paris

My Trip to Paris!

At the start of June, my friend and I took a trip to Paris. We were super excited! We visited the Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame, went up the Eiffel Tower alongside other typical touristy things.

But I want to make the focus of this blog less about what we did but more about the language barriers we faced. Neither of us speak French, my friend had learned Spanish at school, and I studied German. We were going to the capital of France, so thought our lack of French wouldn’t be an issue. The only French I did know how to say is “je ne parle pas français”, thanks to a song released by Namika that was constantly on the radio during my year abroad. I almost instantly regretted knowing this phrase as it just led to people replying to me in French…

The first hurdle to overcome was how to get to our hotel. I approached members of staff stood in the train station and tried to ask for assistance as to which train to catch. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to be able to speak English. I got a bit flustered, as living abroad in Germany I could use my knowledge of German to help me travel about, which I was unable to do in France. We saw a sign saying ‘Paris’ and thought, let’s give that route a go. On the platform, I did the very typical tourist thing and said, “does anyone here speak English?”, to which I was thankfully greeted with a few eager “yes” responses. 3 trains later we arrived at the hotel.


Carina sitting at a table in Paris enjoying breakfast outside
Carina in Paris near L'Arc de Triomphe

The second hurdle to overcome was to how to let chefs in restaurants know I have a nut allergy. I was very grateful for the hotel reception’s help in writing it down for me on a piece of paper which I was able to pass on to the waiters. Now, although I don’t speak French, I am exposed to French daily in my role at Dialogue when running QA checks. I can spot patterns in the language, without always understanding what is being said. I did pick up a couple of phrases whilst out there such as “Je voudrais…s’il vous plaît”, which went a long way. By even attempting to order my food in French, I was often given praise by the waiters for giving it a go! The more restaurants we visited the more I began to pick up on the repetitions I was seeing. By the Monday, I was confident in ordering my petit déjeuner.

On the final day we were making our way to the airport (along the same 3 metro lines we travelled on). We felt a bit more confident about getting back having become more familiar with the metro and having a metro map at this point. All was going well until the tram suddenly halted at a stop and although I didn’t know what was being said, I understood that we needed to get off. We didn’t know an alternative route as we were not familiar with that stop. Using the few phrases I’d picked up, I said “je voudrais La Défense s’il vous plait”. Although this isn’t the “correct” way so to speak, I was able to obtain the information I needed as he pointed and said “quatre”, which I knew meant four, so headed to platform 4 with my friend.

We had a great trip all in all, but I couldn’t help but feel guilty for not knowing French. I spend my days trying to preach to others the importance of learning languages. So perhaps it is time for me to sit down with Rob and learn some French after all!

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