I had an inspiring French teacher at school called Miss Burgess. She drilled me so well that more than 30 years later I can still remember the words for an armchair (un fauteuil) and a spoon (une cuillère).
The problem is that even though my brain is stuffed full of Miss Burgess’s vocabulary and I can read French pretty well, I can’t actually speak the language. When I’m in France I understand the gist of what everyone’s saying but by the time I’ve worked out how to reply, it’s five minutes too late and the conversation has moved on. I’m far too hung up on getting my verb endings right when I should be gabbling away regardless.
One of my most embarrassing moments came when the painter arrived to decorate. The moment I shook his hand my mind went completely blank and I couldn’t think of any French words at all. It took a few second before something popped into my head. “Au revoir,” I spluttered. Oh dear. It didn't go down well.
I reckon the best way to learn French is to concentrate on speaking it from the word go. I’ve just received a copy of a brilliant new book for children called My First 100 French Words and wish it had been around when I was little. Written by Catherine Bruzzone and Louise Millar and illustrated by Clare Beaton, it lists 100 basic words – from numbers and colours to toys and transport – and gives a simple pronunciation guide for each one. It’s a fun way to introduce young children to speaking a new language – and great for grown-ups too in fact!
My First 100 French Words by Catherine Bruzzone and Louise Millar (b small publishing, £5.99)