West Africa French vs. France French
Replies: 26 - Last Post: Jul 15, 2012 11:45 PM Last Post By: Andreas_at_LP
Jul 10, 2012 6:37 AM
West Africa French vs. France FrenchHey all,
The last time I made a post here I was yelled at; here goes nothing!
From December through March, I plan to be in either West Africa (Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, and Guinea) or France. The main goal of either 4-month stint would be to regain effective French fluency. My French is currently at a level such that if I spent 4 months speaking in France, I would accomplish this goal.
Thorn Tree seems to contain the largest concentration of knowledge on the subject, so I figured this would be the best place to ask.
My question: If I spent 4 months speaking French in West Africa, with the majority of this time allocated to either Senegal or Guinea, how would my resulting French compare to that if I spent 4 months speaking French in France? What would be the biggest differences? For what it's worth, all of my French education has been based upon France-French, so all of that knowledge is in fact backed up somewhere in the brain.
Thanks in advance,
Jul 10, 2012 7:43 AM
1I learnt French at school in England with a French teacher and have spent many summer holidays in France.
On my first visit to West Africa, I couldn't understand a word at first. The Kiwi girl I was with (who'd never heard French spoken by a French person) had to translate into English for me, then I'd reply in French. This caused some hilarity....
However, once you get your ear in, West African French is, I think, easier to understand, mainly because people speak more slowly. As French isn't their first language either they also tend to use slightly simpler language. After a short while, when I met French tourists I was finding them difficult to understand!
Jul 10, 2012 7:54 AM
I'm someone who largely picked up French fluency in West Africa. I think West Africa - and particularly Senegal and Guinea - is a very good place to pick up French fluency, certainly if you already have a good foundation. I obviously can't compare with what it would be like if you spent 4 months in France, but I think West Africa makes a good alternative.
In general, the French spoken by educated people in West Africa is very similar to what's spoken in France. There are some small differences in vocabulary (certain West African expressions and adjectives will seem quite old-fashioned to people from France), the grammer is often simplified a little bit, and "Tu" is used far more liberally than it is in France. Even less-educated people who know French will still speak something similar to France-French, only with a smaller vocabulary base and simplified grammatical constructions. In many ways, you may well find it easier to pick up French in West Africa, because it tends to spoken slower and in a way that's more easy on the ear than in France.
You'll probably note that there's a big difference in the way French and English are spoken in West Africa: English is often spoken in Creole form in West Africa, which often comes across as a completely different language from English. While there are many English speakers in Sierra Leone, for example, most of the language you'll hear on the streets of the country will be in Krio, which is vastly different from standard English. West African French lacks this kind of creolization: when people speak French in West Africa, they speak proper French.
There are some issues with accents - Guineans, for example, tend to pronounce "cinq" and "sept" very similarly, which will undoubtably cause you some confusion while you're there - but accents don't tend to be that strong. Guinea and Senegal are both countries with very high levels of French understanding. They're both countries without a single dominant ethnic group (and so no single obvious national African language), and in both places you will not infrequently come across locals communicating with each other in French. In Dakar and Conakry, you'll find that the majority of people you come across - even traders selling basic products on the streets - are at least conversable in French. And out in rural areas, you should have little difficulty coming across French speakers, even if not everyone can speak the language.
Anyway, I think your plan's a good one: you'd probably pick up French a little bit better in France, but West Africa's a good alternative, and you should gain all kinds of other insights into life along with an improved French.
Jul 10, 2012 8:51 AM
3I live in France & spend a lot of time in French W.Africa, but I'm Irish.
If you're learning for work - go to France.
If you're learning for pleasure, go & do your trip. The French in W.Africa is loosely like French but the grammar isn't as 'correct' as it can be hence I get away with murder which I wouldn't here at home ... neighbours always having a go at me
I'm fluent, but I do make mistakes & am accented ... learning in W.Africa there are nuances that I often bring home & mistakenly say here to be laughed at!
Really depends why you want to learn it!
Jul 10, 2012 9:20 AM
4Imagine a Frenchman learning English in Ghana then going to England to practice his new-found linguistic skills........................,
Jul 10, 2012 2:08 PM
5The thing about French speaking West Africa (I've been in Guinea, Senegal) is that you will have to/by necessity speak French in most daily circumstances or most people won't understand anything you say and this may not necessarily be the case in France.
I found in both of the above countries the number of English speakers was very thin on the ground. Sure, you'll find a few English speakers but not many. Agree with the grammatical issues pointed out, there's lots of slang and 'drawl'. I studied French in school for 5 years and quite enjoyed the challenge of FWA.
A related point: if you cannot speak any French you will really struggle in everyday interactions in French speaking WA. Sorry to state the obvious.
Edited by: zfactor
Edited by: zfactor
Jul 10, 2012 5:14 PM
6Thanks for the replies all--I wasn't yelled at this time!
I first reiterate that my current French is decent enough; I'm definitely conversational, and can express anything and everything I'd like to convey. I really used to be moderately fluent, but I just haven't spoken much in the last ~5 years. I've been traveling in South America for the past 5 months, and my Spanish has far surpassed my French! I just need a refresher though, and I'll be back to sweet. 4+ months should do the trick.
Kira, I mostly would like to learn for pleasure; however, I hope to use French in a professional setting one day. I'm only 23, and just graduated university. No job yet! From what has been said, I'd feel pretty confident in my ability to make future tweaks to my FWA French, such that I could speak in a way acceptable in a business environment.
I have a few opportunities at hand, and if they materialize, it looks like WA is a go! Thanks for the all of the info so far--keep it coming if you can!
Jul 10, 2012 5:52 PM
7French is regularly used in West Africa only by a tiny minority, and you would be hearing it only when you`re interacting with people in French. While, in France, you would be able to learn it also through overhearing others, due to the fact that French is commonly used by "everybody".
Jul 10, 2012 5:56 PM
8Not sure where #7 got that info from
In my experience travelling through Senegal, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina, Benin & Togo, I never once had a problem 'on the street' speaking French, even in remote places such as Kandiafara in Guinea
You can use your French, but if you want to brush it up, I'd stay with the idea in France
Jul 10, 2012 6:31 PM
9I learned French as a youngster while attending a private school in London. Thereafter I did not use it for 22 years.
Since 2000, I've been working across French speaking Africa (Cameroon, Togo, Guinea, Gabon, CAR, Benin, Chad, RC, DRC, Guinea, Rwanda, Mali, Cote D'Ivoire, Comoros and Benin) and while my French is still pretty awful, I am able to communicate in light business settings and my French language skills have improved greatly, just not in a textbook French kind of way.
My belief is to use your best acting skills and lay on a very thick French accent (pretend like you're French!) and then just ramble on and on. My accent is good enough to fool even the French, but once I get three of four sentences into the conversation, my cover is blown.
I also tried learning Mandarin in Singapore and that just did not work out well. As soon as I opened my mouth, all I got were English responses. If you want to learn Mandarin, head to Beijing.
I'd rather improve my French language skills (good, bad or ugly) in Saint Louis, Senegal over Grenoble, France.
I now need to work on my Cantonese, and even living in Hong Kong ain't helping that. Time to move to Guangzhou!
Jul 10, 2012 6:35 PM
Jul 10, 2012 6:50 PM
11For what it's worth, if I went to France, I'd try to get a job at a ski mountain. I'd ideally find a smaller one with mostly French locals. If I worked in one of the bigger resorts, I'd only be speaking English! I've been skiing since I was 4 and love it with all of my heart, so this really wouldn't be a bad option. It would be cold, though. Meh.
Jul 10, 2012 6:55 PM
12#5 makes an excellent point: one of the biggest irritations I have in France (particularly Paris)is that people keep trying to speak English to me as soon as they hear I speak French with a foreign accent. It's easy enough to get by with English in France. Whereas in Senegal and Guinea, apart from the significant population of refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia (in Guinea), very few people speak English. So while you're there, nearly any conversation you have with someone will be in French, and this kind of full immersion in the language isn't something you'll necessary get in France.
#9 - In Beijing you'd learn Beijinghua, and presumably you'd cause the people of Singapore a fair deal of amusement if you went back there and tried to speak it. I'm not sure that Guangzhou is going to help your Cantonese that much more than Hong Kong - these days, Mandarin is used much more than Cantonese in the city. Maybe you need to take yourself to some awful small town in Guangdong away from the Pearl delta and its migrant workers if you really want to immerse yourself in Cantonese...
Jul 11, 2012 1:07 AM
13#7: this is one random thought.....
As stated before in many places Africans speak French between themselves. and as a native French speaker myself, it's incredibly interesting to listen to them speaking in French. then you get to really see the differences....
If you learn French in Africa you'll end up calling everyone "Chef" which you shouldn't do that much in France... ;)
Jul 11, 2012 1:20 AM
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