I have been living in Grenoble since the very tail-end of February 2014. Even when I lived in Grenoble before, and even when I was head of the American school at Europole, I was not quite as surrounded by and immersed in so much French language as I am now — and this is true even though I write technical documents in English at work. There I speak English only with the other technical writer (a completely bilingual Brit, and one of the kindest people I've ever met): all of my other colleagues speak (and generally write) in French to me, and I to them. The (three!) chorales I sing with are all French (see "So no, I don't read music"). Ping-pong is also French. With one important exception, I speak French with nearly all of the people I interact with outside of work.

I am not complaining, not at all. But the longer I live in this Francophone environment, the more I realize just how very far I am from mastering French, how extremely far from "native speaker"-level I am. And I find this more and more distressing, and less and less acceptable. (I am not particularly concerned with my accent, though that could use improvement as well.)

My business French is very good — good enough that I earn a fair bit translating technical and marketing documents from French to English. I cope quite well at work, in large part because the linguistic contexts are fairly limited and obvious. But in everyday life — oh dear, oh dear. My coming late to this belle langue means that I do not grasp culturally-ingrained nuances. I am entirely ignorant of certain idioms (even some quite common idioms). I miss verbal cues (as well as other kinds of cues).

So yes, one of my concrete resolutions for 2015 is to improve my French. I intend to do this by reading more in French — not just books, but well-written "prose de passage" (writing that does not necessarily rely on the literary past tense) at least once a week. Although I am loath to start watching TV, I will see if I can find a program or two to watch on a regular basis (or now that I've been introduced to Florence Foresti, for example, perhaps I can watch youtube clips instead). I will also make a point of listening to French (cultural) talk radio when I travel by car.

But I need to do more. I am going to see if I can find a good advanced French course to follow online. I will dig out and haul back our Larousse and other reference texts the next time I am in Quinson — and I will study them, hopefully as assiduously as I studied German in Berlin in 2013.

Further, if I write to any French person in English (outside of a business context, that is), I will also include my best effort to say the same thing in French as a postscript following my signature. (This said, even if I see any grammatical mistakes in my French emails, as I so often do, I will send a correction only if there is an error that affects the meaning, but not if it's just a "mechanical" problem.) (Update, 17h48: I was very bad today: very pressed for time, I used translate.google to deal with part of the French version of a much-too-long email to a friend. Even though I quickly went through the google version and fixed many things, I now see quite a few other mistakes. My friend, if she reads this, will doubtless be relieved to know that I will not send corrections, as I stated above. But I have learned my lesson and I will not do that again. I am surprised, however, that google seems to be getting worse instead of better: at one point not long ago I had high hopes for it — but as ever, I digress.)

There is one more big thing that I need to do to make progress: Although it is very useful for successfully playing certain kinds of games (e.g., Dutch Blitz and Set and similar), my ability to correctly anticipate simply doesn't work anywhere near as well for French (and truth to tell, not always in English, either). That (often misplaced) confidence and strong tendency to anticipate, coupled with my vanity and my pride — particularly my hatred of appearing to be ignorant — has far too often stopped me from saying, "I'm sorry, I don't understand what you just said. Can you repeat / can you explain / can you rephrase?" So one of my goals is to stop being so stupid, to stop pretending that I fully understand something when I don't.

That will be hard — the hardest thing of all for me. But I need to do this — in English as well as in French, because I have on occasion missed out on important information, on critical communication, on necessary comprehension. If nothing else, this "exile" in Grenoble has made me see just how much more I care about better understanding my family and friends than I do about the risk of appearing ignorant. (And yes, I am rather more aware and accepting of the truth that it is OK not to know everything. :-)

En avant! Ne désespérons point, la bataille n'est pas finie… not by a long shot.