Where Things Stand Now
So, in order for you to be impressed one fine day in the future when I press PUBLISH on a post professing to have reached French fluency, you need to understand my current skill level.
I do not speak French. Never had it in high school or college.
I did quite a few Pimsleur French CDs many years ago, and tried to use that as a base from which to begin speaking with my wife. But the course seemed to only teach vous (formal "you") and never tu (familiar). Seems like a small difference - easy to fix some time in the future with a little extracurricular grammar. I mean, WHO WILL CARE right now as long as you're speaking French?! Answer: someone who speaks French. My wife shrieked every time I called her vous. I threw the baby out with the bathwater and gave up.
Plan B materialized when I discovered that there's a French version of National Public Radio, and that's Radio France International (RFI). I reckoned I could just listen to news & interviews in French via their podcast while I walked the dog or did yard work, repeat for a few months and voilà, achieve fluency almost without trying.
I was amazed when I first started listening by how much they talked about croissants in the French news! How stereotypically French!!
I mean, day after day, croissants here, croissants there. Croissants en France was a phrase I often heard and the best I could figure there was a national bread program for the poor by that name being proposed. Otherwise why talk about it so much?!
But some time later I heard someone bemoan how he always thought he'd be happily dictating all emails and articles once voice recognition technology improved, but now that it has, he finds dictating actually quite hard. The gist was that listening, speaking, reading, and writing all use different parts of the brain with only some transferability between skills. After all, there are people who can read but not speak, speak but not read, understand but not speak, etc.
That pretty much killed all hopes of fluency via podcast osmosis.
Before I let it die I made my wife listen to an RFI podcast with me and give me the scoop on Hollande and his bread program. "No, no no!" she cried. "Croissance en France! It's growth. They're talking about the economy."
I pointed out how EASY it was to make that mistake by reminding HER that the two words are pronounced the same way. To which she reminded ME that oh no they're not.
Waaait-aaa-minute... Hmm... hmmm...
I'm telling you, man. I do not speak French.