Sooner or later the person learning a foreign language, in this case learning French – is overtaken by the disquieting feeling that he will never completely master his studies. Whatever stage you are at, however long you have been trying, there are always words, both new and old, expressions, slang, national jokes etc which crop up – not always in the dictionary – which confound you. A language is open ended. It’s not like studying 15th century Italian poetry which is finite – after all, there’s no more being written.
It’s quite possible to know in great depth all of Shakespeare’s work yet a simple conversation with a neighbour may very well throw up something you’ve never come across before. I’ve been speaking French for 65 years and only found out this year that the French never use “mâle” and “femelle” for humans, only for animals. The people round the table were quite shocked that we do, feeling it would be crude and disrespectful. One of them seemed really quite upset.
I was walking the dog the other day and stopped to speak with someone I often meet. (Dogs are a great way of striking up a conversation with other walkers). The old boy looked at me and said “vous êtes tombé du lit” (you fell out of bed). I thought he was referring to a mark I had on my face but it turned out he simply meant that I was out and about early, an expression I’d never heard before.
The student of ‘Boney French’ does not anguish about such things but pushes on steadily, accepting that he is working at a practical level and that, although there will be much that he comes across which he does not understand, he will be able to communicate freely and in nearly all situations.