I have been in France now for two weeks, staying in a French household, and living a French sort of lifestyle. This includes dipping bread in your coffee in the morning, eating quite a lot of cheese, and drinking plenty of red wine. I quite like it, but am still a bit hesitant about the bread-dipping!
Most people here seem to speak pretty good English, but I have been trying to join in by speaking French as much as possible.
I have just completed a three-day paragliding course in the mountains near Nice, and the course was conducted almost entirely in French, although again, all the instructors were pretty good at English too, and when speaking to me individually tended to use quite a bit of English.
My instructor, Gilles, spoke French very clearly, often demonstrating his point with his hands, or drawing on the board, and I found that because the subject material was something that I was pretty familiar with, I understood quite alot of what he said. I reckoned that overall, during instruction I understood maybe 75% of what was said, maybe a little more, and only had to ask questions in English a couple of times to clarify a point. I was very pleased.
However, I found that when training sessions became questions and answer sessions, and a few people were speaking at once, I got a bit lost. Even worse, when we sat for lunch, and conversation ranged over various topics, I became completely lost, only occasionally knowing what they were talking about.
When you know the subject material, it is much easier to understand what is being said, as you can guess at most words or phrases that are unfamiliar, as you know the context in which they are being used.
However, I am often very frustrated, as when I do understand, I often would like to say something, or ask a question, but do not have the necessary vocabulary. By the time I have mentally prepared what I would like to say, conversation has often moved on!
Anyway, although slow, I do feel that progress is being made! As proof, here is a video from my second flight in a paraglider, using skills largely learned in French: