Now Or Never

IN HIS OWN WORDS | Deepak Obhrai's 12 tips for learning French

The Conservative leadership contender said he can "absolutely" learn French within two years. Here's how.
The performance of Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai in last month's Conservative Party leadership debate in Quebec has made him an unlikely celebrity in the province. (Jacques Boissinot, Canadian Press)

Pas de problème!

That's the attitude of Conservative leadership candidate Deepak Obhrai when it comes to learning French.

The longtime Calgary MP told Now or Never's Trevor Dineen he can "absolutely" master the language in time to challenge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the 2019 federal election. That's despite being lampooned across Quebec — and even on CBC-TV's This Hour Has 22 Minutes — for French pronunciation he admitted was "horrible" in the recent Conservative leadership debate in la belle province.

There are 14 candidates vying for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party. (Jacques Boissinot, Canadian Press)

Obhrai, who speaks five other languages including Punjabi and Swahili, said he started taking French lessons last summer. As we learned in our interview with him, Obhrai already has plenty of tips on how to learn the language tout de suite.

1. Embrace a positive attitude. "It's great fun to learn a language. I find language very exciting, very interesting. It's not something that intimidates me at all. I've never been stymied by any language."

2. Exude confidence. "I was pretty comfortable with what I was saying [at the debate]. I had no problem. I knew what I was doing. I was happy."

3. Don't worry about nailing it. "I felt that being there and speaking was far more important than getting it right."

4. Learn the lingo. "It's important to be able to talk the street language. All of the languages I learned were on the streets of Africa, playing with my friends."

5. If your pronunciation is bad, just admit it. "I did admit, during the debate, that my pronunciation was horrible."

6. Don't worry about reading in French. "Reading is pretty boring, to be very frank. Some of the languages I speak, I can't read them. I can't read Punjabi or Gujarati. But that's ok, I can speak. It's how you talk and express yourself."

7. Forget about grammar. "When you're going to speak on a national stage, the pronunciation is what is important. The grammar isn't that important."

Deepak Obhrai has been a Conservative MP in Calgary since 1997. (CBC)

8. No need to write. "Look, I don't intend to write any books in French. So it is OK."

9. Consume French media. "I watch a lot of movies, I watch TV in different languages. I already watch Quebec TV in French. When you start listening to TV and movies you start picking up the composition of sentences."

10. Get help from French speakers. "The most interesting thing is, they will assist you. They'll say, 'Say it this way, like this.' They'll add in the sentence."

11. When people laugh at your French, just roll with it. "I think as I went along, the atmosphere in the room changed. People were very much laughing at my pronunciation. Now it's all over Quebec! Every radio station and television station is playing it and making fun of it. They had somebody impersonate me. But everywhere I go, people stop and say, 'You were great, you made an attempt. You stood your ground.'"

12. Master this one phrase above all. "Just say, 'Je suis,' and then your name. That's it."