Thursday, March 02, 2006

Language Lessons

One of Lucas' cousins is spending a couple days with us. She lives in Marseille but is doing an internship in Lyon this week. I've only met her once before, at her wedding last year, so didn't really get a chance to get to know her. Well she is so delightful! She has such a great outlook on life and is full of joy and energy. She kept us in stitches last night with all her stories. Even her description of her trip to the Emergency Room a few nights ago was hilarious. We had a nice dinner last night, chatting and laughing away till after midnight.
Times like these really get me thinking how far I've come with regards to the French language. Two years ago a night like that would have been torture for all concerned: me not understanding anything, Lucas having to act as interpreter, and our guest probably feeling as frustrated as me. Now it sometimes hits me in the middle of a conversation " I understand French! And not because I am translating each word either! I understand it as it is spoken!" It's all I can do to restrain myself from jumping for joy.
Being able to communicate is so important. How else can you truly get to know someone, and be friends if you can't understand each other? The possibilities for me are now endless. I can go freely about in France and do just about anything. True I am by no means fluent (working on it!), but I can understand just about everything that is said to me, and more importantly I can make myself understood.
The French have a reputation for being very unkind to people who don't speak their language. I haven't found this to be the case in my daily life (it's a different matter for the job hunt, but that's another post). I've only ever had one person make a negative comment about my French and that was a disgruntled mechanic on the phone at my job last summer. For the most part people are patient with me when I stumble, and they do make an effort to try to understand what I am saying. I can do just about any kind of errand now, banking, post office, shopping, govenment adminsitration, doctor's office. Yeah, so sometimes I have to work out my script before I get there, but once I know the context of what I am doing I can manage " me debrouiller" as it would be said in French.
This is amazing to me because I stank at languages at school. I never did French and my Spanish was horrendous. I hated it so much that I pretty much deliberately failed the qualifying exam so that I wouldn't have to do Spanish for CXC. I guess the difference is that now I have no choice. It's either (1) I speak French or (2) I stay at home all the time and depend on Lucas to interpret for me for the rest of my life. (Or (3) we could move to Grenada, hmmmm, now there's an idea). I am way too independent for the second choice to even be a remote possibility though, and I thank God that all my previous life experiences have taught me how to move beyond my natural shyness and reticence, and force myself to get out there.
And so even though I groan and moan about the cold grey days, and missing the beach, I love the fact that living in France has allowed me to learn another language, and maybe someday to speak it fluently.


Lucas said...


Love you so much

Anonymous said...

I stumbled into your blog by accident. I leap frogged from Petite Anglaise, to Stet to you. When I saw "Callaloo Soup" in the title, I had to check out your blog. (I'm a Trini, married to a Canadian.)

Thoughly enjoyed reading your blog,and especially your reminscences of a West Indian Christmas.

BTW, visited Grenada in 1993 - lovely island.


Vernell said...

Yay for you sis :-) That is awesome.

wendymorris said...

WOW Francine - you are amazing to not have known the French language before and now to be able to have a conversation with someone. I'm with you in being too independent to not try and that would definitley make for some long days at home - lol. I definitely agree that attempting to speak the language in another country definitely shows your appreciation to the culture and the people. I took 2 years of French in high school and felt I knew enough to get by when I visited France in '04. Now, German is a different story - hehehe. Since I will probably be back in Germany in June, my goal is to at least understand the menu - lol - and a few phrases too :) To be fluent in it will take some I really enjoy learning other languages and the culture that is so different than the US.