6.28.2010

TRANSATLANTIC PARALLEL: A SECOND LANGUAGE: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE CHALLENGING



Today, Letitia Jett, the witty, amusing, brilliant blogger behind  a femme d'un certain age , and I, play a weekly game on our blogs. We share our views on our adopted countries, France for Letitia and The States for me, all the while comparing one and the other. We "come up" with a topic to "discuss" and we each publish our thoughts on the subject from our respective sides of the Ocean, never looking "at each other's sheet", so to speak.
There are some things we really love, others we miss. Some drive us nuts and sometimes we are very amused by something typical about our new homes. Whatever our point of view, we bring it to you on Mondays. This is what we interested us today...

UNE DEUXIEME LANGUE 
Le bon, le mauvais et les ambuches
The first time I moved to the United States, I was going into 6th grade which was the year I would have begun to learn English had I stayed in France. Our maitre d'école tried his best to teach us a language he did not know during the 2 months or so that were left before our big trip to the Nouveau Monde. I don't remember and I can't imagine what he found in the way of pronunciation except for the words "all right" which I remember we were told was something resembling "al rig". We were surprised when our young neighbors said "Hi" to us. So that's how they greet you here, we thought; we had not been taught that! We soon went to school to a place where we knew not a word of the language - so "al rig" was not much help...to make things even more difficult, we had to take correspondence courses at home to keep up with our French curriculum as my parents knew we would go back to the French system in a few years. 
Our friends wanted to know why we did not "come out and play" and we tried to explain by way of an English dictionary from which we tried to translate word for word; so our first of many "translations" was as follows, more or less: "we must do our duty", we said. We took the word for devoirs (homework) and translated into "duty"; a correct translation of the word... if used in the singular, however. They must have surely thought we were doing some kind of military service at home! 
When one is obligated to learn a second language, youth is key. Even then however, learning the language while living in a country other than the one where the particular language is spoken, is still very difficult. My daughters were educated in the French schools of New York but were raised in a half American home, their father having studied and become perfectly fluent in... German, as it happens. Joy, the eldest told me that one day, speaking with French friends from the school about beggars she asked how to say it in French and they answered someone who asks for money, un mendiant. She asked what kind of coin was un mendiant, not knowing it meant a beggar. She is still teased about it to this day. 






By the way and totally off subject for your linguistic information, un mendiant is also a round chocolate candy covered in nuts and dried fruit.
There have been, however, small miracles in the foreign language department in our family. My dear husband Steve who is American, has had to overcome some difficulties learning and speaking French. One day when we were in the South of France, I left him with friends of ours who do not speak more than 2 words of English for a few hours, hoping communications would not grind to a halt after my departure. Everything went just fine and it was announced that Steve was much better in French than he admitted. At dinner that night I was stunned to hear him ask for "une tranche de pain"-a slice of bread- "Where did you learn the term tranche", I asked. "I don't know" he answered; a clear case of modesty would you not say?
So all of you out there who think French is a difficult language to learn,  I sympathise. I know what you mean: I had to learn English and that's MUCH easier than French!
Do you have a story to tell? I would love it if you shared your experience with a foreign language. What fun to hear the good the bad and all the challenges!

Please leave your comments, either below in the petits commentaires or at Letitia Jett's magnificent "Parallel" post at a Femme d'un Certain Age . It's always so much fun to discover your reactions and ideas.
Au revoir.

3 comments:

  1. My chere Jeanne-Aelia, This is positively hilarious. And I think I can safely say that, yes, youth is definitely the time to learn a new language.

    I try to use that as the excuse for my verbs and all the other errors I make every day in your beautiful language. I was too old to learn. My daughter, Andrea, entered the French school system -- total immersion -- at age eight with tutoring after school every day for six months. She learned how to communicate within about four months, not because she wanted to speak French necessarily, but because she wanted friends.

    Once again, you have come up with a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed.

    xo, Letitia

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  2. i am curious about how speaking/thinking in french or english evokes different world-perspectives, or emotions, or?? or does it make no difference whatsoever?

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  3. Murphy29/6/10

    Fascinating post!
    But I hope I am not too old to learn to speak French!
    p.s. If you are looking for ideas for the Transatlantic Parallel, I would love to hear what you and Tish think about the relative size of French and American women's wardrobes. Where I live in the US, there is an urban legend that French women dress better than Americans, and the French women accomplish this with wardrobes that have 20 or 30 items compared to the American wardrobes, which have... hundreds. The dressing better part seems right to me on average, but do most French women really have tiny, tiny wardrobes? Merci for considering the idea!

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