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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Lost in translation



Every so many years I buckle down and learn something new. For example, in recent years I threw myself into sailing. The physical part of sailing is pretty easy: a stick in one hand and a string in the other. Other things like navigation and marine law take some serious study. With the basics of all that down I've been restless to immerse myself into something new.

. . . or something old, as the case may be. Throughout the course of my life I've been exposed to the French language. Northern NH, where I grew up and live, is right next door to Quebec so has a lot of people who speak the language. Unfortunately, it wasn't spoken in my household so I only picked up a smattering of the local dialect. The thinking at the time was growing up bilingual would hinder learning English. Since English was the language of the land is was more important to know that. Now we know the best time to learn a second language is while growing up, but it's too late for me.

I tried to learn French in high school. With three fourths of the class growing up speaking French at home I had a huge disadvantage. In my other subjects I was near the top of my class. In French I was an idiot child holding the rest of the class back. After two years of French I learned how to pass the class without truly knowing the material. Remember back in the day when two years of a foreign language was considered a minimum for anyone even thinking of college?

So now after all these years I'm getting serious about the language again. Thanks to the Internet it's a lot easier to study a language than when I was a teenager. Currently I'm using Duolingo. It's available as an app on my tablet so it's convenient to use. Right now the hardest thing for me is to unlearn the things I learned wrong.

Another great thing is the ability to stream audio and video over the Internet. I'm listening to Montreal radio in the kitchen and Paris radio before going to bed at night.

I've a deadline, of sorts. My lovely wife and I should be getting our passports in a month or so. Quebec is a short drive away. However, that's not the only place I expect to use it. My long term goal is to sail the Caribbean. There's a number of French speaking countries in the region so it would be nice to have a better grasp of what's going on. In those other coutries I'll have to rely on my wife's high school Spanish. Good thing she was a better language student than I was. Then there are those pesky islands that speak Dutch. Hope they don't mind a lot of hand waving and grunting.

Even my current poor command of the French language has proven handy. I can read it better than I can speak it. Just being able to understand a menu is a good thing. Nice to know if you are ordering beef or snails. My smattering of French has also helped me in deep Cajun Louisianan. It's like talking to long lost cousins.

One good thing about learning at my age. I'm a lot less self conscious and I can laugh at my goofs. Being able to laugh at myself I never lack for entertainment.

-Sixbears


21 comments:

  1. Growing up in Merry Olde England, we were forced to learn basic French, likely due to the impending merge into the European Union but it was still torture.
    To my ear, the French language sounds like a Cat choking up a hair ball.
    All it did was to personally consolodate the intense contempt the British hold for anything French, especially their self admiration.
    In my college years I crossed the channel to visit their nation, only to discover that everyone seemed to sit around eating, drinking and generally enjoying life or they puttered around in their little Citroen 2CV's or weaving all over the roads on bicycles or mopeds. Totally un-British and so typically typical of the French!
    They don't play Cricket either!!!
    My conclusion at the time was that as in many cases around the world, it was a beautiful country spoilt by the people who live there. Doubtless the French would argue the same point about Britian and so we fall back into that comfortable mutual dislike in which we seem so content to wallow.
    The French have many triumphs to their name, in my lifetime it was the partnership with Britian to produce the Anglo French Concorde, flying faster than the speed of sound. Truly an amazing feat.
    I can remember each evening at around 9pm, we would hear the sonic boom as Concorde headed out over the Atlantic for the U.S.
    Rattle Mum's dishes on the sideboard it did.
    So good luck Mr Six! May your linguistic triumph over the French take you down even more roads of adventure.
    I'm now going to settle down to some French bread, some pickles and Brie and a very pleasant glass of white wine.
    Cheers Dude!

    The Odd Couple.
    Oh La La!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nothing worse than being forced to learn a language.

      You must admit, the French seem to enjoy the good life. However, it makes one wonder why they don't smile more?

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    2. Parce que ils on le malheur d'avoir Mr Hollande comme president!

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  2. daughter discovered duolingo. using it for danish.
    she can say,'your horse drinks wine.' and, 'the duck is responsible.'.
    i don't where in denmark these things are discussed but she's ready if she ever encounters it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Never forget that "the fish eats yellow beans."

      Right now I can listen to Quebec talk radio and understand they are talking about a road expansion. Not quite certain who's in favor or who's against, so I know just enough to get into trouble.

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  3. My brain does not do language very well. One language is about all I can handle and that one, not very well.

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  4. Hermit's Baby SisJune 10, 2015 at 12:54 PM

    Good luck with the French, Sixbears. I studied Spanish in school, from the 3rd grade on. Then found out in college that my pronunciation was ruining my German - had to drop that class or fail. But the Spanish was helpful when I started learning Japanese - very similar sounding.
    I've discovered that folks are more amenable to helping if you at least attempt to speak a little of their language, especially if you're living in their country, and willing to laugh at yourself. Key phrases like "Good morning, thank you, please, how much does this cost? " can go a long way ....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Usually they get so tired of me mangling French that they switch to English.

      How many languages did you study anyway?

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  5. J'ai entendu dire que les Quebecois pendent qu'ils sont les seuls qui savent Parler francais proprement!

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, they get a bit crazy about the language up there. There is such a thing as the language police.

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  6. I read once that people learn languages best after a couple beers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps I should study in a pub in Montreal?

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  7. My wife speaks fluent French. She lived in Niger and France before we met. It was a big help when we were stationed in Europe. I think she has a colliers French English dictionary somewhere at the house from when she taught French here in the States. You are welcome to it if you want it. I'll mail it to you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the generous offer, but I have one in my home library already.

      I bet it came in handy in Europe.

      People don't realize how much of Africa speaks French.

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    2. It did for me when she wasn't with me.

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  8. J'ai entendu dire que les Quebecois pendent qu'ils sont les seuls qui savent Parler francais proprement!

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  9. Right there with ya. I could always read it better and speak it. I've been using the Rosetta Stone program off (mostly) and on and have picked up some things.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rosetta Stone looked a bit pricey for my budget, but it got good reviews.

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