Monday, February 4, 2008
French (The Language, That Is)
I guess I should have figured that this would come back to haunt me. I took four years of French in high school (écoutez et répétez!), chose a college with no foreign language requirement, and squeaked out of graduate school with my Ph.D. just as they lifted the language requirement. The result, duh, is that my foreign language skills are pretty much nil. Oh sure, I've done some foreign travel but for a week or two, you can pretty much fake it. Even if you feel embarrassed, you realize that there's no way you're going to learn French (Italian, Dutch, Chinese, pick your destination) by the time the trip is up and you just soldier on, smile wanly, and hope people take pity on you.
But if you're living in a foreign country, it's pretty hard to justify faking it past the first couple of weeks. I'm taking four hours of French a week, dredging up that stuff Madame de Jaham tried to pound into my head in the 1970s, and doing my best.
Digression: How does this stuff stick in your brain? Why can I remember this dialogue I learned over 30 years ago in its entirety and yet still find myself walking into the kitchen and have no memory why I was headed there in the first place?
Michel, Anne, vous travaillez?
Euh, non, nous regardons la television. Pourquoi?
Les Duponts arrivent dans une heure.
S'il te plait Maman, encore cinq minutes.
Pas de question, il y a beaucoup à faire.
Mais nous manquons toujours la fin.
Returning from trip down memory lane: Some days, I manage okay. Hooray, I used a pronoun and actually got the gender of the noun right! Whoopee, I actually managed to put together a coherent sentence in the future tense. Other days, I get completely kicked to the curb, confusing which verbs are followed by à and which are followed by de, mixing up être and avoir in the passé composé, and totally forgetting which verbs are reflexive. Truth be told, my vocabulary is increasing and my comprehension too. Suppose I should take to heart those words I see while I wait for the ATM to spit out some cash: veuillez patienter. (Please be patient.)