Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Listening, Speaking

I've got a couple of stray thoughts knocking around in my head, both on the general theme of the sound of the French language. As in, what is it about the way French ladies speak that makes me think of chirping birds? The other day when I was on the bus, I noticed two women speaking quietly with each other and I knew almost immediately, without even being close enough to eavesdrop, that they were not speaking French.

Why? It's not the words French women use; in fact I wish I could find a sound file, stripped of all meaning but preserving the rise and fall of their voices. Something about it is musical; but it also sometimes strikes me that, at least to my way of thinking, it makes the speakers seem more like little girls than the mature accomplished women they are. Was that "bonjour madame" sincere or not? It can be hard to tell.

And what does my French sound like to native French speakers? I remember my French teacher the first year I was here, getting a big grin every time I struggled with those extra syllables in the future tense. I must have looked frustrated because she said, "Mais Anne, c'est super mignon!" Is it really cute or maybe just plain pathetic? Are they nodding because I'm getting my point across or are they just being polite as I garble tenses and cases and genders?

Am I making any sense at all?


MJ said...

I hear you, sister. Those extra syllables in the future tense get me every time. I'm sure you've long since mastered them but I'm still trying to get the mouth on auto pilot in that regard.

And that sing-song quality of the French language? It's gorgeous and light and nearly impossible for me to replicate.

Have a lovely day.

debbie in toronto said...

you guys amaze in Canada we take French in school of course and I took it all the way thru high school..can read it pretty well and I know what I want to say in my head but to actually speak it out loud it catches in my throat except for the most simple Bravo to you both.

Belle de Ville said...

As much as I tried to perfect a french accent, I never could. I don't have a musical ear which is what I believe is needed for such a musical language.
Of course my french finace never bothered to try to speak english without a heavy french accent.
There was something chauvanistic about the french expecting americans to try to speak like native french, while they never made any effort to speak enlish without an accent.
Have you noticed this too?

Anne said...

I have gotten nothing but support from the French in my attempts to speak their language. Occasionally they will correct me but I appreciate the learning opportunity. But I'm waiting for the day when no one compliments me on my French. Then I'll know I've finally arrived. :)

Starman said...

Well, I'm not sure about Parisians, but my friend in Toulouse told me that his French friends love the way he speaks French with an American accent. I guess it's sort of like the way we think the French are so cute when they speak English.

Carolyn said...

I too appreciate being corrected and have had nothing but support from French/Parisians in my attempts to speak French.

Great question re what do we sound like! Whenever I try to do the sing-song 'Bonjour Madame' I feel so self-conscious and like I'm being sooooooo over the top but no-one else seems to think so, so I keep trying. It reminds me of when I first started calling my father-in-law 'Dad' -- initially it felt almost fake but no-one else fell over in shock so I kept doing it and got used to it.

Cheers and bon courage.

D R E W said...

i always wonder what english sounds like to non english speakers.

if you are within earshot of someone speaking dutch, it can sound like english at times. i wonder if english sounds similar.

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