It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it!
When I look back over the past (almost!) five years of living in France, I sometimes forget that it was such a huge undertaking. That’s not to say that we’re on the pig’s back now and everything is hunky-dory. We still have a long way to go. We have a lot of work to do on our home. I still muddle through the school system with the children. And as far as language goes – I will probably be on a learning continuum for the rest of my life!
A tendency for all of us in general is to be quite harsh with ourselves. We forget to give ourselves a little break and a “well done” every now and again. When it comes to language I can be extremely hard on myself. I don’t listen to my French friends who say that they like the way I say things. I sometimes forget how far I’ve come!
Firstly – never once in my life did I think I would ever speak a second language!
Until I met mon homme (and even for a long time after), I told myself that speaking in tongues wasn’t for me! I appreciated how French sounded so beautiful, but I had myself marked out as some sort of a language assassin. Murdering innocent little words with no remorse!
Some people are naturally gifted (our eldest girl case in point). My journey with language, and hers, have been two completely different paths.
Even now, the fact that I converse easily with my neighbours, strangers, and the dogs in the street, sometimes fails to impress upon me that I can speak French. That would be the “Irish” in me! An innate humility. We cannot abide “show-offs” in Ireland (saying you can speak another language would constitute show-offery!).
But here goes – I can speak French. I have managed to hold down a job. I can talk to the people in the social security system. I can fill in my tax forms. I still like to have my daughter check any notes that I write to the schools (we hate loosing face in front of school-teachers don’t we!?!). But I can speak French (show-off!!!). Rimbaud, Baudelaire or Victor Hugo I will never be, but then I’ll never be Yeats or Oscar Wilde either!
That is not to say that I haven’t made the biggest whoppers of mistakes. But we have to take these on the chin and chalk it all up to experience (whilst slowly dying of embarrassment!)
An example springs to mind straight away. I have a problem with one of my salivary glands, and every now and again I have to go to my family doctor because of it. He thought that it merited a scan, so in turn he sent me off to the scan and x-ray unit. By the time I arrived there, I had forgotten the word for gland. When the kind scan doctor asked me what appeared to be the trouble, I hesitated over the word and then figured that if I said “gland” with a French accent, that would surely suffice.
So I announced that I had a problem with my gland (I pronounced it “glan” in my best accent). I was met with a bemused, curious expression. Kudos to him that he didn’t burst out laughing in my face. He simply said, with a slight “Mona Lisa” smile, “I doubt that very much Madame, can I see the letter from your doctor please?”
After the appointment, I popped in to see one of our friends for a coffee. He asked me where I was coming from and so I explained that I’d been to the scan unit as I had a problem with my “glan”. He doubled over laughing. With tears in his eyes he explained to me that the word I had used referred to a particular portion of the male anatomy. It’s quite specific in fact. “Ah ha!” I said “that explains the doctor’s reaction!” To which my friend proceeded to laugh even harder at the fact that I had said this with a straight face (and in all innocence) to the doctor.
The very, VERY first big lesson to learn about language acquisition is, that you will make mistakes, and you cannot be afraid of them. To this day mon homme sometimes calls his thighs, his “tights”. This cracks me up every time – especially when he says they’re hurting him!
I will follow up this post with a more informative one about how I did eventually manage to get a grip on the French language, but for now I’m just hoping to get a little smile on a Monday morning!