F is for French. Bien sûr!
Faithful readers will note that I have often written about the French language. I suppose my relationship to my second language is parallel to the mutual and contradictory antagonism/affection between France and the US. Kinda like my colleagues in Lyon complaining about "le perspective anglo-saxon" and yet badgering me for funding opportunities. But I appreciate my colleagues for one important fact: they have never dumbed down their French for me.
My history with French is short and patchwork. I learned basic survival French in Cameroon, which I didn't use very much as I was an English teacher. Then when I took the placement exam in grad school the language coordinator asked me what my village was like. Of course that was an easy topic for me to blab on about in French, so I got a 5/5 on the oral part. On the written part I performed much more dismally - 3/5. Basically I was functionally illiterate in French - and still am. There were 5 levels of French class, and there wasn't any space in level 4, so I was put in level 5. That meant that I only had one semester of formal French instruction at the graduate level.
Then it was off to a summer at the University of Montréal. I'd gotten a scholarship from an association of French teachers and enrolled in the intensive French classes for foreigners. I took French grammar for the first session and Quebecker culture and society for the second. Oh my goodness Montréal was so much fun. But the disadvantage was Montréal was (is) a bilingual city so I didn't get the full immersion experience I was looking for. I should've gone to, say, Chicoutimi. I really enjoyed my Quebecker culture and society class. For the first time ever I read an entire novel in French, Volkswagen Blues by Jacques Poulin, ironically about a long road trip reminiscent of On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Jack Kerouac was of Quebecker origin, you know.
I didn't really perfect (if one could say that) my French until I got to Morocco. And since then it's a language I alternatively adore and detest. As Adam Gopnik wrote, "you breathe in your first language and you swim in your second." I guess I dream in both.
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Ah French. And the French.
I live relatively close from the French border, and have been visiting the south of France since I was a kid. However, I had a strange reluctance to learn the language. So much that at college We had to take English and then chose between German, French and Latin and I did German.
Somehow last year I decided enough was enough and decided to learn the language. And it was a lot of fun. Not to say easy. It's close enough to Catalan to be able to pick structures and although I'm not very fluent, I manage well enough to make myself understood. With only 9 months!
Your post about French people and the English language made me smile. Been there, done that. I went to a congress with an Erasmus grant, at Paris XIII university, and the only natives that were nice and welcoming were the ones wiht pied-noir origin.
Yeah. It's such a strange attitude - my other foreign language was with Japanese, and Japanese people were so incredibly grateful and impressed that you were trying to learn their language. Whereas I find that my colleagues comment on my accent and correct my grammar/vocabulary to my face, but then tell each other that I speak French well. Weird.