Friday, November 15, 2013

Vieux Chien, Nouveaux Trucs

Perhaps my biggest challenge ... aside from moving across the ocean to a completely different culture, different world-view, new friends, new foods ... is getting used to and trying to learn a new language.

I took 3 years of French in high school, but that was nearly cinquante ans ago, and when you don't use a skill periodically it tends to disappear. Some things come back quickly - riding a bicycle, hitting a golf ball ... but not language.

After  muddling through for a few months with key phrases such as bonjour and eclair chocolat, and our time in Argeles-sur-mer interrupted by lots of travel, I am now getting serious about learning French. It's especially important during the non-summer months when the English-speaking vacationers are not in town and many of the locals in the small village speak very little Anglais.
My French teacher is Marina, a friend of D-L's, who runs the Schola Mediterranea, which is a short walk past the village's lone traffic light. In addition to French, she teaches English to French-speakers, Spanish, Catalan (the legacy mix of French and Spanish spoken by some families in southern France and northeast Spain, the area known as Catalonia) ...

Marina makes the learning process fun and practical. But it's tres difficile, nonetheless. Not only am I an old dog trying to learning new tricks (vieux chien, nouveaux trucs), French is very complicated with its different spellings of words and pronunciations based on gender, context, vowels/consonants, and formal or casual conversation.

My process at the moment is to 1) try to pick up as many of the French words as I can in a spoken sentence - for example, watching a French TV news program, 2) translate that in my head into English so I understand what was said, 3) compose in my head an English response, and 4) translate my English into French. And right now, this does not happen quickly. (There is hope - Donna-Lane says she now 'thinks in French' without having to do the French-English mental gymnastics.)

My weak hearing does not help, especially trying to pick up strung-together words rapidly spoken. (However, I also sometimes have difficulty comprehending words and phrases spoken rapid-fire by Scotsmen or Texans ... and that's supposed to be my native language!)

If I have learned one thing, it is to advise parents to have their children learn a second language while they are young ... and to use it regularly.

I can already sense progress after only a few lessons. I recognize more words, and I can figure out other words from the context. Part of the practicality Marina is teaching me is conversations that are likely to pop up when meeting someone new, say at a party: what is your name? where are you from? how old are you? (not a good one to ask a woman - that doesn't seem to change with the culture) what type of work do you do?

So ...

J m'appelle Rick
Je suis Americain
J'ai soixante-deux ans
Je suis journaliste-aviation

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