Monday, July 2, 2007

Pardon mon Francais, S'il vous plait!

My sister asks in a comment how our French is coming along. Well, it is progressing at a glacial pace. When we made the trip here over the winter, we spent some time beforehand studying French. Our method was a small book titled “French in 10 Minutes a Day”. We were somewhat religious about studying each morning. The instructions said to set a timer and work for only ten minutes and no more. And so we did. We learned some things; the book was mainly designed to help people on their first trip to a French speaking country. It allowed us to ask for things in stores and restaurants and bars. What it wasn’t much good for was, of course, hearing French. When the French speaker would reply with anything other than “Coming right up, Guvnor,” we would be pretty mystified.

The next step was to take some lessons with young lady in Moab who has a French mother and spent some time in France as a child. She helped us with pronunciation and our numbers but we didn’t make much progress before we had to leave for France.

When we got here we tried out our minuscule French and we were again discouraged by what little we could say. It seemed that we could think of the words and phrases when we did not need them, when sitting in the car for example. But place a French person in front of us and we could say nothing other than, “Uh, uh, oui, oui, bon, tres bon,” or something equally stupid. Nancy has the ability to read French pretty well and get the gist of the sentence. So many words in French and English are the same or similar. But nothing helps at all when it comes to hearing the language. The only remedy is lots of practice.

It should be said that the French spoken here in the south is very strongly accented. Long ago, there were two dialects of French, one spoken in the north around Paris and the language spoken here in the south. Here in Occitan, the language was Oc. Hence the name for the region; Languedoc. It is not the language spoken by French teachers or on language tapes. Needless to say in a battle of the two French dialects, the northern version won out. So, we still struggle, mostly with hearing spoken French and finding meaning in it.

How is our accent? I don’t know, but I can tell you it doesn’t sound like the French spoken here. There is a Canadian couple living down the street for a couple of months and when Harry speaks French, I pick up more words than when the French speak. Same with the British. Perhaps it is because they are speaking slower, or the accent is more understandable, or they are pronouncing the words the same incorrect way I do.

Right now we are studying French with a former teacher in Mirepoix, Nicole, who taught French kids to speak English. We go once a week for an hour, and as I say, progress is glacial. But we find we can get what we need if our needs are not overly complicated. We hesitate to use the phone to call because many communication tools are taken away form us. We have used our hands, dictionaries, pads and pencils (to draw pictures and communicate numbers) and other methods including good old pantomime. But the thing is, I can get on the phone and say in French, “Hello. Pardon my poor French. My name is Doug Reid. I live at 14 Rue du Four in Leran. I need a plumber. Call me. My telephone is 05 61 64 3624. Thankyou, Goodbye.”

And that’s progress.


Anonymous said...

I'm catching up with what has been going on while I was away in Indiana...I got a little scared about the idea of "Menopause Mauve shutters matched by "Viagra Violet walls"!! The mental picture was too much for me! HA!

I absolutely love your blog and don't see the "lack of creativity" you cited...the everyday events such as your interactions with the local citizenry and the painting and building activities are fascinating to me, since my specialty is leaving the walls white and ordering furniture someone else created! But my favorites are the little "road trips" with the history lessons included. I've studied a lot of general European history...but mostly the "big events"...your stories are so much more local and personal...I love them! AND, your choice of pictures is excellent...I get such a feeling for the people and the just feels so different than what I observe in my daily life.

I do confess I'm interested in what the average French man (or woman) thinks about they think we're crazy...or just mis-led? Are the French feeling the effects of the recent spate of bombings in England and Scotland...or do they feel a little less vulnerable since they were not in favor the the current "adventures in the Mideast"? Are your French skills strong enough to ascertain these kinds of attitudes? Am I getting "too political" for your charming blog?

Luke must bid adieu...and do some work!

nancy said...

Luke, we too are interested in what the average French man or woman thinks about Americans. The other night at the Fiesta Salsa in line for dinner I was chit-chatting with a young woman in French who then started speaking English. She asked me several times "why France?" Why "really" did we move to France, I suppose, as opposed to Germany, Italy, Spain? Even with excellent language skills conveying ideas and feelings is not always possible. They are not something you can point at or draw for clarification.

Anonymous said...

I think the answer to "why France?" is...WINE! Oh yeah!