How’s that for a title.
When I went to elementary and secondary school, we had to take French. It certainly was as refined as it is these days. In elementary school, it was something like 20 minutes every other day or something like that. It never felt like it was a serious subject.
I remember that we spent all kinds of time conjugating verbs and it did have us asking “why do we have to learn this stuff”.
At the secondary school level, it became more academic and we read a lot of novels I remember we were encouraged to read it in French, not read French words and translate them into English. I never got the knack of that. We did do some conversational things but not a great deal.
When it was off to university, those studies dropped off the table as a student of Mathematics and Computer Science. From a marks perspective, it had been a good source of high marks. It was just analytical enough that my mathematical mind could turn a conversation into an equation to be solved. I remember explaining that to one of the French teachers one night we were working a fundraising bingo and expected to get chastised. Instead, she confirmed my approach by letting me know that most English speakers do that.
True bilingual people don’t and that makes sense. I did get to see it in action with the number of bilingual students in my homeroom. I could listen to their conversations and get most of it; I had to brush up on my profanity, but that was easy because there’s a whole facial thing that goes along with it.
I’ll admit that my days of speaking/listening in French are very few and far between.
That’s why today’s dog walk was special.
Photo by Romain Vignes on Unsplash
The road we walk on is posted at 80 km/h which means 90-100 km/h around here. You really notice it when someone comes crawling up behind you on the road. Which is what happened about half an hour ago.
The gentleman had stopped and rolled down the driver’s window and started talking. Of course, I had my earbuds in and was listening to some tunes and so apologized as I removed my mittens and turned the music off. As I was doing so, the gentleman had this confused look on his face.
I quickly realized that he was trying to understand what I was saying and having a difficult time. What could be difficult about understanding “Hang on a second as I turn off my earbuds?”
I switched to hear-through mode but couldn’t really understand him. So, I gave the index finger which is the universal sign for “give me a minute”. I yanked the earbuds out and finally could hear him.
As he spoke, I realized what my problem was (or at least one of them). He was speaking to me in French and asking for directions. I listened intently. He made no attempt to ask in English so perhaps French was his only language.
I listened intently. It threw me back to elementary school where we weren’t allowed to communicate in English at all. It was listening to French and engaging in that language.
As I listened so carefully, it seemed like he was telling me his life story! But, of course, the context was everything and I quickly zoomed in on the fact that he was going to a Christmas party and was lost. He had the name up here as he tapped his head.
We “conversed” for a few minutes. He was trying to dumb it down for this English speaker who was trying to listen to the French words and convert them to English for understanding. Then, I butchered his beautiful language as I tried to answer what I hoped was his question.
At the end, he and his wife seemed satisfied and I got a couple of smiles and a merci.
I did feel a bit bad. French is one of our official languages. A conversation shouldn’t be this difficult.
I think that the good thing is to realize that we do French in school a whole lot better than in the good ol’ days. Kids in school are so better off than we were. It’s only fair if we truly believe that we’re a bilingual country.
I also learned that I need to have better skills than being happy knowing I can order two beers at the Pointe aux Roches Sportsman Club!