Monday, August 18, 2014

Language learning mission: francais


I'm about to blow all your preconceived notions about Canadians out of the water. I don't speak French. Yup, I'm a Canadian that doesn't speak French *cue shock and awe*. I barely took French in school. And when I could finally stop taking French I did.

I grew up speaking German and English. I've been bilingual since I could speak. My family speaks a combination of high German, low German (on my dads side) and English.  I was very much surrounded by German. Both my parents grew up speaking German at home. My grandparents were German immigrants. I read German books, listened to German music and when we got the chance watched German kids shows (I still love Biene Maja.) There was no escaping it (I did manage to escape Saturday Morning German school though.) German was just as much my first language as English was. I attended German immersion school until half way through Grade 5 at which point we moved to Newfoundland where there was no German immersion school. So I started to learn French.

Here's the problem with that. I was in a class with kids who had taken French since kindergarten. I on the other hand took exactly one term of French in school in the 4th grade. It was once a week for 45 minutes and I think we mostly sang songs (admittedly I still remember the days of the week in French because of one of those songs.) Then my school decided it was silly to make the German kids take French because they were already doing two languages in a day why throw in a third to complicate matters.

So there I am in grade 5 being confronted by the idea of having to learn a third language. Though my report card at the end of that year stated I was above my grade level in French I was not impressed with the idea having to learn French. When would I ever use it?! And don't you start thinking, "Oh well 5th grade Tatiana you could use it in Montreal or Quebec." Yeah...no. The French we're taught in school generally (I know there are exceptions) is NOT Quebec French. I took French until the end of grade 9. At which point I ran screaming from the language and never looked back. I was perfectly happy being bilingual and saw no reason to go off and be a polyglot.

So here I am 30, living in the German speaking part of Switzerland and I've decided to learn French...again.

Source
My French knowledge is limited to the following phrases;

"Where is the Library?"
"I want my book."
"Where is my grapefruit?"
"I want my grapefruit."
"What is that?"
"That is a grapefuit!"
"Who cut the cheese?!"

You get the idea. Only super situation specific phrases.

Now that we live in Europe I'm considered weird because I speak a mere TWO languages. Okay no one has ever said it was weird but I've felt weird because of it. While German is the language I use everyday in life outside of work the culture within the walls of where I work is very French. French is actually the official language of the UPU though the working language is English and I work for the English Language typing pool being able to speak French will help me with the culture of the work place. Yes I speak German and I speak German quite a bit at work BUT French keeps rearing it's ugly head....I mean it's perfectly coiffed head. Furthermore, German is NOT a UN language. So while it's appreciated that I do speak German it's not valued the same way speaking French (a UN language) is.

So with some inspiration from Benny the Polyglot at Fluent in 3 months I'm setting out on a language learning mission. I want to be able to have a basic conversation in French in 3 months. And I'm talking super basic. I want to understand and be understood without the person taking pity on me or me staring at them blankly. I'll be using a combination of things. Benny the Polyglot's program is very spoken-centric which doesn't really jive with my learning style. Also classes are out because learning a language in a classroom doesn't work for me (never has) so I'll be mostly doing this self-study which I'm totally okay with. Keep in mind I learned German at home and when I went to German school it was expected we already knew German to be in the program. They weren't teaching us German.

I will be using some of Benny's other language learning ideas such as change up your learning method so you don't get board, seek out opportunities to use the language and make it a habit.

The one thing about his philosophy that I really liked though was, "Just start." None of this, "Oh I'm going to look at various classes and see what's best." or "I'll start Monday." or "When I plan a trip I'll take a tourist language class." Just start. If you want to do it, just start. Just do it.

This philosophy works for more than just learning a language me thinks....just saying.

John has been learning french (I really should say re-learning...he took it longer than I did in school) for over a year and he recently passed his A1 exam. I'm not aiming to pass any exams. I'm aiming to not have to require John to come with me to translate when I wander into the French speaking part of Switzerland or be totally dependent on him when we travel to France. John depends on me quite a bit still with it comes to German. Not as much as he use to but I know it bothers me. Just like it bothers me.

So here I am...trying to learn French. John is trying to help by reminding me "French is not a stupid language and it will not make you dumb."

Mission acceptée


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