Monday, 31 October 2016

When A Language Is Not A Love Match

French and I have fallen out again. I fear it may be terminal. This is somewhat embarrassing, since less than a month ago (on 8th October, to be exact), not only did I splash out a hundred and sixty bucks on a one-year-subscription to newsinslowfrench.com, but blogged excitedly about my fresh surge of enthusiasm for the language (see here). It didn't last. In fact, I've never been closer to ditching French altogether.

French, it seems, brings out the worst of my fickleness. The reason I started this tête-à-tête in the first place a year and a half ago was due to a sense of long-held, insidious embarrassment. Most people I know have at least a basic knowledge of French, because they were made to study it at school for a couple of years. Some took it further. Most didn't, but smattering of it stuck, and, in my observation, it serves them well.

Every time I delve into classic literature, I find it littered with French words and phrases. This makes sense from an historical perspective: In the 19th century, novels and other works were largely written by middle class authors for a middle class readership, and the middle (and upper) class(es) spoke French. Even today, these French fragments remain firmly on the pages of classic works, largely untranslated, and thereby inaccessible to me. (Or rather, inaccessible to the "Pre-May-2015-Me", which is when I started engaging with the French language for the first time in my life.) My primary motivation was to finally plug this gap in my education, and I assumed that love would slowly blossom, with a view towards making myself another linguistic home in the francophone sphere.

Unfortunately, it ain't happening. For all my willing it, I have not managed to turn, what was clearly a head decision, to resonate with me on an emotional level. The positive feedback loop I had been expecting to carry me forward through the sticky bits is gasping its last desperate puffs, like fish in a shallow pool of tepid water, ready to go belly up at any moment.

French and I just don't connect. It's a bit like growing weary of a house guest, who was exciting and fun at first, but who's now driving you round the bend with his idiosyncrasies and domestic ineptitudes. He ignores the dirty dishes in the sink, leaves the cap off the toothpaste, and never puts the toilet seat back down. AND he expects special treatment.

Endless lists of exceptions in grammar, vocab and pronunciation, which (on a good day) I find so endearing in Portuguese and which, to my mind, give a language its "character", irritate the hell out of me in French. There's a saying that goes something like this: "If you're fond of someone, you don't mind if they drop their dinner into your lap, but with someone you dislike, it bothers you how they hold their spoon". It feels like French is putting up barriers on purpose, just to annoy the learner. And me, in particular. It shouldn't be all that difficult - I'm already fluent in Spanish, my Portuguese is coming along just fine, and so a third Romance language ought to be a piece of cake on a silver platter! Yes, the whole thing is totally irrational, but whether someone takes to a language or not is rarely rooted in logic. Above all, you need chemistry, and that's what's missing between French and moi.

Despite this conclusion and all my whining, I don't consider my having invested effort into learning French a waste of time, not in the least. In fact, it has enriched my life, since I've pretty much reached my goal and can now immerse myself in the tomes of yesteryear without choking on turgid chunks of Français. I've even decided to spend a wee bit more time on it, at least until my command over this enfant terrible is on the same level as everyone else's "Bad French".

My long-term goal is to speak five languages "really well", and the only thing that has changed is that I now no longer think that French is going to be one of them.

20 comments:

  1. As you know, my teen totally empathises with this. I'm writing down that saying about the spoon and the dinner!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As you know, you can tip your dinner over me any time... :)

      Delete
    2. As you know... me far too well!!! Hahahaaaa!

      Delete
  2. sorry to hear that, very inconvenient indeed!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not that bad - it was time and money well invested. I learned something very useful, even though it didn't really excite me.

      Delete
  3. Pas un problem! (or something like that!) Lots of lovely languages out there just vying for your attention. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Such a shame. French is the only language that I kinda-sorta got a grasp of other than English. I wish I was a tad more fluent in this beautiful language ... if only I wasn't so lazy.

    You, on the other hand, are a linguistic marvel. Yes - a hero to people like me who grasp only one language. Number 5 will find you, of that I am confident :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, Joanne, nothing marvellous here in this corner... I just spend way too much time on it (or not enough, in the case of French, LOL).

      Delete
  5. It can't possibly be more complicated than Russian!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think it is... but if there's no spark, there's no spark!

      Delete
  6. Hi there, Brazilian here.
    I had some similar though, since I already speak Portuguese from cradle, that shouldn't be a problem to learn French. I got interested because I lived in Canada, and I want to return there.

    Well, turns out this is a beast of a language. Awkward pronunciation of words at first (but you eventually get used to it), tons of exceptions and just this thing about so many silent letters.

    Even though as of today I can read books without too much of a problem, to listen to it is still a burden. Really challenging. What helps me out is that although the words some times don't look anything like Portuguese in their written form, the pronunciation still resembles something for a myriad of words, or vice-versa.

    I try to read a little bit of French literature every day, or listening to simple podcasts/youtube videos to slowly absorb it. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello there, nice to hear from you :) French ain't easy for sure... but it's not the difficulty in itself that's causing me this problem, I feel. I just don't want to make the effort, because I just don't care enough. I really do hope that it will be different with Russian. I can't tell yet, since I never even got beyond beginner's level the first time round, 30 years ago(!), and we all know that the toughest stretch is the intermediate phase. And I'm probably three years away from reaching that point.

      In the meantime, I will try and keep up the French - I don't really want it to disappear, it's still useful to have to some degree.

      Delete
  7. I'm sorry to hear that!! I love French madly and I always want people to love it as much as I do (though, to be fair, it took me a decade of hatred to get there...). Though I don't think you're alone - in the past couple years I've come across a load of people who learned Spanish first/are Spanish speakers and are now having a terrible time with French. For me, after suffering through French's baffling spelling, exceptions, etc, grasping the basics of Spanish was a breeze - and made me grateful to French for the Romance language primer. But in reverse order I'm starting to see that French must seem like a self-centred brat. Oh well, maybe this bodes well for Russian??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha - a decade of hatred ;-) I think my French teacher feels the same, i.e. total love for the language, and she was a bit taken aback when I presented my decision to her on Thursday and told her that this was going to be my last lesson. I have every intention to go out for the occasional drink with her, as I really like her and it's definitely nothing to do with her or her teaching - she's been great, encouraging and really, really patient.

      Upwards and onwards :) I shall report on my first Russian class shortly.

      Delete
  8. [I tried to leave this comment using my WordPress account but I don't think it worked. Just hoping my comment doesn't appear twice ;)] You are not alone, but at least you tried harder than I did. I tried learning French a couple of times. Once because I needed credit in a foreign language to fulfill the requirements of a graduate degree. I took an exam in Spanish but missed passing by 10 points (seriously) so I was stuck taking a semester of French (Spanish was not available ... more salt in the wound). I have virtually no memory of that course. All I needed to do was have perfect attendance and complete all assignments to pass which I did. But I left that course knowing French no better than when I started. The second time was through Duolingo. I've been using it successfully for Spanish, so why not French? My problem is largely because I cannot comprehend spoken French. It all sounds like people are just shushing. Although my fluency with Spanish is middling, I still thought I should be able to learn some basics. Alas, no go. On the positive side, many of my friends who have visited France say they had wonderful trips without even knowing how to say "thank you." At least, I can say, "Gracias" :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi there1 And sorry Blogspot lost your comment... that keeps happening with those left using WP accounts, it's totally vexatious! Anyway, thanks for going through the trouble of typing it all out again. I can tell you're much more motivated with the Spanish :)

      I've got my first Russian class booked for tomorrow morning. Maybe THAT will captivate me. (At the moment, it terrifies me more than anything....)

      Delete
  9. I learned French for eight years, up to the first year of university, and I dropped it like a hot potato at the end of that year in favour of Russian, despite having actually failed my Russian prelim and having to retake it. Suffice to say, French and I Do Not Get Along. On the plus side, I am at least still fluent enough that random bits of French don't faze me. Honestly, I think I just don't get along with Romance languages in general (or maybe French soured them for me as a whole). I am dabbling in Romanian on Duolingo, as a last-ditch attempt to kindle an interest. If a Romance language with a heavy Slavic influence and cases can't capture my eye, then I will have to admit defeat and concede that me and Romance languages were never meant to be.

    (I have this horrible habit of comparing my French to my Russian (or at least to what my Russian once was), and assuming that it's terrible, and ergo anyone who's learned French will understand what I understand, which is frankly idiotic. I have on occasion presented something I think is hilarious to someone and then been surprised and have basically embarrassed us both by me having to translate it into English 8-o It's always better than I think it is, although especially in production, it's ungrammatical and littered with errors. I don't know if I could sort said errors out, but I don't have the will to try.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi there and thanks for stopping by and sharing your French-and-I-don't-get-on story, I am rather partial to those a the moment ;-) I've always been resentful of having missed out on learning French while I was still at school, but your comment makes me think that maybe it was a good thing - since it might have ruined Romance languages for me?! As it is, I love both Spanish and Portuguese.I don't really think I'm going to add any more Romance languages to my repertoire. Although you never know... hmmm... maybe one day, I'll get back to French, given sufficient impetus and motivation.

      Delete