A while back, I wrote a post about learning French.The French have done everything in their power to make their language as fiendishly difficult to learn as possible (or so it seems to me). Every time I seem to be getting the hang of it I utter a sentence – which I think is perfect – only to be informed that yes, I have said it perfectly but not in this case because this verb is irregular when used with this word on a Tuesday…before twelve. ARRRGGHHHH!!!! This is what drives me crazy.
I also think that French is not taught very well. I think half the problem with learning a language is fluency. I am at a stage now where my vocabluary is quite rich, I know the basics of expressing myself and I am grammatically okay – but what I need is conversation. Who cares if I stumble over a word or two? If I conjugate something incorrectly? How about we just communicate and worry about trampling over the antiquated rules and conventions of your niché language another time, eh? Let’s speak it, make some mistakes and try and exchange some information, shall we?
What I think is that learning is evolution, like Shakespeare’s Seven Stages of Man, and you have to go through them to reach your goal.
Here is what I think The Seven Stages of Learning a Language are:
- The Taylor Phase So called because I used to be like Burt Lancaster in Planet of the Apes pointing at things and grunting. This is the stage when you know – you think – all the words you need to comport yourself in civilised society: please, thank you, yes, no and beer – everything else is just fluff and vocab; you know you’ll pick it up eventually. Add to this the awesome power of ‘the pointing finger’, a credit card and paying for everything with big bills (because you can’t figure out numbers quickly enough so you just give ’em enough to cover it…)I also used to wander around with a pad and pen like some kind of Pictionary Ringer (in case I had to explain something really complicated), a bulging pocket full of coins and an iPhone with iTranslate on my home screen. Ah, happy days…
- The Rambo Phase You used to be Mr Conversation but now, returned to civilised society, you just know a few stock phrases to get you the essentials: food, hunting knives and ammo. Any deviation from that and you get violent. ‘I would like some bread. And a cake. Also, some coffee to have here. [hands over money – largish note] Thank you.’ Yes, you turn into Rambo, muttering the same selection of phrases to the guarded locals – you are confident to actually name things but if someone strikes up s conversation? You’re outta there. Or you kill them. Whichever is least embarrassing.
- The Cliched-Token-Native-American-From-John-Wayne-Films Phase ‘Me hungry. Me want bread. Me want cake also. Thank you. Here. Money. I no understand. HERE MONEY. BIG MONEY. Me want coffee. Milk coffee. Big. Here money. Me drink coffee here. Now. Me go. Good bye.’ You sound like a bit of a putz, and people look at you like you just dropped off the back of a truck, but you make yourself understood and that’s what its all about. The only disheartening thing is when a native hears you struggle and flips into English. I once had an experience when a shop assistant flipped into English that was so bad that it was like what Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther sounded like when speaking English.
- The Dug From ‘Up’ Phase ‘Hello! I would very much like a baguette please! A nice, long baguette. I would also like a nice, big coffee in a cup, please. I like cups. That is a nice, white cup. The coffee here is nice. It is the best coffee in the region! Excuse me, but could you recommend a nice cake that I can eat? I like cake. Thank you very much for my coffee. I would like to drink my coffee here and also eat my cake. I will go to that round table now. Here, I have the exact money. Have a good day! Goodbye.’ I feel as if I should wear shirts buttoned right up to the neck (with no tie) and shuffle around with my head tilted so as to reveal my brutal, instititional haircut.
- The Marty McFly (current) Phase The constant barrage of grammer into my feeble, anglo noggin has cofused me more that I express…which is kind of the problem. Now I am like some enigmatic, confused, muse muttering to myself the difference between buying some bread in the past or the future and and worrying whether or not Je voudrais is conditional or furture perfect tense. Then I end up springing into boulangeries like Marty McFly: ‘I have bought bread here…last week. But today, I am not going to buy bread. I will be buying some bread…in the future! I’d like some cake now…and then a coffee to have here, please.’ They look at me like I have just had a blow to the head and the look in their eyes says: he can speak French but he might be dangerous, so let him buy the bread and then we can call the cops…
- The Blackadder Phase You got the grammer, you got the conjugation and – yo baby! – you are not afraid to use it. Oh, and you have the words! You are all over the vocab like a ‘roach: ‘Good tidings, my flaxen haired vendor of baked delicacies. I wondered, as I strolled along the avenue and perchanced across your establishment, whether I could aquire one of your bronzed loaves to masticate into minute ampules of nourishment? I thought to myself…they must also fabricate sweetened snacks to satiate the tired denizens and their offspring. So, I decided to treat myself and wash one of these sugared delights down with a caffeinated beverage contained within a ceramic container no bigger than a turtle’s shell. I shall settle the bill from my shiny counterfoil of currency and imbibe my purchases at my leisure so as to watch the hue and cry scurry hither and thither. Good day to you and I hope your business is prosperous and you sire healthy, rosy cheeked offspring with strong backs and athletic uteruses.’ People get shot for less.
- The Morgan Freeman Phase* Totally fluent, no accent and get mistaken for a Frenchie without resorting to driving around in a 2CV, wearing striped Breton shirts and hanging bunches of garlic around your neck. In fact, you become so fluent and blasé about your ability to speak French that your go full circle and end up in the Taylor Phase again only betraying yourself occasionally by swearing in French and begrudgingly using it when you have to.
I am not there yet, or it feels, anywhere close…
* Bet you didn’t know he was a fluent French speaker, eh?