En français

by DaniGirl on December 6, 2012 · 1 comment

in It IS all about me, Mothering without a licence

It was only when I got an odd look from the man walking past me that I realized I’d been concentrating so hard on practicing an internal dialogue for my upcoming French exam that I had actually been speaking aloud. There I was, walking down George Street in the Byward Market in the pre-dawn gloaming, chattering away to myself badly in French along the lines of: “I work for the government of Canada in the field of public affairs, and I’m the team leader for the social media programs.” His half-smirk was priceless. Only in Ottawa is this not a mark of insanity but simply another beleagured anglophone in search of a bilingual bonus.

You might remember I spent most of my summer vacation in 2011 practicing for my reading and writing tests in French, which I needed to come back to the CRA from my stint with the Army web team. I passed those, but my oral exam results expired in October of 2011, so I’ve been taking lessons for the last year to gear up for it. When I last took the oral exam in 2006, I failed twice before getting the required B level result (B = bearable), so I am half expecting the same result this time. My exam is a week today – wish me luck!

I’m actually fairly confident. One thing I have going for me this time that I didn’t have going for me back in 2006 is two little French speakers to practice with at the dinner table. Tristan is in an immersion French program and Simon will follow suit next year. It both kills me and fills me with pride to hear their perfect little accents and the unselfconsious ease with which they speak in French. They’re more fluent after just a couple of years than I am after 20 bloody years of French lessons. Must be latent on Beloved’s side – his ancestors were apparently in Louis XIV’s court way back in the day. There’s no French on my side to fall back on, though, and I have a much easier time rolling a Scottish burr than rolling a French rrrrr.

It fascinates me how differently they are learning French than I did. No rote memorization of noun gender, no endless conjugation of verbs, no lectures on agreement of adjectives. They just – speak. And listen. And – gasp! – understand. They have no idea of what the passé composé might be, but they use it.

I had mixed feelings when the kids were wee about sending them through the immersion program at school. I was worried they wouldn’t be strong in either language. Clearly, I had nothing to worry about. They’re strong in both languages, and my four year old has a vocabulary that would make an English teacher proud. I have a deep envy of people for whom a second language comes easily and would love nothing more than to be unselfconcious when speaking French myself.

Alas, I think after 20 years of trying, that goal may be unattainable. I think I’m doomed to muddle along, translating in my head as I go and muttering to myself in an incomprehensible mix of both languages. So if you see me walking down the street talking to myself, just smile and say ‘bonjour!’

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Catherine December 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm

For me, the decision to put my kids in French Immersion was made when I saw Chandra Crawford at the winter Olympics. Alberta born and bred but educated in FI she easily switched to French to speak with the Radio Canada reporter and was even joking around. My 3 kids are all in French and did not bat an eyelash when we were in New Brunswick a couple of summers ago and the server asked for their orders in French. It wasn’t until she got to DH and me that she realised they weren’t native French speakers.

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