The one topic I believe that I ignored thus far but deserves it’s very own post is of course the one in which I finally talk about my experience with language. After 2 months of living in Paris and speaking French on a regular basis, I suppose I finally have something to say. I also can’t wait to reread this in the spring of 2013 and celebrate all the progress I made.
It’s necessary to confess that I don’t speak French in 100% of my conversations. I always speak French when I’m at school, at home or doing an activity as a part of my program. I don’t however speak French all the time with my friends. I’m not really ashamed to admit it, even though at first I felt very guilty speaking English, because I firmly believe that it’s healthy. I can only speak for myself but when you’re restricted to only speaking French you can only express 60% of your true feelings and thoughts. Additionally, what ends up being expressed, in this language that is not your own, is a watered down version of your real ideas and feelings. I know that the only way to get comfortable in French and reach the point where I can fully express myself is to force myself to speak French in every situation, but I honestly don’t believe it’s healthy. Speaking English became a sort of therapy. When I finally “broke down” and spoke English with my friends for the first time I realized that it had been weeks since i had laughed. In French, none of us are really funny. I wound up laughing so hard I was crying while telling a story, that wasn’t even that funny, just because my sense of humor had been suppressed for weeks. The same is true with your negative emotions that get remain unexpressed all because you can’t find the precise words to use.
So that is my little confession. But after I spend a little bit of time speaking English with my friends, we usually go back to speaking French by choice. Firstly because it’s fun and secondly because I recognize that it’s important if I ever want to advance.
After about a month in Paris I noticed that my fluidity and speed had increased, but I was still convinced that i was speaking incoherently. It was quite an “AH-HAA” moment when my friend told me over crepes that she saw an immense (or maybe I’m exaggerating now) difference in my oral communication and that I was in fact speaking in grammatically correct sentences for the most part. It will probably be one of those moments i won’t forget because until then I had thought I sort of plateaued after gaining a little bit of “speed and accuracy” during my first month. Right now, I feel like my level of communication is just an actualization of what I always knew I was capable of / what was going on inside my head. I really hope my progress continues. At least now I know, due to my phonetiques class, what my “trouble areas” are and how I can improve.
For example, I have to pay attention to how I pronounce [u] [ø] and strangely enough [a]
[u] as in pour, cours, et bonjour & [ø] as in bol, porte, homme. The reason why I have trouble with these sounds is because you have to make your voice quite deep to achieve the sounds. Not only are the sounds unnatural to me but I sort of resist having to hear my voice sound sort of.. masculine ?
[a] as in amie, ananas, américain etc. This sound I was surprised to find was an issue for me. Instinctively I try to pronounce it as “uh” like “uh-mie” and “uh-mericain”. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the result of the 2 years spent during college trying to water down my New York accent, the one that would have made me pronounce it AHH-ksent instead of the more neutral pronunciation of aks-ENT. (I hope this was logical)
And while it’s still a challenge to speak in French because I don’t have a complete vocabulary and I still have to stop myself to make sure i’m using the right very tense (I believe there are 17 verb tenses in French and 12 in English), I see small clues that I’m definitely advancing. Sometimes I shock myself after i realize how quickly I can spit out a response or how when I write or speak in English, like when writing this post for example, I can only think of the French version of what I want to say and cannot find the proper English equivalent of what I want to say.
I hope it isn’t too long until I can write an update on this subject and let you all know how I can finally yell at people in French (my personal measure of what it means to be truly fluent in a language.)