24.7.14

Forgetting English, Part II

(from Eric)

In case you are wondering if the phénomène that we wrote about last year is still valid, I give you this update:

No one told me that the road to fluency in a foreign language would include a kind of nether-land where you are fluent in no language at all.  Fluency, as I have learned in this process is way more of a continuum than I had ever imagined.  Even among native speakers, there is a spectrum of fluency.  

And regarding English, I'm not so much where I once was on that spectrum.

And by the way, these teammates of mine are no help.  Exemple:  I could easily be sitting with them some evening and say something like: "Did you have a good voyage?  I was wondering if you would rest in Bujumbura another day."  Some of you probably think that sentence sounds a bit weird for normal conversation.  "Voyage"?  Was he getting on board a ship to pass through the Strait of Magellan (which I recently learned is called the détroit de Magellan)?  Was he packing a covered wagon to move to Oregon?  Why did he need to "rest"?  Is Buja a good place to rest (Answer: not really)?  No actually, voyage just means "trip" and rester means "to stay".  But here's the thing.  No one in the room thought that was at all awkward, thus we may be doing it dozens of times a day without knowing it.

(By the way, Agatha Christie is constantly using her Belgian super-sleuth Hercule Poirot to make these kind of jokes out of his bad English.  I notice them now, and find them really funny, even though I'm quite afraid I'll stop noticing them soon.)

Typing is another thing.  I had never given much thought to keyboards in foreign languages, but French having many accents or other slightly altered letters (é ù ô ç ï...), I made a decision to start using the French keyboard setting when I was typing French.  Seen here, it is the "AZERTY" keyboard as opposed to the Anglo "QWERTY" keyboard.
 

It's not terribly different, but different enough (which seems to always be the heart of the problem), and in preparing lots of French lectures, I've gotten as comfortable with the French keyboard as I am with the English keyboard.  The problem is that I have achieved this in part by becoming less comfortable with the English keyboard.  Seriously, even as I type this, I haven't been this bad at typing since my sophomore high school typing class.  Punctuation is right out.

As mentioned before, this remains mostly funny, and just a little bit tragic.  Some days, after arduously persevering in French all day long with students, I'll come home, my mind wistfully full of the unconscious ease of communicating with another native English speaker, eager for the sanctuary of my own home where I can simply talk with Rachel, focusing only on what we are saying, and not on how we say it.  Then, by the second sentence some French word slips past my lips.  Dommage.

(PS.  Writing the word "dommage." (meaning here "shame") took no fewer than 5 typing attempts, especially to find the M and the period.  I finally decided to change back to the English keyboard, only to find that I was already using the English keyboard.  Which explained a lot...)

2 comments:

Dan Berryman said...

How did you "find" Bujumbura?

Jeremy said...

HA! So many true things in this post. I remember having difficulty switching back to an English keyboard (as you know, c'est plus facile de taper English using a French keyboard than to do the opposite). And yes, fluency is so named because it's fluid. Enjoy the ride down the flume.