Forgetting How To Speak English

(from Eric)

Two days ago, in class, we were discussing a certain verb construction.  I was wrestling with it in my mind, trying to find an approximate English equivalent that I might be able to hang my hat on.

Epiphany!  "Could" in the sense of "it could be, but it's probably not..."  So I changed my multi-color pen and scrawled above it the English word "COULD".

Then  I leaned back and stared hard.

Did I spell that right?  It looks so weird.  I said it over and over in my mind.  Wow, now it sounds weird.  Is that even the right word?  I try writing it in lowercase.  Hmm, that looks better, but still a bit off.  Am I having a stroke?


This is our world right about now.

I was told beforehand, that silent E's and double letters will be the first to go, because they are often the only change between an English word and a French word.  We had a classic moment in class a while ago, where our teacher was exhorting us to note well that the French word appartement is spelled differently than in English.  "How many P's are there in English?"  One student confidently pronounced "Two!"  Then, the teacher wrote the correct English spelling on the board, and the student's eyes got wide.  "No, there's only one!"  And this student works as an English teacher.  

But so it is with all of us.  Adresse.  Utilise. I'm having to type these words into Google Translate as I type this to ensure that I'm putting the right spelling on this post.  I've never been so reliant on spell-checkers in my life.  It's not going to get any better with medical vocabulary.

I remember a friend in medical school talking about a particularly brain-frying session of Gross Anatomy where she turned to her friend and said:  "I know we have two kidneys, but do we have one liver or two?  One?  No, two!  No, just one....yeah, definitely one."

This phenomenon (phénomène) is about 80% a funny thing to laugh at along the road of language learning.  The other 20% is something that takes a stab at my identity and substantially changes some important things. As an American,  part of my identity as an educated professional is being able to articulate with the right words and spell correctly.  The deeper we go in French, even more so as we learn Kirundi and live in the great linguistic mixture of French-Kirundi-English-Swahili that is Burundi, we are going to get more things wrong.  There is certainly an overall net gain in knowledge, but there may be something about my ability to function in English that will have to suffer a bit.

Interestingly, Kenyans never had quite the same qualms.  Certainly, "proper" English functioning improves with education, but even very educated Kenyans never had many as many qualms with making spelling errors, even in a professional presentation.  It was a constant suggestion of mine that they could improve the overall professional appearance of their work by watching their spelling more closely.  They each spoke at least 3 languages, of course.  Often more.

I think often about those guys, and how I have so much more empathy for their situation.  Ethnocentrism strikes again! 

So, prie for us as we learn to adress these issues et continuer a utilise our French.


Anonymous said...

Once again, an intriging, engaging blog! Love to read what you write, Eric.

Sarah Hunt said...

LOL! Laughed right out loud and had to share this entry with a coworker. Will pray for you all! :)

Jeremy said...

Hilarious. After returning to the US from France, I once forgot the word napkin over lunch. I explained that the word began with the letter s, and worried a bit when my friend still didn't hand me one. So, I explained I needed to wipe my mouth. I felt my brain had failed me miserably. Funny now, but very strange at the time.

Unknown said...

I hope students have enjoyed doing the Webquest, searching the information they needed to complete the tasks and that they have discovered some English-speaking countries they probably didn’t know before. interesting website