Thursday, April 28, 2011

Parlez-vous anglais?

Happy Easter,-   Joyeuses Pâques,- Sretan Uskrs,- Христос воскрес!!

English, French, Croatian and Ukrainian are all languages that I’m using to varying degrees and ability at the moment. However, arriving in France not speaking a word of French, I can see now, was a very brave thing to do. Being a debutante, a beginner/novice, has presented many hurdles and challenges, like the time I mistakenly told a waitress in a cafe when she asked if I wanted anything, “I’m learning a boyfriend” I said as I smiled.

Later in one of my many French language classes I came to realise that I had used the wrong verb, and should have used  attendre, waiting, instead of apprendre, learning, and that for friend it would be un ami  as opposed to mon ami. Here I’ve been gallivanting around Paris calling everyone my girlfriend or boyfriend. That might explain a couple of the strange looks.

By far learning French has been one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It has been a very long time since I’ve had to learn something completely new, where I have no prior knowledge, not even an inkling to rely on. Even my postgraduate degrees were easier than this.

At the moment I’m taking 8 hours of French a week. A class at work, two classes after work and a session with a private tutor, and it’s still tough going. My reading comprehension is coming along the best because I pick up a free newspaper everyday and try and read at least one article. Not to mention that many words in French are written either the same way or very close to English. But it’s the speaking part and the sentence construction that is taking time.

For someone who has spent most of her adult life either working in a job where I have had to be articulate: University Lecturer delivering presentations, Principle Analyst writing reports, or an armature blogger, and most definitely a general non-stop chatterbox, I now feel that I have had a piece of masking tape stuck across my mouth for the last 3 months and it feels completely debilitating.

I feel like I’m two-dimensional, “ I am Australian, I  am an Economist,  I live in the 15th arrondisement” is all I can manage, I feel ignorant and worst of all illiterate. French people don’t know me as the girl who is a cheeky smartarse, willing to have a ‘discussion’ about anything, tells a story that has to start back from the time I was 6 years old, or the girl that is full of useless trivia. Well at the moment they don’t, and I’m thinking it’s going to take some time.

Coliseum - Pula, Croatia
I went to visit my Aunty and cousins in Pula, Croatia for Easter. Prior to leaving I had thought that my Croatian wasn’t all that good. Although it came as a pleasant surprise when I arrived that my comprehension was probably up around 80%. It felt comforting to be in a foreign country and actually understand the people around me.

 I think learning French and using that part of my brain has actually helped improve the other languages I know, particularly Ukrainian. When I’m searching for a word, or when I associate French words, often Ukrainian pops into my head. I guess this is understandable considering this was the first language that I learnt, and not English, despite interestingly my mother being school teacher – clever on her part. I even found myself waking myself up from talking in my sleep (I told you I was a non-stop chatterbox) and I’m actually speaking Ukrainian. That hasn’t happened in a while.

The Family - how did I turn out to be so short then?

So there I was in Croatia, trying to convert my oui  to da and my merci  to hvala, which unexpectedly came naturally. Hanging out with family during the holidays was also nice, as was the plentiful yummy food. Having both of my first cousins there, Zeljko and Ivica, with the eldest cousin, Ivica arriving with his family, was great. Particularly to have three generations in the one place. It was also good to get a little English reprieve on occasion with my second cousin Rino, where we’d wonder down to the local cafe telling my Aunty (his Grandmother) that we drank  samo espresso, only espresso coffee thus needing to go for these walks.

Rovinj, Croatia

Having my cousin Zeljko there also, who now lives in London and had only visited me a few weeks before, was like seeing a brother, I brother I don’t have. I also trust his tortoise style driving that happened to beat the hare like driving of his brother after we took a day trip to Rovinj on Easter Sunday. Both of which would have to be better than their mother, my Aunty, who true to form, scared the bejesus out of me when she picked up from the airport, as she did the last time in late 2009, this time bumping into the car behind her when she reversed from the parking spot and again driving on the wrong side of the road. I think I’ll drive next time thanks  Teta, molim te.

Enough cakes - you think?
Easter was filled with great Croatian cuisine. Arambaš, is my favourite which are traditional cabbage rolls filled with mince meat (no rice) from my dad’s hometown of Sinj, near Spilt on the Dalmatian coast. We also enjoyed a variable array of kolaci, cakes, both Croatian and Italian, given that Pula is close to the Italian border and my Uncle works there during the week. Although the Croatian wine simply can’t compare to the French wine I’ve grown accustomed to.

I was also able to catch up on my Croatian reality TV, namely Croatian Idol where the female judge has the most amazing ice blue eyes I’ve ever seen – check it out. They are her real eye colour my cousins assure me. I also tuned into the Balkan Big Brother...yes, Big Brother still lives on somewhere in the world. I say Balkan, because this version includes people from all the former Yugoslav countries with the exception of Slovenia (Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian, Macedonian). FYI – one of girls is openly cheating on her husband with a 22 year old opera singer who surely plucks his eyebrows and uses eyeliner. Oh and she has a 2 year old daughter for good measure. Slavica was kicked out on Sunday night and she has the most enormous hooters I’ve ever seen, and she did some unnecessary, but amusing, running on her exit from her house – check it out.

However, my visit to Croatia was short one, and I arrived back in Paris to a glorious spring day, reminding myself that was oui and not da. Every time I’m away, even just for a little bit, I feel like it takes me a couple of days to tune my ear back into French. I’m only catching perhaps every 4th word at the moment. What makes aural comprehension hard is something called la liaison which is when the French run the ending of the previous word to the start of the next word, which changes the way that would sounds when pronounced. This only happens if the beginning of the second world starts with a vowel and the previous word ends in a consonant. For example, les enfants, the children, would be said “lay-zohn-fohn” as opposed to the worlds if pronounced individually would be “lay” and “ohn-fohn”.

In addition to this, the French are staunching protective of their language. Meaning that they try to keep it as ‘pure’ as possible with no foreign words infiltrating the language. So the word for computer for example, is not simply ‘computer’ with a European accent as it would be in many other countries in this part of the world but ordinateur. Further, French sentence structure is incredibly formal and verbose. You can certainly be a lot more succinct in English.

Like with everything when you are learning something new, you have some good days when it clicks and you’re remembering your, albeit, limited vocabulary and there are bad days where I’m ready to burst into tears at the post office because I can’t explain I want to send a package to Australia. I’ve just have to persevere with it. My trip to Croatia did teach me something though, and that’s just to get out and have a go at speaking. Sure I’m going to make mistakes...lots of them, but as long as I’m sort of understood that’s all that matters. Apparently my accent when I speak French doesn’t sound Australian at all but Easter European. The French do, however, make a point of suggesting they don’t understand you if for example, you say a vowel in slightly a different way. Ah well, so be it.

À bientôt!

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