a unique perspective on this crazy world


That was the first thing I officially learned to say in French.  Semi-helpful.  Especially since the teacher had such a bad accent I doubt any Parisian would have understood what I was saying.  We could understand her but when she put on the tapes of native French speakers it was as though they were speaking some other language entirely.

But Mrs. Tolton loved French – and France.  I am not even sure if she was ever there.  But it was obvious she had a “thing” about the French.  And she passed that on to some of us.  You can always improve your accent.  If someone can impart a love for the language and culture in you, you will make it happen.

When I started learning German, my French got sabotaged.  But given a bit of time in the country, my accent is not too terrible.  I just listen to the people around me and try to imitate them.  Getting the accent right in a language you barely speak is always a mixed blessing.  It’s respectful – and I would never change my behaviour – but it makes you sound like you know more than you do so people babble away as though you are actually bilingual.  Your quizzical bunny in the spotlight expression soon corrects this misconception… and sadly, these days, people generally just start speaking to you in broken English.

Perhaps it was being a product of Trudeaumania – even though I lived in a part of the country where we named our ornery pet calf after him, reflecting his unloved reputation in western Canada – that made me want to speak French almost from the time I could walk.  Once I was old enough to read, I found my mother’s old French textbook and used to follow her around the house, annoyingly asking how to pronounce words in the book.  I also read the translations on the cereal boxes and the aspirin bottles.  Finally, in grade seven, we officially got to learn how to speak French!

Of course, that is when I discovered the joys and frustrations of trying to acquire a second language at an advanced age.  These days I speak enough French and German to easily get by as a tourist, I know a few words in Spanish, I can read an Italian menu like a native, I still speak a handful of words of Thai so that I can eat in any market (and avoid bats and black dogs!) and I know what a mushroom is in all sorts of languages…

I still have the notebook where I wrote down all the countries I wanted to visit as a child – and all the languages I wanted to learn.  The country list is going well and I am sure I can see them all if my adult self has the same ambitions (it knows a little more about politics and geography).  But I will never be fluent in the 20+ languages my ambitious eight year old self saw as a reasonable goal.  It’s good to dream big.  And children should be encouraged to be ambitious… it means when you scale back, the goals will still be impressive.  We’ll see how I do… some people want to perfect their golf swing when they retire.  I want to finally get fluent in French.  And German.  Fluent enough in each that I don’t mix them up, my current state.  And once that is in the bag, a little Spanish would be nice…   I would love to speak Mandarin… and Swahili is just fun.  And I am already in love with Tanzania…

Maybe, on my death bed, I will finally be able to pronounce the ö umlaut correctly.  It always outs me as an English speaker.  But my new friend Björn comes with an ö umlaut – perhaps this will be the motivation I needed to finally twist my tongue in just the right way…

Comments on: "je m’appelle Jean Cluny" (1)

  1. An ambitious 8 yo, an ambitious 50 yo. 🙂 And you have a way of following thru.

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