Saturday, March 25, 2006

French as she is spoken


There are days when I think my French is quite good, and then there are others when I think I am making no progress at all.

The English people around here all say my French is excellent and say that I'm fluent, but what do they know? Most of them find asking for bread at the boulangerie a daunting task.

I have a theory on why learning a language has these hard and easy phases and this mighty theory involves:
1. An ever-changing concept of the meaning of "fluent"
2. The locals keep raising the game.
3. Many personal skills develop in a series of plateaus (plateaux?)

1. An ever-changing concept of the meaning of "fluent"
Thinking about it honestly, I would be very pleased with the level of my French if I could compare it to what it was like when I first came to France 2 and half years ago. But like many things in life, the more you learn, the more you realise how much you don't know.
And when people say you are "fluent" what does that mean? Fluent in small talk at the cafe? Yes. Fluent enough to understand what's required at work and interact with the others? Sure. Fluent enough to fill in a tax form and discuss fiscal policy with a mortgage broker? I don't think so. Fluent enough to discuss the causes of the rise of right-wing politics in France? Not in any fine detail, no.
So there's fluent and fluent. I had hoped that after nearly 3 years I would be fluent in French. The fact is I am and I amn't.

2. The locals keep raising the game.
When you first start speaking French, it's immediately obvious you can't speak well and so people talk to you slowly and simply.
As you improve, in grammar, vocab and accent, so they start to speak faster and more naturally.
Throw in a few colloquialisms and slang, and man, they start chattering like billy-o. And they no longer stop to check that you're keeping up. As a result, conversational French just never seems to get any easier.

3. Many personal skills develop in a series of plateaus (plateaux?)
I think most things that are learned go through phases of development and consolidation. If you try and take in too much at one go you get swamped. During development phases you're amazed at how much you're learning, but even during consolidation phases little things are being subconsciously heard and filed away.

I also always thought that a major breakthrough in speaking French would be when I stopped thinking in English and translating into French before speaking, and started thing in French. I now think its not as simple as that.
Firstly the translating before speaking gets faster and faster.
Secondly, it depends on the level of conversation. Simple things, easy answers just come straight out in French. Its not that I'm thinking in French as much as not thinking at all. When someone asks you how you are, or if you think its a nice day, you don't actually consider the question, even in Engish - you just blurt it out "I'm fine" or "Yes, its lovely".
More complicated issues though, you pause to consider your response. Often, even in English, you have to choose your words so as not to offend, or to put the right emphsasis.


At 11:18 am, Blogger Lorraine said...

LOL, when I first moved from Montreal to a more English area, I was fascinated with English, loved it from the start. I started out that way, watching tv with my faithful companion, the French-English dictionnary. One day I realized that I didn't translate in mind anymore. I am fluent in both, quite good in fact, and I owe it all to being born French. I'd rather have to learn English than learn French, ANY day!
Besides strike me dead, but having mastered both languages, I prefer English!

At 3:00 pm, Blogger MichaelBains said...

Its not that I'm thinking in French as much as not thinking at all.

That's the "catch" for me in mathematics. I think I'd need an intense, 3 month Math Camp just to get comfortable with HS algebra.

practice Practice PRACTICE! {sigh}

At 4:38 pm, Blogger PI said...

The acid test, je pense, is to spend an evening with just French speaking people - at least three, and after some vino see if you can keep up with the chat or have switched off in despair.
The nearest I got was when I told a taxi driver to turn right, without thinking.
Three French grand-children should help but they fall about with laughter when I speak French.
Je suis desolee. (Can't do accents!}

At 5:04 pm, Blogger Stew said...

michaelbains & pi - thanks for the comments. I regularly (daily?) lurk on both of your blogs, which I think I found thru Harry Hutton or Ivan the Terrible or some such.

pi - the vino is handy, because as it lowers inhibitions it definitely lubricates the linguistic process, but too much and I find I become fully fluent in just about any language - Swahili, Russian, Bullshit or Xhosa

At 1:09 am, Blogger fish said...

Visualization is a tool that has been used for thousands of years by initiates of all the metaphysical schools. Today, it is incorporated into top athlete's daily routines and is used in business affairs frequently. It's use is wide-spread among highly successful people, either consciously or unconsciously, aware of its create power. So if it has stood the test of time and is still being used by high achievers we must come to the conclusion that it works! But has it ever worked for you?

If you answered 'yes' to the above question then you know how powerful this technique can be. If, on the other hand, you gave the more likely answer 'no' then take heart for I am about to reveal to you a sure fire way of reaching your objectives through this mostly misunderstood art.

The trouble with visualization is simple - its in its name!

When studying and contemplating the art of visualization most people have the impression that they must create visual images and make them real or life-like. Many people, in fact the majority, find this almost impossible to do. Even if they can formulate a solid picture of their objective they find it extremely difficult to sustain the image for any length of time. Either the image fades, changes or other intruding thoughts intervene.

This type of visualization is almost impossible to sustain and luckily it is not at all necessary. Why? Because it is in the subconscious mind that your visualization needs to be placed and there is good news. The subconscious mind does not know the difference between an imaginary event and a real one. Your visual image only needs to be a strong visually as any other imagined event. However, that is only half the story.

If all you had to do was just imagine stuff and your world automatically changed to reflect your imaginings this world would be full of chaos (not to mention all those creepy crawly bug-eyed monsters!). Therefore, there are a few more steps to complete before the visualization is passed to the subconscious for manifestation.

Let's try a little experiment. Remember a scene from your past that has a lot of good feelings around it. Any good memory will do, like the first time you heard the words "I love you" from your partner, an amazingly spectacular sunset, a great holiday event or your last birthday. Pick one and remember it. How clear is the image? Can you remember any sounds? What way did you feel? Is there any sense of touch, taste or smell? Identify how your memory works. Is it mostly visual, auditory, kinaesthetic or of a feeling nature?

Now we are going to create an imagined event in our lives that has the same strength and potency as that image. So relax and let's go.

Imagine something that you do everyday, something that you did yesterday, today and will do tomorrow. Let us take the example of waking up tomorrow morning. Don't try to add or take anything away, just think about it and analyse the scene. Is it dark or light? Are you lying next to someone in bed? Do you still feel tired? Has the alarm clock sounded? Are you irritable that you have to get up or full of joy at the dawn of a new day?

You will find that the imagined event is very similar to the memory with probably one key difference - your point of perspective. Is the memory behind you and the future event in front of you? Is one to the left and one to the right? Maybe they are both in front of you or the future seems to move in a clockwise direction. Whatever the perspective the thing to notice is that they are very similar in appearance.

Now imagine doing your future event a week from now, then a month from now, then six months from now. Where are those images placed? Are they moving further away, going clockwise, from left to right? This is your time-line and using it is important in visualization as you will see later.

Ok, let's imagine something that is very unlikely to happen and see where it differs from the last image.

Imagine you are sitting somewhere familiar which is extremely comfortable and relaxing to you. Now imagine that a person you know well comes up to where you are and says "hello". Imagine them telling you that they want to show you a new trick. All of a sudden they have three juggling balls. They throw them in the air and begin to juggle with ease. Then they begin to whistle one of your favourite tunes. You suddenly realize that there is a strong smell of flowers in the room and notice a vase of them just behind the juggler. Imagine laughing loudly at the scene and feeling joyful at the experience. Then the person juggling leans forward stands on leg and puts the other leg outstretched behind them. All the while still juggling and whistling. Then they begin to hop on their leg as a small bird flies over to perch on their head. Once you have the imagined event and stayed with it a few moments just let it fade.

Ok open your eyes. What was the difference between the two images? Can you spot any? Did you use more, less or roughly the same senses in your fantasy event as you did in the future one? Did you see them from different angles? Was the picture bigger in one than the other? Was the sound clearer, the feelings more acute or the smell stronger? Take some time and go back to each scene in your mind. How does the future event differ from the fantasy one? Are you looking at both from a different vantage point? Do you see yourself in the image of one but not the other? Analyse the scenes and see where they differ.

Have you identified how the future event differs from the fantasy one? If you have then its time to make visualization work for you! Take a goal that you have been working on or would like to achieve. Nothing too far-fetched at this point please! Pick something that is possible but at the moment seems a little impractical. Once you have it form a mental image of what it would be like to have, be or do that thing or be in that experience. Remember to form it the same way you do a memory. Give it the same strength visually, in sound, feeling, taste and touch - use your mind in its natural state. All you have to do is imagine the scene.

Ok how does it differ from the scene of waking in the morning? Can you identify the differences in perspective, sound, taste, touch, feelings and what you hear?

Now there will be one other key thing that differs in the images- it is very simple but often overlooked. You know that the future event is going to happen! This is reflected in the way we experience the image. So what we are going to do is fool your subconscious mind into thinking your goal is definitely going to happen by manipulating your goal image!

Once you know what the differences are in each image begin to change the goal image so that it is seen the same way as the future event in your imagination. Place the visualized scene in exactly the same position with the same perspective as your future event.

Place it in the correct position on your time-line. You may already begin to feel that the goal is more possible. Visualise in this way everyday and you will condition your subconscious mind to manifest the experiences necessary to make your goal attainment certain.

One more thing to remember: During the day think about your goal often. This reinforces the visualization and will begin to dispel doubt from your mind.


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