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    » DISCOMFITURE. from languagehat.com
    Beth at Cassandra Pages has posted an entry that does an excellent job of recounting the kinds of interactions that can defeat us when we're trying to operate in a second language, and the way it makes us feel:“It doesn’t... [Read More]

    Comments

    Good dream Coquette. And don't waste any time! I hear that if you put watered down wine in a babies 'bibron' you multiply his chances of speaking perfect French by at least FOUR!!

    Tin Tin is Belgian

    Well hey, for what it's worth, I'm totally impressed.

    You've made much mention of your Father's French nationality, but have neglected to tell us loyal readers what ethnicity your mother descends from... I've been curious about that since I started reading your blog. If I had to guess, I'd say German or Irish.

    Amen Sister!

    Meg, my Mom is born and raised in America! Her parents were too, but my great-grandparents are part German, part Dutch, big melting pot--no Irish though, which is what people always assume because of my hair.

    And I remember last time--your sweet comment inquiring about my mother--and I've been SO PLANNING on posting about her. She rocks!

    Okay, going to go change post now to read "my American mother." :)

    Plastique Bertrand, I know, but I have nostalgia for Tintin, mkay? :)

    Be careful with that giving the children watered-down wine thing. In Mississippi, I think you could very well get jailed for such a thing!

    And the accent thing drives me nuts as well, especially people who have been here half as long as I have and whose accents kick my accent's pathetic bony ass. Le sigh.

    My Princess knows four languages, of which three she learned as a child.

    Makes plain old bilingual me feel tonguetied.

    I have a lot of respect for people who learn a language after their teens well enough to live in the country. I had it easy learning english as a nine year old in the US...

    Bravo for going to the eye doctors without any problems, something I have yet been able to do . The last one told me that I had the worst eye sight ever and that if I didn't stop wearing contacts I'd go blind. All this in French and very in a very mean voice. So, would it be possible to get the address of your eye doctor? As I am looking for a second opinion on my eminent blindness.

    Well, I'm impressed. And I am sure your grandfather's watching right now with an approving smile.

    But about learning the language as a child, I feel your pain. (vizualize Clintonian lip-bite). Add me to the list of people who wish their parents would have either spoken a second language at home, or who wish that they would have been sent to an immersion school.

    And add that to the (increasingly long) list of things I'll be doing differently than my own parents.

    Great post :) I really enjoyed this, as an expat, and a mother of bilingual kids. :)

    >>subjunctive tense--a tense which DOESN'T EVEN EXIST IN ENGLISH

    Ohhhhh yes it does Coquette!
    example: "...like there was no tomorrow" is appalling grammar. The correct version would use the subjunctive "...as though there were no tomorrow". I slip that one in sometimes when talking, e-mailing, or IRCing, to someone I can trust not to think "What a pedantic old fart"

    I think we are all in different circumstances, and we all learn in different ways. Sometimes I feel like I'm going ok, but then other times I feel like I'm learning terribly slowly and I'm just not getting anywhere.

    My three-year old nephew downs Champagne and Roquefort like a pro (thankfully not at the same time, as this would be considered a national crime). It's my dream to be like him. I've got the Champagne down pat, am working on the green-ness in the cheese :)

    I loved this entry. Fortunately, the French culture is not only about eating smelly cheese and drinking wine :)

    Having studied linguistics, I'm now realizing the complexities of French and I understand that English-speaking people in particular might find it difficult, tricky, and full of useless tenses.

    The insecurities you have about your French are similar to those I have about my English. I add extra "the"'s and I think there are waaayyy too many phrasal verbs.

    *End of ranting*

    I'm gearing up to get my eyes checked as well. Do you think they'll let me spell out words? Cause otherwise I'm afraid that the appointment will drag into eternity or the doctor will die from laughter at my crap French.

    I feel much better now, thank you.

    An eye exam. I'm impressed, really and truly.

    I was in Puerto Rico last spring, and was getting a manicure, and was holding up pretty well with my Spanish until they asked me if I wanted my nails filed in an oval manner or square manner. These are not words you learn in Spanish class, and I had to admit that my Spanish wasn't fluent. Sigh.

    But an eye exam. It's a real accomplishment!

    i wish i'd listened to my parents (!!!) and kept up with my korean. it would put an end to the weird looks i get from my korean friends and family who insist i'm the all-american girl.

    To be absolutely honest with you, it is an accomplishment that you are talking to french people full stop. I've seen a lot of expats who stick to themselves and ignore the commuinity they live in. Personaly, my mother tonuge is arabic, I learned english and french when I was 4, my german and italian was aquired during uni and work. My daughter would not speak but english!! she understands whatever I say in any of these languages, but will not answer but in english. I can tell you that your dad must have felt wee bit frustrated as he will be thinking that he did not put more effort to it, which I am sure he didn't

    wow, you're story is eerily similar to my husband's. his dad, also french, rarely spoke french to his boys. it was always his new year's resolution to teach them french, but he was a workaholic, and then died when my husband was 15. i find it kind of funny that many french people go on and on about the importance of la langue française and then they move abroad, have families and don't pass it on to their kids. what's up with that?

    Well my children speak French and if I have anything to do about it, they always will. It's so nice to be at least bi-lingual. There are so many kids here, like Mathieu's that are tri-lingual or more and it is so impressive. My Italian grandmother lived with me and always tried to teach me Italian, but it never stuck. How I wish I'd listened to her!

    If it's any consolation, "they" say that whatever language the mother is speaking, will always stick harder with the children. Example???? My French husband spoke only French to our first daughter (born in the USA), she understood, and refused to speak anything other than English back, until baby sister was born (in France, two months after we moved). Baby sister speaks both laguages, 'cause me, the mother, speaks english to her. Your problem could just be "normal" :)

    I'm Austrian German, born in the US, and mainly lived in France.

    My french and german are flawless, learned english when I was 14, but the surroundings (Lycée International de Saint Germain en Laye) were just so amazing :
    More then 12 different tongues (From swedes to Japanese) in the same school is an awsome asset.

    The only thing is to have a similar surrounding to "achieve" real bilingual and cultural behaviorism.

    So it won't be Kentucky... :)

    french mom, born and raised here in the U.S.
    fully bilingual...
    because
    a)yes, there's a reason they call it the "langue maternelle," since your first language is often your mother's native tongue
    b)bilingual school and C.N.E.D. I went to school in arlington, MA, with a bunch of french children, where we learned in both languages. French in the A.M. and English in the P.M. This was fantastic, except in the math department, because they taught it to us in both languages--and hence, both traditions. When you're in 3rd or 4th grade, let me tell you, math has not yet become a universal language. it was pretty confusing.
    Anyhow, it was primarily the bilingual school that etched french fluency into my brain. Without home-schooling, I think there's only so much a parent can do to teach another language, especially in written form.

    HELL yeah Coquette! Brava, jolie. And there you have the extent of MY language abilities, mixing the two words I know, one in French, one in Italian. Sheesh. Does Elvish count?

    so how are your eyes?

    It's very hard to conceive of a future lifestyle without the cultural intakes that make it run through your veins! 100% in agreement with Schuey,I doub't it'll be Kentucky even for you my coquette.

    you are so cracking me up. they will read tintin dammit! because i said so!!! p.s. we are working on the subjunctive en ma classe francais maintenant and it is so not my favorite thing to be doing.

    As another linguistics grad, I can actually give more examples of the subjunctive in english, which people use ALL THE TIME. "If I were rich" "If I had a million dollars" and interestingly, it's formed by using the third person (although the singular, not the plural) JUST LIKE regular verbs in french. Do you see why I am not in fact welcome at parties?
    I was brought up pretty french, insofar as stinky cheese and wine and BD. It has to be acknowledged that tintin is indeed belgian, but don't forget asterix, who is the absolute personification of the french struggle against the americans - I mean romans.

    so amusing! way to go on that eye exam- french classes are funny like that preparing you for literal translations- yet not really for situations that could come up actually being IN France. gasp! And as a girl from Kentucky- some of us do speak a little french- gasp! again! Take care- I'm enjoying your rants on Paris and le francais... Merci et Bonne Chance!

    Growing up in a fairly bilingual region of Canada with Europan French instructors, I was reasonably fluent in French by the end of high school and thanks to a gift for mimicry I acquired a really good accent.

    Now, having spent the last 17 years in an English-only environment my grammar is terrible and I have lost most of the vocabulary, but have retained the accent. Earlier this month while on holiday in St. Martin, I realised the problems this creates as having heard me say hello, French speakers respond in rapid articulate French and leave me to ask in an embarrassed tone (but with an excellent acccent!!!)for them to speak more slowly. They usually then demonstrate their finesse en Anglais.

    So - congrats on the French fluency and don't worry about the accent.

    PS - little girls definitely do learn from thie Moms. I had my 9-year-old out last week in the stores, and she sighed "I just love shopping for shoes, don't you Mom?"

    Thanks to everyone for sharing their stories. It helps. I'm not alone!

    In other news, THE SUBJUNCTIVE EXISTS! I believe you! What I *meant* to say is that we have to conjugate all sorts of things using the special subjunctive endings in French, when you could just use the normal infinitive/other tense form in English. The ones I never mess up because they're so frequently used: Faut que j'aille, faut que je fasse.

    Moral of the story: there's a lot about speaking French I don't know. There's a lot of stuff about A LOT of things I don't know, but, P.S. I DO REALIZE THAT TINTIN IS BELGIAN, THANK YOU.

    I wonder if children learning a parent's "other" language will become even more common as time goes by. My father never learned more than a few words of Afrikaans, although it's what his father grew up speaking, but (from what I understand) assimilation was paramount in the U.S. in the 1940s and '50s. I think that if the same family set-up existed today, he would be much more likely to learn and use Afrikaans at home, even with an American mom.

    Coquette, maybe you're just in a transitional generation (of Americans). And congratulations on getting through the eye exam! I always make them keep flipping back and forth forever: "Ummmm . . . can I see A again? Okay, now B? Weeeelll . . . can I see A again?" and on and on. It's frustrating enough for the doctor and me in English, let alone throwing in the language semi-barrier.

    Posting again to add: Musthavecoffee, I have that exact problem with Spanish! My accent and mannerisms (I think) make people think I'm fluent, which hasn't been the case for 10 years, I'm sad to say.

    When I was nine, I watched On a Marche Sur La Lune (or whatever it's called) and tried to emulate Tintin's haircut on my baby brother, who was working on his Little Lord Faunterloy curls.

    It didn't work out.

    I hate Tintin.

    haha, bravo. i quite like the idea of french speaking children in smalltown mississippi. for lunch they will eat stinky, soft cheese with a crusty baguette, while the other children of tupelo much on bologna between two pieces of wonderbread...

    Coquette is living every American's nightmare...and thriving! Why is it that, after eight years living in France, I still can't convince any friends or family (except my mother, but she comes for her new granddaughter) to come for a visit? Because most of them don't even have a passport! Or else they just can't pull themselves away from Yankee games for a week. Go get 'em Coquette, and if any old mean doctor comes along and barks at you, bonk him over the head with a stale baguette!

    Yeah, I commented yesterday, BUT, I was going from here to there this morning, doing my stuff, and your analogy of being “wheelchair restricted” just wouldn't leave my thoughts.
    It is perfect.
    Exactly the way to describe.....well, um, me too.
    Part of this handicap for me, is this odd ability to have a conversation in French, and when re-telling it to someone else, only able to do THAT, in English.

    I grew up completely bilingual and then learned French and German as an adult. From my experience I learned that I would NEVER want my child to go through what I went through learning languages SO she (because she will be a she) will start learning languages from birth. All of them. It's a good thing I am such a nomad...

    Just a couple of things:

    1) I love this post and am grateful to my commenter Tatyana for bringing it to my attention.

    2) It's still possible to analyze English as having a subjunctive, but it's vestigial at best. Many, many speakers do without it altogether, saying "If I was you..." and the like. (Spare me the "that's not English!" comments, you purists; what English-speakers speak is English, and those speakers are the wave of the future. Your grandchildren will almost certainly have "subjunctives" only in fossilized phrases like "God save the Queen," in which case the subjunctive will have ceased to exist as a verb form.) Even in dialects that keep the subjunctive, it's distinct from the infinitive form only in the third-person singular and it's used only in a few circumstances. It's not at all comparable to the French subjunctive, which is alive and well and has plenty of unpredictable forms to memorize and use.

    Having spent the last 6 months attempting to embrace my French roots in Paris, and also having one anglo parent (father) and one franco parent (mother), I can empathise with your plight. I have "Frenchness in my blood", but was brought up in the UK, with my mother speaking French to me as a child. I have retained a lot, including the accent, but struggle with vocab on occasion - v frustrating. I also find other wholly anglo expats' abilities to manipulate French with far more sophistication than I galling. However, I take comfort in the fact that they will never TRULY be able to utter phrases like MAIS DIS DONC, HEIN! with the same authenticity as we natural born demi-frogs...

    I'm so verily enjoying that professional linguists have come forth to comment on my behalf--thank you Language Hat!

    Everyone else, the time you took to come forth and share your stories--it means a lot. Thank you, thank you.

    Ah, I'm so glad to have found you, ironically via language hat's link to me! for I also took an eye exam in French, in Montreal, and learned how to inset my new contact lenses from someone who did not speak a word of English - I agree, these are small triumphs and we need to celebrate them!

    >>subjunctive tense--a tense which DOESN'T EVEN EXIST IN ENGLISH

    Ohhhhh yes it does Coquette!

    >> Ohhh no it doesn't lizardek! Subjunctive _mood_ there may be, but subjunctive tense, there definitely is not.

    I suffer the same pain as you! I was raised in NYC by two Hispanics. My mother was young when she had me and would speak Spanish. My father would reply in English so...she stopped speaking Spanish! I not only never learned but whenever I would walk in the room if she was on the phone she would start speaking Spanish so I couldn't understand! She used her powers against me. I'm now in South America travelling and I'm lost and confused all the time. I have dark hair and dark eyes and everyone is highly frustrated as to why I don't understand Spanish...I look Spanish. I blame my mother always.

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