Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cette Langue Francaise

Carlo’s comment about the correct way to write my blog's address got me thinking of the whole torturous process of learning to write and speak French.

I started studying French on a whim some years back. I had to attend a wedding meeting at the National Theatre gardens and since I was early I decided to walk around. While I was walking I saw a banner announcing the beginning of a new term at L’Alliance Francaise. I decided to go upstairs and check out this alliance place. I got into a conversation with the cute receptinist and walked out 20 minutes later having signed up for a beginner’s course and a number of headaches.

I soon discovered that English and French were oceans apart. The first headache was learning the gender of everything from a house (female) through to a wall (male) down to a stone (female). I tried to discover a formula to getting these genders and I couldn’t. The whole gender business complicates other issues too. For example, the adjective describing a noun is spelt according to the gender of the noun. Black is either noir or noire depending on the gender of the noun it is describing. None of that one-spelling-fits all for those guys.

There are so many silent letters in French that I believe the french pronounce only a third of what they write. The pronounciation is not helped by having to learn the meaning of all those frilly thingies that are balancing on top of letters or hanging on for dear life below them with names like accent circonflexe, cedille etc

Then there are all those tenses, some of which you will readily be told are not used in real life but you have to learn them anyway (passé simple, being an example). You either speak perfect French or none at all. There is also all that dilemma of when to use vous or tu while addressing somebody (tutoyer ou ne pas tutoyer, c'est la question). They are both the same as “you” in English, but usage differs depending on how you relate to the person you are talking to.

The lessons I really enjoyed were the ones on civilisation (never became comfortable with the word though), which were mostly about French culture. You can’t learn French without having a healthy dollop of culture and history thrown into the lessons. Although I just didn’t see how the heroics of Vercengentorix and his brave Gauls would help me when I wanted to ask for directions.

In all fairness, I must say I was learning French as a hobby and I dedicated only 1 hour a day to classes. I did eventually become OK at reading, but writing and speaking (especially speaking) just seemed to elude me. I hardly ever practiced speech outside class but I tried and gave up on listening to RFI or watching TV5 (those guys spoke to damn fast). The odd thing is that when I would meet frech speaking Rwandese or Congolese guys here in Kampala, I found it easier to understand them.

I hang in there long enough to get my Certificat d’Etudes de Français Pratique. This basically means I can read signposts, order in restaurants and do simple haggling in a flea market, but I can’t blog in French or engage in a discourse on the discontent of the French youth in the banlieues (suburbs).

Having said all that, I developed interest in the language and I do always try to read articles and listen to news in French when I can. I will go back to class soon, I just don't know when.

1 comment:

Carlo said...

hang in there bro. you'll get it someday. i'm still trying and i'm doing varsity french!! c'est la vie, n'est-ce pas?