So, I've been meaning to give an update on my master-y (I'm laughing heartily at my own word choice) of the French language. And by master-y I mean my ability to communicate at all. If anything, I have learned a great deal about the nuances of translation and developed my own theory on learning a second (or third, or fourth) language.
First of all, I will say my comprehension has skyrocketed, I understand most everything people say, unless they are speaking directly to me. In those cases, I am so taken aback at being addressed that whatever they've said takes a couple extra laps around my brain before it transforms from sounds to words to meaning. But, I seriously enjoy my new ability to eavesdrop on an exponentially larger group of people.
Secondly, to contradict what I've just said about being spoken to, I can actually carry on a conversation. Once the shock of being spoken to wears off, I can get into a rhythm and talk to some people. I am probably my own worst enemy when it comes to conversing, though. What I have learned about myself: I absolutely detest being misunderstood. This goes for English as well. And in English, I have a wonderful breadth of vocabulary at my immediate disposal, which allows me to be specific and express my thoughts and emotions accurately. In French, I have a decent vocabulary, but not one that is comparable to my English. And that frustrates me immensely. When I express thoughts and feelings, it sounds shallower, which makes me prefer listening to speaking.
However, things like buying food, going to the post office, asking the teachers a question, etc. no longer give me the anxiety I first encountered in October. The other day I went to the post office to ask about shipping a box by boat (yes, you can, and yes, it's a very cheap option), and the man and I had a nice conversation about shipping by boat. I don't think he even knew it was possible before I asked him about it, and he looked on his computer. One of my teachers and I talk about the TV show the Big Bang Theory, which I have never seen, but he tells me about "le sarcasme." I talk about food and work and movies and whatever with the girls at the foyer.
For me, the most difficult part of French is the pronunciation. I don't have a very strong foundation in pronunciation. Every French teacher/professor that I have had - except Dr. Grélé in my final year at Memphis - was not a native speaker. While their pronunciation was fine, probably even great, it wasn't something that I spent any amount of time perfecting. Being here has helped me re-examine how I pronounce things and how to think about pronunciation. A great example is the pronunciation of the neighborhood I work in. The neighborhood is called La Roseraie. And when people asked where my schools were, I would tell them, and without fail they would have no idea what I was talking about. And although eventually we could reach an understanding, and they would tell me the correct way to say it, I couldn't quite get my mouth around it. Finally, though, it clicked and while this may mean nothing to many of you, I realized I was pronouncing it more like : rozairey and it should be more like rose-uh-ray. Linguists and phoneticians out there, please forgive my made-up phonetic spellings.
What I have been thinking about the most, though, is the art of translation. This may seem a banal revelation, but I honestly believe most people don't think about language this way: no matter what you do, speaking another language cannot be a translation of your own.
Yes, many nouns and verbs have direct counterparts between - and amongst - languages. But, if you keep a "translation" mentality when speaking another language, you will not master a language. So many words have more than one meaning and meaning is never a direct translation. For example, the word "toujours" translates most frequently to "always." But it can also mean "still," as in il travaille toujours? which means "he's still working?" Maybe this isn't the best example, but what I've been thinking about is that because the French have just the one word that can be used in both senses, they aren't thinking of it as "always" vs. "still." The sentence makes sense to them without having to address both meanings of the word.
My point is this: when learning another language, you obviously must begin with every word as a direct translation from your mother tongue. But when trying to gain fluency, the translation should be left by the wayside. Rather, it is best to think of words in terms of the sense in the language.
I am going to think more about this because I think it can be better expressed, and I am having difficulty with it.
This is a picture of Angers.