Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ouais Spik Inglesch

The title is actually something I saw on a sign outside of a restaurant in Nantes.  I didn't take a picture, but I wish I had.  If you are confused, it is a French phoenetic-ish spelling of "We speak English."

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.

This is what "la manifestation" looks like

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oh la la! si français...

I had a "so French" moment a week or so ago that really needs to be shared.  I was riding home on my bike from one of my schools.  My schedule has changed, so now I don't leave Marcel Pagnol until school lets out at 4:45.  (I should mention that I go to Marcel Pagnol on Friday afternoon, so my schedule has become even more fabulous: my only late day is Friday.)  Anyway, one of my other schools, Jacques Prévert, is on my way home, so I rode past when all of the kids were just leaving school with their parents.

As soon as I turned the corner I started hearing, "Ms. Allie, Ms. Allie!"  (French children pronounce my name like aa-LEE).  I smiled and waved and kept riding. Then one of the little CP girls started chasing after me.
 "Allie! Allie!" she yelled, running down the sidewalk and across the crosswalk.

It was windy, and my hair streamed behind me in the wind.  And I laughed to myself because it was so cliché that it was awesome.

In other news, Franzi came to France, and we pretty much had a terrific time.
This is what we did: walked around and sat in the parks of Angers, had a curry that I made, went to a super fun party chez Max, slept in, went to the beach at Lac de Maine, had a delicious dinner out-to-eat, went to a quieter but still fun party, slept in some more, went to Gallerie David d'Angers, had some pastries.
Franziska couldn't have timed her visit more perfectly. It was a three-day weekend, and although she left Sunday, neither of us had to rush too much; we knew we could get stuff done on the Monday.  The weather was perfect.  Actually it was warm then it was hot.  I don't think I've been that hot since I've been in Europe. It was like being home, and I loved it.
Not to mention, it was really great to hang out with her.  I have been rather melancholy as of late, which is the result of a strange vacillation between wanting to go home and see my boyfriend and friends and mourning the end of my year in France.  So, it was great to have a good friend around to distract me. Plus, she did the whole year abroad thing - that would be in Memphis - so she's probably the best person with whom I can commiserate the mixed emotions of imminent departure.

In other news, everyone in France decided to strike today.  Buses, trains, and teachers are all exercising their right to stike (on a la droit de faire la grève: n'importe où, n'importe quand).  It doesn't bother me too much because I take my bike to work anyway. But this morning, I went to my first school, and there was absolutely no one there.  I didn't even realize it at first because the doors were unlocked, so I just went into the teacher's lounge and did the things I normally do to get ready.  It was very quiet, but it didn't register until I walked to the wing where my classes are.  I'm not even sure those teachers were striking.  At my other school, my dreaded CP class's teacher was striking, so I only helped with CM1 and left for the day.
I did get to see la manifestation, a parade of sorts with all sorts of people with flags and a guy with a bullhorn.  They marched down Avenue Foch yelling some things. They didn't all seem to be from the same group. It was strange.

Oh la la!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Things to do before you die:

See the pope √

I'm not Catholic.  Most of you know that.  I was baptized Catholic, then my family moved to Memphis, and we switched to what my Dad calls "Catholic Light," i.e. Methodist.  I like Methodists; they're nice people.

Anyway, this past weekend was a long weekend.  Thursday was Jour de l'Ascension, and to make a long weekend out of it, the primary schools faire le pont d'ascension.  They "make the Ascension bridge" and move the Friday schedule to Wednesday.  So Elvynia and I made the best of the long weekend and went to a place where we thought it would be warm and sunny.

Did I mention that Angers had a second winter?  After all that talk of the great weather, Mother Nature decided we didn't deserve sun and warmth, and it was freaking cold for another week and a half.  It was like it was February again, and I was miserable.  And off we flew to Porto.

Porto is a nice city.  Our Ryan Air flight was, of course, delayed, so we didn't arrive until after midnight, so we were unable to take public transport to our hostel.  We took a cab and, thankfully, were not screwed over.  We stayed in a pretty nice hostel in Porto, the Andarilho Oporto Hostel.  Well it was nice except for the beds and the lack of heating.  I guess I can't complain since it was about €15/night.
Friday morning, we asked the guy who ran the hostel what we should do, he told us to avoid a large section of the city because... the Pope was there.  I suppose he was trying to be helpful and advise us to avoid the crowd, but, seriously, why would we pass up an opportunity to see the Pope?  Even if you hate him, you have to admit he's kind of a big deal.  So to the Pope we went.

It was pretty much what you'd expect in a Catholic country.  Lots and lots of people filled the streets, waving flags with the his face on them.  They were singing hymns (or whatever they're called if they're called something different in the Catholic church.)  We didn't get very close, but I could see lots of the red-robed bishop people, and I could kind of make out the main dude amongst them.  There was a big screen next to them, however, and I definitely saw the Pope - in his hat - on the screen.

Then we wandered away.  We had some requisite cheap Portuguese food, fish sandwiches and the delicious Nata pastry.  We wandered some more; we went to the river side and had an awkward interaction with a port wine seller, which resulted in us buying a mini-bottle and drinking it on a bench.  It was pretty good.  Then we climbed a million steps back up to the city and got a bit lost, but we found the hostel.
The thing about Porto is there just doesn't seem to be a ton going on.  In Lisbon, there were lots of people and restaurants and bars and pastry shops.  In Porto, it was difficult to find things that were open. We weren't sure if it was the Pope's fault or not.  Friday night we went on a long, long quest to find dinner and ended up eating around 10pm.  It was good: salmon with potatoes and vegetables.  It was also cheap. Each of us paid just under €8 for quite a bit of food.  That night we started talking to some other people at the hostel, and we all went for a drink, which was fun.

On Saturday, after some unintentional, preemptive shopping, we took an afternoon train to Espinho to see the ocean!  It was a little too chilly and waaayy too windy to do much, so we sat on some rocks in the sun for a while then went on a quest for fresh seafood.  We ended up at a nice restaurant where we sat upstairs and had an ocean view.  We ended up getting a menu that included bread with butter and anchovy spread, olives, vegetable soup, fish stew, desert, and either half or a whole bottle of wine.  It was delicious.  (And again very cheap... a meal of those proportions in France would be at least €20/person.  We paid €12.50 each.  I love Portugal.)
The stew came in a HUGE pot for the two of us to share.  We did not finish it.  We barely ate half of it; it was just a ton of food.  The wine was a little confusing, as he left a whole bottle on the table, and we had thought it included half a bottle.  We didn't drink all of it, but it was, apparently, included in the price.

After sitting a long time to digest, we walked back along the beach to take a train to Porto.  We did a little more shopping around, then went back to the hostel to rest.  We grabbed a couple more pastries to say farewell to the land of cheap and delicious food and then retired to pack...

Sunday we spent entirely too long traveling back to Angers.  When I am old and rich, I will buy direct flights everywhere, regardless of price.  Until then, traveling goes something like it did Sunday: metro to Airport: 30 minutes. Sitting in airport: 1-2 hours, Flight: 2 hours, Bus from Beauvais Airport to Paris: 1 hours 20 minutes, Metro from bus station to train station: 20 minutes, Sitting around train station: 1.5 hours, Cheap train to Angers: 2.5 hours to Le Mans then 40 minutes to Angers, Walk from train station to the Foyer of Good Advice: 10 minutes.
It was a long day, but I spent a lot of that time reading.  And a day spent reading is never a waste.

The conclusion: even though Porto wasn't as exciting as Lisbon, it had it's appeal.  Plus, we are tired teachairs, so sitting next to the river and the ocean and drinking and eating were major highlights of the trip, as far as I'm concerned.

Next on the agenda: Franzi does France! She's coming next weekend! I'm so excited.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The 1st of May: Attitude Readjustment.

(photo by the amazing Elvynia)

It is the the 1st of May.  Do you know what that means?  We have made it through 1/3 of the year.  ONE THIRD?!?!  Doesn't that seem crazy?  When did time suddenly start flying by all the time?
What does that mean for me and La Vie Française?
Well I have exactly 2 months left on my contract, and approximately 2 and a half months left in Europe.  I haven't bought a ticket home yet, which I probably should do soon.

Anyway, I'm also trying to approach teaching with a better attitude.  It's a little late, Allie, you might say.  But hear me out:  I started with a good attitude.  And at times, I've really enjoyed those little (cough cough) kids. Though by about mid-January, I would say, I was just worn out, along with all the other teachers.  And in Mid-January, there's not much to cheer you up.  The weather sucks.  You don't see the sun for weeks.  It's cold. Your room is so poorly insulated that you sleep in several layers, socks, slippers, and a wool sweater, and you have to put duct tape over the cracks in your window to lessen the wind tunnel effect your room has....  Then you have to go to work and deal with children who are stir-crazy for the same reasons.
Now, however, it is May, and it is beautiful out.

(A note about April: In April, French people feel that almost anything can be explained by the fact that it's April.  For example: the weather was crazy and would go from sunny and cold to pouring rain to not as cold to hailing back to sunny in a matter of minutes.  The explanation: It's April.  There were train strikes making transportation in France the most frustrating and stressful experience ever. It's April.  There seemed to be more absurd things that were answered with "It's April," but I can't think of them now.  Therefore, Allie's reason for not updating her blog: It was April.)

And because it is May and beautiful and sunny, I have decided to change my attitude, I am going to come to school each day with a sense of humor.  This worked out pretty well this week.  I just laughed when the kids said ridiculous things.  We're learning how to say "Where are you from?" "I am from..."
The cool thing is that at one of my schools, my kids are from lots of places.  So it was kind of fun to hear where they (or their parents) were from, and they got a kick out of the Anglicized pronunciation.
Here's where I have kids from: France, Algeria, Morocco, Cameroon, Chad, Turkey, Italy, Reunion, Congo, New Caledonia, India, Russia, Chechnya, and I think there's more.
More than one kid was convinced that Marseille was somewhere other than France.  They ignored me when I tried to explain that it was, in fact, a city IN France.  Although, I will give them credit and say it is very different from Angers.  It is also on my to-do list for places to go back to before I leave.

This good humor thing lasted pretty well too.  Until Friday afternoon when I was tired, and I started threatening my last class with copying lines if they didn't shut up.  I can handle a bit of chattering, but there's this one kid in the front row of my CE1/CE2 class that just talks and talks.  The teacher even moved the kid next to him, so he wouldn't have anyone to talk to. And he continued to talk, just right in front of my face.  I will admit I cut loose a little on him, in English.  I basically said, "Would you stop talking, you're driving me insane!" And I hit his desk.  He didn't seem to mind too much, as he started talking again about 3 and half minutes later.  I prefer it if they're talking in the back, so I can ignore them.

Also, although I've told most people what I'm doing next year, I thought I should share on here, for those  people I'm not in constant email conversation with.

I will be attending McNeese State University next year.  I will be in the MFA program for creative writing in fiction, and I will, over the course of the three year program, also receive an MA in English Literature.
Now, this is exciting for a number of reason. The first and foremost being that I am incredibly excited to start my masters.  But reason 1a is that this is the same program as Kevin.
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but MFA programs are competitive because if they provide funding, there's just not a ton of spots available.  So, to get into the same program as Kevin was pretty damn cool.
The other reasons I am excited: living in a new place, being in a program where I can write, eating fresh seafood.

There is funding involved in the form of a teaching assistantship, so I'll be teaching two sections of remedial English in the fall and living off of a stipend.

Finally, this Wednesday, I had the best day ever.  I'm learning if you make yourself have a great day, it will happen.  I got a run in the day before, so I didn't have to deal with that.  I didn't have any tutoring engagements.  So what did I do?
I went to a café and had coffee and sat in the sun with my notebook.  I sat in the park and read. I went to the library and checked out 3 books.  I had a delicious galette for lunch.  Then I went to the river with Sam and Elvynia and sat for a long time.
Lauren said this sounded very European.  I hate to say I was living the cliché, but I sure did enjoy the hell out of it

Sooo woohoo for May!  I'm ready to face the next month of insane children with a laugh.

(note: picture at the top of the post was taken by Elvynia in the Keukenhof in the Netherlands, which I will talk about next time.)