The biggest advantages of being in countries where the language is Latin-based, e.g. France, is that the alphabet is essentially the same. Except for a few (yet essential) accent marks it is generally simple to look up a word or phrase in a dictionary and derive the meaning. We couldn’t do that in China.
Yet, we are still struggling. Even though we study and learn new words and phrases, they seem to drop out of our brains as quickly as water through a sieve. Actually, the ones that don’t drop out of our brains we carefully line them up, analyze their position, gender, tense, and potential pronunciation. Then we open our mouths and what comes out is unintelligible gibberish.
In reality though, when we learn five words, only three or four fall out; therefore we are making progress.
The single most significant thing that I miss is the ability to carry on even the simplest discourse. Being unable to say anything but “bonjour” and “merci” and “s’il vous plait” is decidedly limiting. Though I can speak more than that, and I can understand quite a bit, it falls short of anything that one can call conversation. I miss the chat.
But just as a child learns to talk, we too are learning. We relish the small victories. Today in the market we were buying cheese [fromage]. After completing our order with the gentleman behind the counter, I commented that we are learning [nous apprenons], and to the side, one of the young women behind the counter who was watching us, smiled and gave us a thumbs up.
Fortunately, the French seem to have a sense of humor regarding our struggle; I guess simply because it is so bad. Then we revert to our basics: smile, point, and say “s’il vous plait.” When you are in a foreign country and have little command of the language, you readily accept what assistance you can, even pity.
But I really liked that thumbs up!
PS – Today we were visiting our language school. The enrollment is mostly young college students that come to France to study the language. I was standing near 4-5 students who, between practicing their French, were speaking fluent American. I apologized for eavesdropping, but explained that sometimes it really is nice to listen to your native tongue. They laughed and agreed. It was delightful chatting with them, sharing experiences and hearing their plans and goals. Ah, youth.
PPS – Whoo Hoo! We finally got something in our mailbox besides junkmail. The paperwork for finalizing our visa came in our mail today. We have a date for our medical exam and approval process. If all goes well, and it should (fingers crossed), we may be allowed to stay for a while.
Some odds and ends from our wanderings over the past several days.