International Languages

I speak two languages, three if you count the French I’m learning now. It is the third language that gives me difficulty. Try as I might to express complex ideas or abstract thoughts, French always comes up short compared to my native tongue. When I am not sure how to explain my emotions, or show how much I care about people, or even leave a conversation without seeming rude, I struggle and fumble my way through. My difficulties in self-expression make me feel like I am living a sort of half-life. No matter what I say, people here will only be able to know half of me, the half that I can express in French. It’s worse than feeling like a child; I feel incomplete, like some fundamental piece of me has been stripped away.

But I realize that I also know some other languages, ones that don’t always require words and are international in whatever culture I may find myself. The first language is food. While I can’t claim to be an excellent cook, I do know my way around a kitchen. There is something so comforting about helping mine hostess prepare fruit pies by peeling pears and apples. There are words, but they are not important. The action is what matters, the preparation of the food and the cleaning of dishes afterwards.

The second language I know is music. I’ve actually forgotten most of my formal training, but I know chords now since I play the guitar. Originally it was something that I did for myself. I didn’t need to impress anyone, so I played for my own joy and to feel God’s pleasure. But I am surprised at how many people want to learn the guitar, and how something like music can form a connection between strangers. The letters that matter are the names of the chords and not in the words we speak. The sound that swells rich like chocolate through the air carries our words and our hopes. It is everything we don’t say.

I may not speak perfect French. I hope to one day. But for now, I will use my other languages to connect, to reach other people and to form friendships. And then maybe the half-life will become a little more complete.


8 thoughts on “International Languages

  1. French is a difficult langage, even for native speakers 😉 Do not be discouraged, it takes time to feel confident enough in another language to express your emotions.
    And do not worry too much about excuses: French people are usually direct and are not embarrassed by the politically correct way of doing and saying things. We are not so easily offended as the North Americans. You will learn that with time. Bon courage !

    • Thank you for your encouragement! I think my impatience is partly due to the fact that I am at the point where I can understand so much, but self expression is still elusive. But it’s ok…there is still plenty of time. 🙂 What was your language learning process with English like?

      • I learned at school and spent a whole year listening to the plays performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company that were broadcasted on public television when I was 16. Then I started reading Agatha Christie in English, which gave me quite a good vocabulary. Listening to the radio and television helps a lot. Of course, living in England in my 20s finished the learning perfectly. And I’ve been lucky to always get jobs where I used English a lot on an everyday basis. But I still do read a lot in English, and I think this is an exercise you cannot neglect if you want to improve. And read aloud to practice.
        Don’t hesitate to ask people around you to help in two ways: speak more slowly and correct your mistakes. French people love correcting language errors, and if you show you want to practice and progress they will help you.

      • Shakespeare and Agatha Christie…that’s wonderful! I need to read more in French, because I find that my reading and writing levels significantly lag behind my speaking abilities. Do you have any authors you would recommend?

      • That’s not an easy question. I did a search and found this shortlist:

        Funny that they recommend Le Petit Nicolas, this is such a fantastic story book. I read them again and again when I was a little girl, and now my daughter enjoys them. I read them aloud to her when she was younger and laughed so much. So I highly recommends them.
        “Belle du Seigneur” by Albert Cohen is a beautiful love story.
        The books from Colette are quite good too, not sure she is read now as much as she used to.
        The books from Jules Verne are part of the classic children’s literature too, but complex enough in style and rich in vocabulary. You will need a dictionary along at first I guess.

        I loved “Bel-Ami” from Maupassant when I was younger. And “Le Grand Meaulnes” from Alain-Fournier. Both will be much easier to read than anything from Balzac or Victor Hugo.

        Contemporary authors: I do not read that much French literature, but I tend to grab books from Gallimard in the library (nrf, the famous pale yellow covers) because they are usually excellent authors and I am seldom dissatisfied. I really enjoyed the latest novel from Jérôme Garcin (can’t remember the title), and Alexandre Jardin “Le Zebre” is delightfully romantic.

        Hope this helps. Have fun and share your discoveries.

      • Wow! Thank you for such a detailed response! I am excited to look into these and share what I find. I have a collected story book of Le Petit Nicolas and I love reading those. It’s a good length and pretty easy to understand. I think I would like giving Jules Verne a try. I’ve read some of his works in English, so it might be good to try it in French, especially if the story is familiar.

        Unfortunately the trick is finding the time to read on top of schoolwork, but I think it might just need to be a habit I build back up again. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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