Monday, June 11, 2012

RÉFLEXIONS SUR LES LANGUES (THOUGHTS ON LANGUAGES)

Caitlin Campbell 
University de Savoie

In 8th grade, when my parents bought me my first French phrase book, I became fascinated by how a common English phrase could be easily translated into a French one. I was amazed by how some English words resembled French ones while some were completely different with strange little accent marks all over them. After 5 years of studying French, that amazement hasn't died down, and now that I'm studying abroad, I've thought about so many other things about languages. From listening to other people's thoughts about how languages sound, to using my French in unusual circumstances, and appreciating how creative languages are, I've realized that language is indeed a study all in its own.
    This past week in my French class, there was a young German girl named No Ra. She reminded me of my sister (who I miss A LOT), so I walked right up and started talking to her. I think I've decided that German accents are one of my favorites. Yes, it does sound harsh. But I also think it sounds beautiful at the same time. All the "chts" and "ines" are sounds that would take me years to perfect. The funny thing is, one day during class when No Ra and I were partners, she told me that she thinks English/American accents are the best. She said that my accent sounds fluid and hip. Imagine that! I always thought my accent was rather dull and boring, but I guess to some, my accent is pretty cool. Okay, I have to admit...one night at a bar, these French guys were telling me and some of my friends that American accents are so hott (hahaha). I wish I could hear my accent with an unfamiliar ear.
    During the week, I have had a couple of circumstances where I had to use my French to communicate with people. For example, during this past week, a woman had been screaming from her apartment while a man would harshly whisper. I would yell in French if she needed help, but the screaming would stop and no one would answer. Since this was a major shade of grey area, I didn't know what to do until the third day when the screaming continued. I finally realized that this woman's safety was more important than my getting into trouble for calling the police. Which is what I did. The operator didn't speak English, so I had to quickly think about (probably the quickest I have ever thought) and translate everything I heard. When the emergency vehicle came, the gentleman said "Ah bien, elle peut parler Francais." I have to admit, I was rather proud of myself. The emergency vehicle men thanked us for calling them. I feel I did some good that day. Another example of my having to use French was with a Japanese friend I made on the way to Grenoble. She didn't speak English, so my friend Ivana and I had to help each other with finding words in order to communicate with her. I was glad we took that chance to talk to her. Every conversation helps me get over that anxiety of speaking French.
   One day, on the way back from class, Ivana and I were talking about how great languages are. We both have admitted that we are kind of nerds and that we like "language talk." We talked about how there are thousands of languages in the world and how every language has words to describe the same objects, feelings, places, and people. We thought that "Yes, people can be dumb, but their ability to speak is pretty amazing." 
    France is amazing. I am having the time of my life here. It's still hard to believe that I am halfway across the world, in a foreign country, trying to speak a language that I wasn't raised in. One thing is for sure...I'm glad I'm a language kid and not a math kid :).

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