Parlez-vous français?

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Gabon is a French speaking country (I guess that is what happens when you are colonized by France.)  Most people do not speak English and by that, I mean they don't know a single word in English.  Sometimes they'll tell you they do or even reply with a "I speak small-small English," but small-small is practically nothing.  When I had to get blood taken here I asked the nurse if she spoke English and she replied yes.  I proceeded to tell her that sometimes I faint after I give blood (yes, I know I'm a wimp) and she nodded along.  Well let me tell you, she certainly didn't understand me when I was beginning to black out and asking for water and something cold for my neck (I'm a pro at this) as she is wondering why I'm telling her my neck is cold.

I took a lot of French in school.  I followed it all the way through high school and continued in University where I know that my knowledge of the language was at it's peak.  I took my last French class in the second semester of my third year and resumed using the language after I was hired as a French as a Second Language teacher.  After 3 years of teaching ER verbs in the present tense, the alphabet, numbers, and various units on random vocabulary, I needed a break and when I moved to Grande Prairie, French dropped completely off my radar for the next 2 years.

When we learnt that we were coming here I thought it would be a great opportunity to return to the language.  Apparently, my hiatus from the language in Grande Prairie and 3 years of teaching ABC's before that had a terrible effect on my language retention.  When we first arrived I felt like I knew nothing at all.  I was stumbling over the simplest of things and struggling to find words that I had once known.  Silly me never even brought a French-English dictionary and without access to the internet for a few months, it made it really difficult.  Even now, 4 months later, I am still struggling with different verb tenses and remembering which are used with avoir and which with être.  I even find myself wishing I had packed all of my old French notebooks just to give myself a little refresher course.

At the beginning, we had Cardin at our disposal for most things and although his English wasn't great, we could often get across what we needed to him and he'd do all the talking.  Both Joe and I, moreso me, pretended we knew nearly no French.  As time went on, I got a little more confident and as Cardin began working more and more for other people, I was left to my own devices.  Sometimes I surprise myself and the language just flows out of me while other times I'm not so eloquent.  Joe keeps telling me he is going to resume his studies (Rosetta Stone) but he hasn't yet.  He does understand some of the conversations but he often relies on me to speak or translate.

There are times where we both just wish we were French as it would be so much easier like when you are really angry at someone for not doing what they're supposed to, or when there's a problem and you need to phone someone because understanding French over the phone is a whole different story, and especially, when someone is trying to bullshit you and you know they are but just don't have the words to argue about it.  It's coming back, slowly but surely and my confidence increases everyday but I won't lie, I am so looking forward to returning to Canada for a couple of weeks just so I can give my brain a break from perpetual translation.


  1. You're amazing...I don't think I am going to ever learn to understand, let along speak, Singlish!

  2. A fact of life........If you don't use it you lose it!!!!! Last winter K & K told me ----- forget the grammar,use the basics.OXXO

  3. You are definitely right! Most of the time I do forget the grammar and just get the basics across however, those darn French people are a little sensitive about their language so I do want to re-learn the rules so that I'm saying things correctly.

  4. Singlish? I didn't know there was such a thing!


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