French

The Skinny

Once the lingua franca of the known world – at least from a Western Perspective, French is spoken as an official language in 29 countries. It has heavily influenced the English language in terms of vocabulary, and perhaps even grammar (I promise to post on this in a future blog). A romance language, it also has lesser-known, less apparent Germanic origins, which possibly account for much of it’s phonetic system, though not so much in terms of vocabulary or grammar.

Spoken in so many countries, French inevitably has quite a lot of variances. Regionally, within the borders of its patrie, there is quite a pronounced variance of accent from North to South. Across the ocean, as with other European languages, the local varieties of French spoken in Canada are a world apart. The French often profess not to understand the dialect of Quebec, but that may be a bit of an exaggeration. Generally, the French consider their own parlance to be more refined. Agree or disagree, there was actually a time when the Quebecois were considered to command the purest diction.

French is a highly inflected language, though this is more apparent in the written than the spoken form. Indeed, the spoken language has changed and evolved quite a bit since the rules for writing currently in use today were codified. This makes for quite a few differences between the way a word is spelled and the way it’s pronounced.

The Scoop

With a moniker like the language of love how could anyone not want to learn French? Like I said, it’s spoken in 29 countries, and there are so many accents to fascinate anyone who’s a fan of that. French is one of the official languages of the United Nations and it retains a fair degree of it’s prestige on the international stage.

Being able to speak French never fails to impress, and there’s plenty of opportunity when your hobnobbing with the cream of the crop at fancy French restaurants, or enjoying a romantic date. Nothin’ says lovin’ like a croissant in the oven. Er… maybe not. But certainly, some of the most delicious cuisine in the world comes from France, and you’ll need a French cookbook to get the real deal. Now if you’re not a foodie, and have no aspirations of becoming the next Napoleon, there’s still plenty to enjoy by learning to speak like a modern Gaul.

Film buff? French cinema has plenty to offer. Quebec as well produces it’s fair share of film. Both countries, of course, tend to shy away from anything similar to mainstream Hollywood, thankfully. French film is quite real and human, with a romantic twist à la française. Music? Contemporary French music might not be particularly well-known, but there are always the classics. It’s always a pleasure to see la vie en rose.

The challenges? French is a notoriously difficult language to pronounce, and it will take a lot of effort for people to accept you as a true speaker of their language. The French feel about language pretty much the way Americans feel about democracy. No one really does it right but them. It’s tied to the national identity, and very deeply. Still, you’ll find people who are very appreciative of your hard work and effort, and then you get to play in the fun. Word games? Poetry? French has a number of treats that don’t work in English. Holorimes are a favorite of mine. It’s a form of poetry where two verses are read in succession, both sound almost identical except for the pauses between the words. The phonetics are otherwise the same. Here’s an example:

Gall, amant de la Reine, alla, tour magnanime,
Galamment de l’arène à la tour Magne, à Nîmes. (Marc Monnier)

The bottom line? Prestige, culture and a beautiful sound, French has got them all in spades. Even without the sublime appeal of the language, it’d be worth it to be able to enjoy a visit to France, unhindered by language barriers.

The Journal

As an anglophone Canadian, French is the first language I ever learned, and it will be with me forever. It’s probably what spring-boarded my passion for communication. I know I always loved it in school, but I don’t think I really go into it until taking a semi-immersion course in high school.

My first real memory of France? A school trip to Quebec. It was there that I learned how thrilling it can be to enjoy even the simplest of exchanges in language you’ve had to work for. Just ordering a baguette at the boulangerie was an event. The most banal thing became an adventure, and what was normally the easiest of tasks became a delicious challenge.

French for me, will always be le Vieux Québec, the charming streets of the place where I first discovered that Language was Life!

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