07 September 2008

Une réflexion sur la langue

A reflection on being (mildly) French-speaking Americans abroad: I continually find it bizarre to be a group of American college students speaking French together on the streets of Paris. There’s something about it that seems backwards, topsy-turvy. These same friends and I would most likely have been speaking English back at Smith except for a few strained situations at the French table or French department events. But here, we are sliding easily into the habit of conversations, text messages and Facebook-wall posts in French.

Sure our French is a little muddled at times and generally spoken at a much slower pace than the sharp, quick jabs of those around us, but it’s French in its own right. I always wonder what those around us think upon hearing our jumbled French. I imagine the Parisians finding it curious since they can easily tell we are American. And I always wonder if – or hope that – some American tourists might mistake us for French upon hearing us speak.

Trying to speak in French at all times has been fun as well as challenging. Sometimes it becomes a game to describe something for which I don’t really have the words or tiptoe around an idea until I’ve captured what I meant to say. But it’s also very exhausting. It sometimes takes twice the words for me to get at a simple idea, and by the end of the day my brain is fatigued.

That’s why it was nice to spend Saturday chatting with my friends and classmates in English. I know we broke the code, but after a week of diligence a day’s slippage isn’t too bad. I hope that as the year progresses though, speaking in French will feel more and more natural even among my American friends.

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