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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Je Recommence avec le Français (ou Je reprends le Français)

(starting over with French)
I am comfortable enough with my Spanish that I’ve finally taken steps to improve my French. I had my first class this morning. I had to bike over to Cabanyal (Cabañal in Spanish) which is a great neighborhood (un très beau quartier*). It only took me 20 minutes to cycle over there so I had time to sit at a nice café and have a couple cups of coffee. I never have more than one cup of coffee in a café but I left the house this morning without my usual ration of strong American brew.  I was early enough to have almost 30 minutes to study before my class.

From the moment I rang my new teacher's buzzer I spoke French. She answered and told me her floor. I was really surprised that I was able to carry on a decent conversation all in French with only the occasional lapse into Spanish. I also got less confused speaking French than I thought I would. In fact, I had more trouble switching back to Spanish at the end of our hour when I wanted to talk a bit about my schedule with her and I thought it would be clearer if we spoke Spanish. I understood absolutely everything she said during the class so I don't know why I was suddenly doubting myself in French. My French has improved greatly by the mere fact that my Spanish is so much better now.

For my first project in French I am going to read a translation of Alex Garland’s The Beach that I bought a few months back. Translations are always easier to read than originals.  The fact that I am now paying money for a teacher I think will give me proper motivation to work on my French on a fairly consistent basis. One thing that I have learned from studying Spanish is that dictionaries are almost completely fucking worthless, at least the old fashioned book versions. I never bother using anything but www.wordreference.com these days. If I am reading something away from home I just underline the word in red ink and look it up when I get back to my computer.  Unless the word is a simple noun, regular dictionary definitions are usually inadequate.

Another thing that I have learned from studying Spanish is that mastering another language is a long and arduous undertaking. If you are in a hurry you had better find some other hobby. I already can get by perfectly well when I travel in France; I just want to be able to read a lot better. Of course, I am always thinking that I will live in Paris one day although the longer I live in Valencia on the lovely Mediterranean the more I think that any move to Paris would be temporary—I just need to get it out of my system.  

*I had to use that word Quartier because I couldn’t think of it in class and if I don’t use it again soon I will forget it.

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