Friday, 18 April 2014

Language

Posted by Rosie
The Reading Residence

Language

ˈlaNGgwij/
noun

the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.


I love language, both written and spoken.  I love the history of words and the way language develops.  I love writing and I love a good chitter chatter with friends.  I am a native English speaker but as an ex pat in living in France I can also speak French to some degree. I arrived here nearly 7 years ago with O' Level French and through lessons, talking, reading, watching TV and various other means I have slowly increased by vocabulary and improved my grammar a bit.  Now I can get by OK in a wide variety of subjects and am fairly confident on the phone so long as the other person slows down a bit for me.


The boys arrived here with no French but aged 4 and 5 their brains were at that stage when they would absorb any language they were immersed in.  Whilst for the first week or so they were a bit lost at school within a month they were getting by and now they are fluent to the point that French speakers do not realise they are English until I speak and let the side down!


I will never get to that level of fluency - I will always have an English accent and I will never, I doubt, get to the talking the language like a naive born French person.  This weekend we had French guests in the gite (my French is good enough to arrange that) and on Saturday night we ended up having an impromptu BBQ with them and our French friends who were here - now that is where my lack of real language skills becomes much more evident. There were more people talking at once so concentrating is harder and once a few wines had been drunk the speed of talking increased and the language became more relaxed. Then more idioms tend to get used.  

With idioms I can often understand all the words said but have no idea of the actual meaning.  A classic (that I do now know) is "Tomber dans les pommes". It literally means to fall in the apples and refers to when someone faints! Or what about "Avoir un poil dans le main"? It translates as "to have a hair in the hand" and means that some-one is lazy!  And what about things are are just known about.  People of a certain age may well understand what I mean if I were to say (in a disapproving voice) "Language, Timothy!" but many others would have no idea!*  Now add in all the proverbs, expressions, local variants, accents and abbreviations native speakers use and I am lost!  Both French and English is littered with these uses of language and I bet if you were to record your spoken language for a whole day you would have used them hundreds of times without even realising. As for what they were speaking about - I know it was about films and I heard mention of horror and Will Smith - over and above that I have no idea!

Language is something we take for granted until we are in a foreign country and our native language isn't spoken.  Suddenly with this important facet removed from us we can be extremely helpless.  I will therefore keep working on trying to improve my French language skills so the next time our guests are discussing what-ever it was about Will Smith they found so interesting, I will understand.


If anyone loves learning about the history of words, I recently read The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth and highly recommend it.  It may not help you speak a foreign language but it will give you an insight into how interconnected many languages are and you might be surprised at the history of some of our words.


Do you speak more than one language? Are you fluent or just good enough to ask for a beer and a glass of wine?  Or do you have a language faux pas you would like to share with us?

* "Language, Timothy!" was the catchphrase from the 80's sitcom "Sorry" starring Ronnie Corbett as a downtrodden 40 something son still living at home who mother frequently uttered these words.

34 comments :

  1. I love etymology! Sometimes when I talk to people (I seldom do) I get to dissect the words in my head and I get lost in the conversation cuz of this =P #WOTW

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    1. In that case if you can get hold of The Etymologicon you will love it!

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  2. Unfortunately I speak just English, and a little Welsh, although I can get by with a few words in French and Italian.

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    1. Welsh is completely alien to me but with my French I can read and understand a little bit of Italian and Spanish.

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  3. I'd never given any thought to sayings in foreign languages, though as I write this I am reminded that I was taught the French for April Fools was "Poisson D'Avril" which is April Fish. There are a few things I say in English to my (English) kids and they look at me as though I'm mad as they don't understand the reference, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for you in a foreign language! #PoCoLo

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    1. Frustrating indeed but I do have a few sayings I now know and can use.

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  4. I like language, too, and enjoyed studying the history of the English language for my A levels and getting an understanding of where words come from and how our language has evolved. But alas, I only speak English fluently. I've a poor grasp or French, just enough to get by on holiday, and an even weaker Spanish. Lovely that your boys speak it so fluently, as that is a perfect age for picking it up. Thanks for sharing with #WotW

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    1. I rearly did English Language A level (along with French and German) but at the last moment switched to Sciences! I would love to have the chance to do more language study.

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  5. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to speak a second language, Spanish. I lived in the Canary Islands for nearly 7 years and learnt to speak, read and write in Spanish. I even developed the accent as it was the only language that I spoke apart from when I rang home. I tried to teach my eldest but I think that living in the country is an amazing way to learn x #WotW

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    1. Living in a foreign country is the only way to truly learn a language for most people and with no English at school it is little wonder the boys are so proficient. We still speak too much English at home amongst family and friends and that holds my language development back.

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  6. Your boys are so lucky to have been given the experience to live in another country and perfect another language.
    I don't speak any languages other than English very well - a little French - maybe one day I'll come and stay in your lovely Gites to brush up those rusty skills!
    Emma :-)

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    1. Thank you and we would love to see you here one day Emma - just get the boys to help you with your French, not me!!

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  7. I am useless at languages but I trained to teach English as a Foreign Language a few years ago and that made me understand just what a mammoth task it is to grapple with English in particular - I think we probably have more idioms than a lot of other countries and the order of words is so specific (it has to be a big red bus, not a red big bus, etc.) I'm in awe of people who can speak another language fluently. I love learning about how idioms came about as well - its fascinating. I read a book once about the Battle of Trafalgar and there's loads of idioms that came from maritime history like 'On the fiddle' (the fiddle was the rim of your plate, so if you had more than your allowance of food, it spilt over onto the fiddle). #WotW

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    1. That's brilliant about the fiddle - I didn't know that although did know our maritime history gave us a lot of idioms. As for English I wonder how anyone gets to grips with it!

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  8. When at school I spoke French and Italian fairly well, but now I can just about manage to order a beer (I can do that in Spanish and Portuguese too!). I wish I could speak another language fluently, although now living in the US there are moments when I don't understand what they are talking about! #WotW

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    1. LOL I know what you mean about accents and cultural differences in English. I recently watched "The Angle's Share", (a Glaswegian film) in English with French subtitles and occasionally needed the subtitles to understand what they were saying!

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  9. I studied lots of languages at school and I love the way they are all interlinked. I find the origin of proverbs and idioms fascinating too.

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    1. If you have not read The Etymologicon then you will love it ... and possibly never eat an avocado again!

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  10. I am hopeless when it comes to languages. We have difficulties all the time as my autistic son is very literal and I speak in very confusing idioms and metaphors. Even 'every day' expressions puzzle him. It's so difficult to stop doing it too :-S

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    1. I used to work with autistic children so I know exactly what you mean about not using idioms when in fact we use them so often.

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  11. I love languages. I wouldn't say I was a natural linguist, but I can speak one foreign language quite well and another to a reasonable level. I've dabbled in lots of others. Like you I find the origins of words fascinating.

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    1. I would love to resurrect the German I learnt at school.

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  12. How interesting! The only French I know is the basics which I learned at school many, many years ago! lol

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    1. But I bet it's enough to get you a glass of wine or baguette!

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  13. i LOVE language :) i think the best way to learn 'real' language is to do what you have do and completely immerse yourself in it. my hubby is kurdish so i have picked up bits of kurdish but i feel like there is so much i will NEVER understand! #WotW

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    1. Ooh Kurdish I know nothing about - what language is it like?

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  14. I love that your kids got so immersed right away! I bet they are teaching you things now and feel so proud of themselves! I don't know what a gite is, but I gathered from your description what it was. What a great learning experience for all of you as a family! As a speech therapist, I always thought etymology was so interesting!
    I used to be pretty fluent in spanish when I graduated high school and then worded at a gym with a ton of spanish speaking people, but 10 years later leaves me only speaking Dora spanish!!

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    1. Gite = French for holiday cottage (as you now know!). We did feel a bit guilty leaving the boys at school on the first day but it is by far the best way to learn a language and yes, they do now teach us words!

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  15. This is such an amazing experience for your kids. I've always wanted to learn a language and be fluent. Although I took 3 years of Spanish, (years ago) I've forgotten most. Never fully immersed, everything is gone. So congrats to you on your learning another language and knowing it well enough to communicate. Even if it is at a little bit slower pace.

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    1. Thank you Linda - I may never be fluent but the boys are !!

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  16. I spoke quite a lot of languages when I was young (about six) but currently am absolutely hopeless at all of them because I'm out of practice.

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    1. My German is like that! Wow - 6 languages is impressive!

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  17. I love the idea of learning another language (or two), but only have a little bit of GCSE Spanish under my belt. I have always thought that it would be fairly straightforward to learn enough of another language to get by. But I have always wondered if you lose any personality, for example how much of your humour can you convey in a language you're not fluent in? Can you use the same changes in intonation to convey subtle changes in the meaning of your sentence in the same way you would in your native language? I'll probably never know.. Great post.

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    1. You are right about losing some humour and subtlety when you are not fluent in a language - you tend to make up for it with facial expressions and gestures though!

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