Today I was sitting on the metro, when I noticed a profoundly disabled woman sitting on a seat not far away. She was mumbling to herself a little and talking herself through what she had done and what she was about to do. People near her were looking distinctly uncomfortable and no-one seemed to choose to sit in the seat next to hers.
I couldn’t help being full of admiration for her. Despite the fact that society as a rule feels awkward in the face of externalised behaviour, I spent that journey thinking that how amazing she was. The total mastery of a language in the face of adversity. Despite the fact that I have all my limbs, and no obvious mental issues, I face daily the frustration and the feeling of inadequacy which comes of an inability to master the French language. No matter how many French books I read, nor how often I chat to people during the day, somehow my brain just will not store and sort the information I give it. Yet this woman, despite all her disabilities had succeeded, probably without even being aware of it, with something that I find so difficult. Does she even realise how hard the french language is?
Yesterday I sent an email to a French mother to let her know that I had all I needed to get on with some craft for the school ‘Marché de Noel’. At the end I added a quick note apologising for the fact I had probably needed to use the subjunctive tense and that my grammar was ropey.
Her reply was as follows:
“merci pour ton mot.
Pour la grammaire ,c’était:”j’ai tout ce qu’il me faut’ ou ‘j’ai tout ce dont j’ai besoin’ ou encore ‘j’ai tout trouvé”
Not only had I got it wrong, but there were at least three correct ways of saying it!
We take language for granted. When do we ever stop to realise what a huge achievement it is to communicate fluently. To take on a disability mid-life is a humbling experience. Mastering the art of communication is an incredible ability.
So “Keep talking” I thought of the woman ” You are so skilled …
and I could learn a thing or two!”
How true this post is! I’ve been speaking French since the womb and believe me, there are still words I do not know. Especially really random words that don’t come up in every day conversation. I still have yet to understand what the word “echeant” means, yet I see it in formal documents all the time!
And I’ve been learning Spanish for ten years now and I only improved once I moved to Spain for two years. You probably speak better than you think you do. And your French can only improve the longer you stay in France. The fact you even put an effort into learning and speaking probably make the French people love you!
Thanks Amelie. I too keep seeing ‘echeant’. According to google it means ‘any’. Can that be right? I shall have to see if that makes sense next time I see it written! I keep reading books by the same author because I find each author has their own specific vocabulary and the more times I read the same word in different contexts, the more the word makes sense, without ever referring to a dictionary. I suppose thats how we learn our native language when we are children! The trouble is that the brain slows down a lot once you pass 25!
Hello there! This post couldn’t be written much better! Going through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He always kept preaching about this. I most certainly will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he’s going to have a great read. Many thanks for sharing!
Exactly !! We have the worst public transport in France i think !! I’m from Rouen too ! Your blog is so pleasant, and it’s funny to have an other see of Rouen thanks to your blog ! 🙂
Please excuse my english, i don’t practice so much anymore 🙂