Author Topic: What's your first language?  (Read 6517 times)

fern hill

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What's your first language?
« on: July 17, 2007, 06:46:03 PM »
Just curious.

For me, first and sadly only language is English. I can read simple French, more complicated with a dictionary. I have studied Latin and ancient Greek. I had a year of German in highschool. A couple of conversational Italian classes.

Debra

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What's your first language?
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2007, 07:00:35 PM »
first and only is english.

I really don't have an ear for language, it isn't that I wouldn't like to learn, it's just that I can't hear the words.  :?
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fern hill

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What's your first language?
« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2007, 07:06:02 PM »
Eeeee, she's changed her avatar again. Another dam cat.

About an 'ear': in one of the conversational Italian classes I took, the instructor played Italian pop music *shiver*. Total waste of time for me. I really don't hear lyrics. I have ancient Tom Waits records that still crack me up as I hear some line for the 'first', more likely 91st, time.

skdadl

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What's your first language?
« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2007, 07:08:58 PM »
I speak, read, write, and edit very good English. There were times when I was trying to survive in a pretentious Comp Lit program at U of T when I had to stomp my li'l feet and remind them of that. English is one of the languages, you pompous jerks!

I read French at the level of Diderot and Rousseau, and I understand spoken French, although sadly probably not some regional variants. I have never got over being afraid to speak -- Je manque les mots -- although a couple of days in Paris will jolt me into saying a few things.

I read German with a dictionary. I find German easy and sort of fun, but I didn't study it long enough and have never been to Germany, so I don't know how I would do. Entschuldigen Sie -- mein Taxi.

My Latin was quite good for a time, but I would have to pull out the grammar book now to translate competently. Latin depends almost entirely on grammar, and that is so easy to lose if you're not doing it all the time, which hardly any of us is. My husband could translate Horace at sight into his seventies, which is something. That came from starting Latin studies at age six and carrying on for at least twelve years, with a headmaster caning you all the way through. I never had that experience. My Latin teacher was a lovely woman, younger than I was, who died young of breast cancer but who is remembered fondly by many people like me.

I am charmed by Gaelic, but I haven't the faintest idea how they do that. Why use one letter when you could use a dozen and get the same sound?

skdadl

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What's your first language?
« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2007, 07:21:43 PM »
PS: Italian is definitely next!

The world needs more Italy. Not the Silvios, but the Sophias and the Marcellos.

GDKitty

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What's your first language?
« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2007, 07:25:36 PM »
English is my first language.  I was enrolled in a somewhat failed experiment, "extended French," so I'm left with good reading comprehension, adequate aural, and absolutely hit & miss oral. I took regular French classes beginning in Gr. 4, but signed onto late-immersion in Gr 7, carrying on until the end of high school (that's the 'extended' in Extended French).  

If I am shy in English, I am absolutely paralyzed in french.  I really, really loved learning French and I felt so proud to finally read whole-novels, etc, but it just doesn't "stick" if you're not surrounded by other french-speakers.  I didn't have any room for French in Uni, and my husband doesn't know any non-food-related French (we discovered this during our honeymoon in Montréal; once he'd learned "saumon fumé" he felt he had everything he needed to survive the week).  I coped alright, but felt deeply embarrassed at times  :oops:

Mr. Kitty has been learning some Mandarin from his fellow grad students. Again, mostly food-related, but it's been great fun to listen to him carry on partial-conversations, and his friends are extremely encouraging. He says that Mandarin's a lot more 'logical' than he expected. Very simple rules.

Papal Bull

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« Reply #6 on: July 17, 2007, 07:26:47 PM »
My first language is English. I seem to be able to communicate in it.

I could, until about the age of 13, understand lots of different Slavic languages. I could never speak them, but I could pick out what was being said in Polish, Croatian, Czech, Ukrainian, and probably others that I never heard. I lost that ability as I aged.

As a child I was also quite proficient in French. To this day I can normally understand most of what is being said - not the specifics, just the overview. By the time grade 10 (or 5 or so years ago now) rolled around I had completely stopped caring. During those 5 years I lost the ability to speak it. I can hardly even say "Je ne parle pas Francais" without butchering it noticeably. I figure that it has only been 5 years since I started losing the ability to communicate in that language effectively and I'm going to be taking French courses soon.

Currently I'm studying Russian. I failed to wrap up my first year course, unfortunately, due to my dropping out. But, I can understand any newspaper when I sit down with a dictionary and a grammar guide. My speaking abilities are a little less refined, but I am improving. My Ukrainian and Russian friends are helping me out a great deal with this unbelievable challenge.

In high school I studied Latin and started to touch on Ancient Greek. At a time I could translate most Latin. I took it for two years in high school and took it for two months in university. When I sit down with my Wheelock's for a few hours I start to comprehend things better.

I also took a year of Cantonese. I can pick out place names and could probably get from point a to point b if I were to really, really try.

It is funny, I am actually quite talented with languages. My parent's absolute disdain for the ability to be a polyglot and their complete lack of support for the languages I wanted to study hampered that ability. The fight that it took to allow me to take Russian was epic.
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fern hill

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What's your first language?
« Reply #7 on: July 17, 2007, 07:55:58 PM »
I may have told this story. Back before the interweb, I had a writing gig that involved food and nutrition. The research part required that I call all the provincial Agriculture and Public Health ministries and ask to be sent whatever pamphlets or whatnot they published. So, for Quebec, I wrote out what I was going to say. Basically, that I was calling on behalf of a national health organization and my French was très mauvais which was bien sûr a terrible dommage but would the person answering the phone connect me with someone who spoke l'anglais?

I have a pal who is bilingual so I called her and practised on her. She told me my accent was terrible.

So, I'm nice and sweaty by the time I dial the phone. A woman answers. I give her my spiel. She laughs and says, in French of course, non, non, your French is fine. Even sweatier, I protest, non, non, my French she is terrible, please connect me with an English-speaker.

This goes on for a really long time.

Finally, she relents, switches to English, and we get the deal done.

I hadda go lie down.

skdadl

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What's your first language?
« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2007, 08:13:29 PM »
Why are we all so skeert to speak French?

Why is it such a barrier? In this country? Among people who have studied the language for a decade in school?

Are Canadians neurotic, or what?

kuri

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« Reply #9 on: July 17, 2007, 08:22:57 PM »
Quote from: skdadl
Why are we all so skeert to speak French?


Me, I'd start asking the provincial education ministers. We go about language very strangely in this supposedly bilingual country.

Croghan27

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« Reply #10 on: July 17, 2007, 08:50:24 PM »
My father was born in northern New Brunswick - his first language was Acadien french and he still, when I knew him 60 years later, thought it was a beautiful language. (He also spoke ancient Greek and latin fluently until the end of his life.)

Yet I and all my brothers were born in southern N.B and did not have a chance to speak any kind of French - the whole area was definitely loyalist and anything else was sort of subversive.

In university I became enamoured, for some reason, with the middle english of Chaucer, and used to wander off into some ballads, prayers and (almost) sonets in that.

I am very conscious of my inability to speak another language. Lately I have taken to reading about particle physics, and the language they use is mathematics - as valid a language as any.

The SOURCE, the government website, suggests that you take one day a week and speak in the other language: french speakers use English and English speaker switch to French.

I tried that for a while, until my boss (who is rumered to be a dedicated separatiste' ) asked me not to try french.

Waddaya do? At the moment it is 'stuff it Charlie, it is YOU that has the government offered English for French speakers course - if you cannot understand me that is your problem, not mine. (and he cannot)

I am quite good at my language, TYVM - I have tried to reach out and been rejected - now live with the consequences.
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fern hill

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What's your first language?
« Reply #11 on: July 17, 2007, 09:17:19 PM »
Quote from: skdadl
Why are we all so skeert to speak French?


I had French in Grade 2. In the US. Then Canada for Grade 3 up. No French until Grade 7, then 7 to 13. But French French, not Quebecois French.

Expo 67. I was 14, all revved on Canada like everyone else. Went to Montreal with family. Wanted to show off. Spoke French. Was answered, disdainfully, in English.

Learned a lesson. Lesson hasn't worn off.

ETA: I was 10 starting Grade 7, so I'd had four years of French by 1967. It wasn't baby talk.

Papal Bull

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« Reply #12 on: July 17, 2007, 09:52:58 PM »
You see, I spoke with a Quebecois accent as a kiddo. I learned French-French but never got the hang of the pronunciation. In school I got shit for that until high school. By that time I'd been rebuffed so often in my French attempts with adults (we didn't really know too many Quebecois or Acadians) that I gave up. I think there was a period in grade 7 and 8 and 9 where I was so frustrated with the language that I actively did all I could to just lose all memory of it. By the end of high school I really regretted that choice.
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sparqui

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« Reply #13 on: July 18, 2007, 01:02:44 AM »
My first language was Spanish. Only learned English to speak with my neighbourhood friends and then it was off to kindergarten. My teacher wanted to fail me because I never spoke in class and she assumed that I knew no English. My dad wrote a kick ass comment on that report card and basically told her that I knew English well enough and that the problem was that I was shy and she had failed to gain my trust. In other words, I hated her.

I was a lazy French class student (there was no such thing as immersion in my day). I figured that I was years ahead of everyone because of the similarities to Spanish. As a result, I never studied as hard as I should have to master the grammar. As for Spanish, I never took a formal lesson in my life. I wish I had since my knowledge is all by ear.
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brebis noire

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« Reply #14 on: July 18, 2007, 11:15:25 AM »
Quote
Why are we all so skeert to speak French?

Why is it such a barrier? In this country? Among people who have studied the language for a decade in school?

Are Canadians neurotic, or what?


I'm not sure I can answer that question, but I will hasard a theory.

My first language is English, but I am extremely bilingual because I went full-life immersion at the age of 18 and haven't really looked back. I think if my mother tongue hadn't been English, I would barely speak it anymore. I've seen this happen to people whose mother tongue is relatively unusual, like Ukrainian or Finnish. Thankfully, my mother tongue is English, and because English is so utterly dominant throughout the world and in Canada, it doesn't take much effort for me to maintain my English competence - it's literally everywhere. But it did take much conscious effort to "grow" my written English and not remain in a kind of a linguistic vacuum. (I've seen this happen to some English speakers in Quebec who have adopted French words and expressions as a replacement of common English usage. They still speak English, though sometimes it sounds a bit odd, and their written English is decidedly affected. I know mine sometimes is, I have to go back and correct myself so I sound less foreign.)

The effect of language policy in Quebec cannot be underestimated. It has allowed Quebecois French to grow and evolve, and to acquire a kind of legitimacy that it didn't have as recently as 30 years ago. Older and rural people in Quebec have a whole different lexicon and pronunciation than do people who have been educated in CEGEPs and universities. It's really quite fascinating. It has shown me how language has so many personal, cultural and historical layers - endlessly complicated and entertaining. All living languages and dialects have this, and ones with written and media cultures evolve and change so rapidly it's hard to keep track.

And I think that is where people's reticence to just bust in to situations and speak with their classroom French becomes a problem. It's a very uncomfortable feeling - you instinctively know that you're likely sending out all kinds of wrong signals about yourself, your intentions and your intelligence by breaking pronunciation, grammar and syntax rules - not to mention other more tricky ones.

Honestly, I sometimes wonder if I could do it all over again. I think 18 was pretty old to have done what I did (re immersion), because it really set me back personally and socially. It took me a long time to regain confidence in myself in social situations, and I'm still perceived as a bit of an oddity, though usually it just takes longer for my linguistic oddness to come out. (Naturally, I'm in a particular situation wherein most people around me do not speak English very well at all - I'd have a very different situation if I were living in Montreal.) This is why it's great for kids to learn languages and be exposed to as much difference as possible as young as possible, because they have much less personal habit and baggage to overcome and will learn to speak with much less inhibition as they grow.

That said, as I watch my kids learn both languages, I sometimes wonder what that will mean for their grasp of one language and a single identity. It worries me sometimes, very vaguely.

 

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