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How To Succeed

February 4, 2015

I got back a few hours ago from Québec, and have been decompressing while watching the kids.  Aside from the fact that I’m exhausted (I had to get up at 2:30 AM to start my trip home), it’s also given me time to internalize the part of the experience that’s relevant for this blog. 🙂  (Let me know if you want to hear me babble about my curling.)

I’ve kind-of, sort-of been to Canada before.  I’ve been to Toronto for a short trip, and I’ve been to Niagara Falls numerous times, but that’s Ontario.  Like many US citizens, we somewhat look to the north as being something of an extension of our country in a lot of ways – the language is similar, we have a similar heritage (being former British colonies), etc.  And then you have Québec, which… well, I suppose if you ask most folks down here, is just “Canada where they speak French”, which glosses over all kinds of significant cultural issues.

So… my trip up was not uneventful, and I didn’t get into Québec City until around midnight.  As such, and after spending half the day getting there, I wasn’t in the right mindset to try to stumbling through checking into the hotel in French.  I did at least go with general pleasantries in French, but stuck to English for the harder things, like exchanging credit cards and confirming that I understood the rules of the hotel, and where to find everything…

But as the week went on, and I made fumbling attempts to speak French, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.  It wasn’t that folks were swapping back to English with me – certainly, a good number of those I interacted with expressed that they actually did not speak English.  It was more that there was something wrong with my accent, or with the words I was picking, or something, and I couldn’t put my finger on the issue to try to correct it.  (On a positive note, I wasn’t having trouble understanding anything written, or communicating in writing.  I had some trouble with finding the words sometimes, but that’s an easily fixable issue.)

The bigger issue, of course, is that I was up there for a curling tournament, and several of the teams were from Québec, which meant that they too primarily were operating in French.  While I could do quite well at understanding the gist of what they were doing on the ice, since we all communicate with fairly similar gestures for calls, I had more trouble socializing off the ice… and that’s a big piece of curling.

It turned out that the head official was an anglophone Québecois, and it was something he mentioned about another event that had me thinking about the issue.  English can be kind of flat tonally, and it can carry over to anglophones speaking French if you’re not careful.  My accent and pronunciation aren’t bad, apparently, but my tone might be causing problems.

Problem number two, though, was interesting, and it was an epiphany that struck me yesterday afternoon.  I’m biting off more than I can chew.  Benny makes the comment all the time about the fact that “fluency is not being able to debate Kantian philosophy”… and I’m trying, after hardly-concentrating-on-it study, to conduct conversations when I don’t have enough practice.  So simpler things, then.

After dinner, while I was wrapping things up, I resolved to just go with KISS.  Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Simple requests.  No complicated responses.  J’ai besoin d’un taxi pour aller au aeroport.  Or, Je voudrais une tasse du café glace au chocolate, sil vous plaît.

And it worked.  No strange looks, no batting eye lashes, no quizzical looks as to what I possibly meant.  The proof to me, that I’d at least straightened out the things that I knew I needed to fix was when I got coherent answers en français.  The young lady at Tim Hortons rang me up wholly in French, the concierge didn’t swap into English with me (even though he had dealt with me the day before in English)…

It’s a start.  So I build from here, speaking-wise.

One Comment
  1. furnish permalink

    aller à l’aéroport…

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