I’m becoming increasingly frustrated writing French. The sentence structures just come out in Catalan. For example, I was start an e-mail to someone by asking them, “Est-ce qu’il y a manière de…?”. Of course, the reader would understand it, but it’s not something you’d hear a Frenchman say. My French now is a far cry from the excellent French I had upon graduating from a three-year degree in French Studies in Paris.
It is now just over five years since I left France (time flies).
During my first year in Catalonia (from September 2002), I spent the first few months speaking mainly French to one of the people I lived with, since his mother was French and he spoke it fluently, whereas my Spanish was very, very limited and my Catalan non-existent. In March 2003 I got a job for a wine shop selling mainly to French customers, so I still practised my French and even learnt new vocabulary related to the wines.
During my second year, I was taking French as my B-language at university. Though French was mainly a passive language, I did take one subject in which we were translating into French. I also was good friends with two people with whom I spoke in French. I also lived with Loïc, a French guy, and although we rarely spoke in French to each other, I heard him on the phone, and spoke in French with friends and family he had over. I also spoke French with French people I met through GBU (Christian Union), including a very good friend of mine, Mialy.
During my third year I had two subjects with French as the language of instruction, and still had one of the two French girls studying with me, so I still got plenty of practice. I also continued to live with Loïc. And having just started out in freelance translating, I got a big job translating athletics articles from French.
My fourth year is when the steady decline got steeper. Loïc got married and for some reason preferred to buy a flat in which he could share a bed with his wife rather what I thought was a far better offer: a whole bedroom and bed each in my flat. I no longer saw any other French people. Also, whereas before when I met French people I would tell them that my French was far superior to my Spanish or Catalan and we would converse in French, this was no longer the case.
My contact with the French language has virtually disappeared completely. I no longer know anyone I speak to regularly in French. I occasionally speak to my former lecturers-cum-colleagues in French, but we seldom have a long chat. Unfortunately, because of how important contacts are in finding work, I would say that less than 10% of my freelance work is from French.
I need to find solutions. Maybe I should speak to my flatmate Martina in French more often, as it makes as much sense as speaking Spanish or Catalan, since at least one of us always has to speak a foreign language. I could maybe also speak in French to Catalan people I know who speak it. I guess other solutions are to read more things on the Internet in French and to watch TV5 more often.
But most of all I’d really love to get more work translating from French. It’s not at all a problem. My passive French is as good as it ever has been. Indeed, I’d even say it’s slightly better, as there are words I’ve learnt in Catalan or Spanish that I didn’t learn in French but that I’d now understand in French because they are cognates of the Catalan or Spanish word. To give an example, I first learnt the word grua in Catalan, but now I understand grue if I hear it in French.
I meant to write this blog entry in French. A few years back I’d have had no qualms with doing so, but it was just going to be too difficult. I can’t get the Catalan sentence structures out of my head. I’d have possibly felt more comfortable writing it in Occitan. My vocabulary may be more limited, but at least I can use Catalan sentence structures more often than in French.
Anyway, back to my e-mail… How about “Ce serait possible de…?”
I’d love to read an entry in Occitan, why don’t you try?
So, when you can understand or translate from a specific language, that’s what you call “passive” knowledge?
Click on “En Occitan” in the sidebar.