Foreign language

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. Nelson Mandela

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette

My mother tongue is French and I spoke it daily until my 24th birthday. Then I moved to America, and not knowing a single soul there, I probably didn’t utter a single word of French for more than a year.

Expatriates come to America as bachelors or as married couples. I surmise that single people learn English faster, through sheer necessity… and often with the eager help of native girlfriends or boyfriends.
A married couple on the other hand will continue to speak its native tongue and don’t feel the same pressure to master English as bachelors.

For my part, I have lived in America twice as long as in France and my French is getting a little rusty. Since I only speak it once or twice a week (sometimes less) some words sometimes escape me. When it happens, I lazily plug the missing words with more familiar English terms.
In the long run, this bad practice will hurt my familiarity with my native language.

English is much simpler than French and much easier to master. It is also more practical. You can often express yourself with much fewer words than in any other Latin language. This is the reason why after a certain time, French immigrants start speaking a hodgepodge of French and English. Instead of saying “c’est formidable” for instance, it is much easier to simply say, “cool”.

But the French generally don’t like abbreviations. Jean-Michel will always remain Jean-Michel and practically never JM. Some people have tried to call me Al, but I strongly object to it. Alain it is and Alain it will remain.

I bet that some Americans would love to call the pope Frank or the Queen of England Lizzie but it would be a big “faux-pas”, probably punishable by Riding the Rail.

In the pétanque environment you can hear a variety of languages and accents. On the field I frequently hear Italian, Spanish, German, Swiss and of course French. This Tower of Babel context suits me fine.

I am fond of foreign languages and eager to learn, but even though I don’t use French as often as I would like, I remain highly partial to my roots. Quality French is celestial music to my ears.

« Pour tout homme de coeur, le culte qu’il a voue a sa langue maternelle est une chose sacrée. » Georges Isidore Barthe

“For every noble-hearted man, the worship that he has devoted to his mother tongue is a sacred thing!”


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