Pourquoi apprendre le français?
Une amie francphone m’a demander: “Pourquoi apprendre le français?”
As a kid, a strange green puppet named Dimontou was my first exposure to this foreign language. When I was a teenager, I got to go on a 2 week exchange to Joliette, QC. I’ve been to Montreal for 4 or 5 times now but am dying to check out Quebec City in winter and to experience Carnaval de Québèc. I’ve always loved winter, and it is utterly charming to combine a snowman mascot, tire d’érable, and an ice hotel into one vacation. No?
I have been trying to keep up my French skills by writing or talking with french-speaking friends, and have for a while realized I’d need to do much more than that to approach bilingualism. I would like to join an adult french conversation class, or take a medical french course, but being as transient as I am right now, it would impossible to even figure out in which city I should take a class.
One downside to travelling so much (usually to work in Nunavut, to Ontario to visit family and friends, and sometimes for holiday) is that I can’t commit to anything. I was frustrated by this for a while and could see it inhibiting my ability to sign up for interesting activities, like a French class. I was desperate to do something as I am not often around my French-speaking friends these days and feared that I would lose what French ability I was privileged to have.
I’ve tried Rosetta Stone, but the basic levels were too grindingly boring for an intermediate like me, and the emphasis seemed to be on learning vocabulary like “cat” and “dog” rather than on speaking and getting the flow of the language. I finally settled on Rocket French. I bought the first 2 of 3 levels, and am very slowly ticking away at the exercises. There’s a big emphasis on speaking and pronunciation, with dabblings of cultural enlightenment and a slow enough introduction of new words that I haven’t yet been overwhelmed. (No this isn’t an ad! This program works well for me because I already have a foundation in French, but I think it would probably be really frustrating for someone new to the language!)
But the question is ‘why do you want to learn French?’ For me, it’s not a simple answer. I don’t need it for a job, although it might look good on a resume. I don’t live in a French-speaking community and rarely do I see Francophone patients, although when I do it is fun to try and talk and gesture to learn about and help manage their medical issue in an awkward medley of Franglais.
I have used it clinically with mixed results. I’ve assessed and arranged treatment for a patient with an esophageal blockage [with a lot of help from a bilingual nurse] and did the discharge education for a patient who had a GI bleed and TIAs [using some combination of his wife's bits of English and my French]. More recently I clarified a medication list for a French Catholic priest and we concluded the appointment after sharing some jokes about patient autonomy.
Unfortunately, my broken French isn’t always adequate. I remember struggling to tell a woman about an unwanted pregnancy. Not knowing the word for pregnant (enceinte) I had to tell her “you are with baby” (“vous-etes avec bébé“). In another case, a woman told me she came to the ER because of “champignons.” I knew that word, it means ‘mushrooms.’ I struggled to realize that she meant ‘fungus.’ I thought of Athlete’s foot, or some fungus on her skin involving some other part of her body. It was only when she pointed that I realized what she meant: yeast infection. Oh.
While it would certainly feel a lot less horrible to stop having a quizzical look on my face when a French patient is trying to tell me their story, it’s not the only motivation for improving my language skills. Here’s what I wrote to my friend, polished up a little. Please pardon the sporadic accents, I’m still trying to figure them out on my keyboard – and pardon the terrible French, because as you know, I am still learning.
“Je voudrais apprendre français parce que je pense que je peux! Le raisonnement est une combinaison de l’utilité (pour le voyage ou le travail ou pour parlant avec des amis comme toi), la beauté de la langue, un defi (I had to look that up!), et une croyance que tous les Canadiens devraient essayer un peu de leur langue seconde. J’ai eu la chance d’avoir des bons professeurs de français et d’etre exposés a français à une age jeune; j’avais l’impression que c’était dommage si je ne l’utilise pas, et plus mauvais si j’ai le perdu”
I forgot to tell her how much I like cheese. That alone is probably a good enough reason to learn French.
Use it or lose it, just like so many other skills in Medicine and life in general. This language is too worthwhile for me to let it go.