Today’s instalment of ‘365 Days of Writing Prompts’ wants us to write “using regional slang, your dialect or your accent”.
What, you mean like this?
Scouse was the dialect of my upbringing so will always be with me. It’s dead gear, ‘onest, but that post is probably enough to be going on with. Instead, it seemed to make sense to choose the language of where I live now. That means French.
Here in la France profonde, it’s very unusual to encounter a French native with more than the barest smattering of English. That didn’t come as any surprise, but it’s beside the point anyway. We moved to France because we wanted to live here, among French people, not in a British enclave. A crucial part of this commitment is to speak French to the French to the best of our ability. Which is what we do.
Except that I’m still not very good at it. Madame, to whose talents there is no end, can rattle away quite happily and deservedly wins plaudits from locals for her efforts, but I lack her natural linguistic flair.
I’m getting better, though. Over the past two years my listening ability has improved significantly, so I can now usually pick up the sense of an overheard conversation in French without too much trouble.
Speaking is a little more challenging – but as I struggle to talk coherently in English, that didn’t come as a surprise either. Here too, I’m making progress, and I console myself with the thought that even Crabtree never managed to pull it off properly.
Before we came here, I had three main areas of concern about speaking French: grammar, vocabulary and accent. In other words, everything.
Accent was the least of these concerns and now it doesn’t really worry me at all. I have worked with French people who have been long-term residents of the UK and speak almost perfect English, in terms not only of syntax but also of idiom. But as soon as they opened their mouths you knew they were French. Realistically, our accents will always mark us out as English, but there’s absolutely no point in getting stressed, as it were.
My epiphany about this came shortly after we arrived, when we entered a branch of Boulanger and were accosted by a young lady with a clipboard, trying to interest us in their loyalty card scheme.
“Non, merci” said Madame.
“Ah, you are English, I can tell by the accent” was the reply. Although what she actually said was “Ah, you are Eengleesh, Ah can tell by ze akzont”.
To which my response was “And you are French; I can tell by the accent”. Touché.
My vocabulary is better than it was, although it tends to desert me in the stress of conversation, leaving me giving a fair impression of an out-of-breath fish while I mentally flail about trying to recall the French word for out-of-the-way concepts such as spoon (cuillère), or existential despair (désespoir existentiel).
As you can imagine, here in Tranquility Base we speak of little else. Apart from combine harvesters (les moissonneuses batteuse), obviously.
Grammar is my main bugbear, however. Even in English I hate the thought of using the incorrect verb tense, but the mysteries of the French past perfect and future subjunctive are a closed book to me. Consequently, most of my conversational gambits in French are in the present tense, whether the discussion is about last week’s shopping or next week’s weather.
Fortunately, most of my interlocutors are polite enough to refrain from laughing out loud when I come up with faux pas such as “I have to go to Limoges last week” or “It is raining tomorrow”.
Which is fair enough, since at least I’ve got to the stage where my French is better than their English.
N’est ce pas?