Friday, September 21, 2018

Pardon moi!


Je suis Laura.
Je suis 57 et j'apprende le francais.

I admit it. I cheated on the last half of that sentence and had to check everything with Google translate. But the feelings are solid.
I am 57 and I am learning French.

The first question I tend to get, when I admit this out loud is:

The most sensible answer is that my husband and I plan to do some pretty extensive travel in the upcoming years. We have traveled a small amount and when we have been in countries where English is not the first language we tried our best to learn at least some polite phrases: Hello, Good-by, Thank-you, Those aren't my children...
We didn't want to be those 'ugly Americans' who give the rest of us a bad name.

A more personal reason is the fact that, while I am a good one half German descent, I am a solid – one quarter, last name Jolie, drinks coffee from the saucer and loves bread, straight from Paris to the coal mines of the Midwest, French.
According to my husband, my mocking dismay of things with the typical French movie concierge 'pftttttttt' is genetically rooted.

The second question is sort of a quizzical, humoring, aren't you a little old for this, HOW?

My answer to this is a little more convoluted.
The easy answer is: Duolingo. Which I will get to in a bit.

The how of how I reached that easy answer is the one which will take a moment.

I always wanted to learn another language. I am a voracious reader and even as a youngster, found it very annoying to be reading a wonderful book only to have the fantasy broken by the main character speaking a phrase, or worse, a sentence in a foreign language – usually French, as the language seems to lend itself to quoting.
N'es pas?
Everyone I knew who had been to high school learned either German or French. And while German should have been my biggest interest, growing up with all those Germanic genetics, my exposure to the language was limited to the names of Grandpa's sisters and the Lord's Prayer at the family reunion.
My grandparents rarely spoke the language unless it was related to food – schnitzbrod, springerele -and did not teach it to their children. I am sure this was a result of the desire to acclimate to a new way of life and distance those children from what had been less than desirable politics in the homeland.
And then there is the fact that French is just so romantic.
It is pretty to listen to.
German is not so melodic on the ear. It is more of the Heavy Metal Band of languages.
Especially compared to the beautiful lilting, quality of French.
(This is most likely due to the fact that the French never seem to pronounce the hard consonant sound which might end a word, favoring the flowing vowel sound running into the next word. Complementing the musical quality and adding an extra layer of frustration to 57 year old ears trying to discern 'fille' from 'filles'.)

I was extremely disappointed to get to high school and find that the only language our school offered was Spanish.
But, it was Spanish taught by a tiny little old lady who went by Senorita Skelly and was so old that we were all quite certain that the fiancé she lost had most certainly been a Spaniard and 'the war' in which he had died had been the Spanish revolution. Possibly the Spanish Inquisition...
I can't dismiss this education however.
Seniorita taught me enough in two years to give me the confidence to surprise an unsuspecting shopkeeper in Cabo and get me into trouble with a Spanish speaking patient.
I have taken to tempering my 'professional' Spanish with the opening phrase 'Yo hablo espanol un pequeño. Muy pequeño!'`

(It should be noted that at this point in proofing this post, my husband asked if I really meant to use incorrect Spanish in the above paragraph. To which I responded....pfffffffttttt.....)

My Midwestern hospital based nursing school required no foreign language so the years between high school and today lacked the obvious answer to language education.
As our children grew up, my husband suggested I take a class at the junior college but I ineveitably would make the decision mid-cycle and always miss French 101.

I gave an attempt at free on-line classes through Open Culture, a great service offering an extensive variety of independent learning options. I enjoyed the classes until we hit the alphabet lesson. A was E. I was E. In fact, nearly everything sounded like a variation of E to me.
It didn't help that I only practiced about once a week.

But, this was before I had a smart phone and learned about Duolingo.
note the varying times on each pic - you can practice anytime!
(It should be noted here that I have NO affiliation nor am I getting paid by Duolingo. I am just a huge fan.)

Duolingo is an on-line language service offering 81 language courses in 37 languages including Klingon!
It offers a free or a paid version.
Naturally, the free version requires a small amount of advertising. But the interruption of ads is minimal, save for a brief readable ad between lessons and less than 30 second video ads to earn 'gems' when you choose.
I opted to try the free version, hesitant to actually spend any money on what promised to be another failed attempt to broaden my horizen. Five months in, I am still using the free version.

My first lesson – Basics 1 – taught the very simple 'I am a woman/ Je suis une femme. You are a man/Tu es un homme.' About five phrases in, the Duolingo Owl – a darling, ever supportive green cartoon popped in to say "great job!" The positive reinforcement worked and I managed to get through that first lesson losing only three of my 'health' points but winning 59 gems!
this is my current lesson selection. and my awesome gem count!
Did I mention these lessons are set up on the game format?
You have six health points in which to learn your day's lesson with the option of earning health with practice or buying health with 'gems'.
Each point earned with practice is rewarded by a 'great job!' by the Owl and a trumpet fanfare.
Those 'gems' you earn can also be used to place a bet with yourself that you will complete 7 days' lessons is a row – thus earning more gems which can in turn be used to bet again. They can also be used to purchase bonus lessons in flirting and idioms.
(Let me warn you now. Don't buy that flirting lesson on your second day, even if you have enough gems. While the phrases are classic – 'do you want to have a drink?' 'do you come here often?' - they are extremely complicated for day two and it will drop your gem accumulation to a dangerous level when comparing with your gem hoarding husband.)
Lessons take about 10 minutes and are a combination of translating from written French to English/English to French, spoken French to English/English to French, word matching and repeating phrases aloud. Initially the lessons were so repetitive that I began to think the app was broken. But as the phrases began to stick in my head I understood that they were actually teaching me the language as a small child would learn. Hearing and repeating very simple things first before branching out to full sentences and using inference to figure out words not yet learned.

The app makes it possible to practice anywhere. Which I have done – in the car, on the train, on the deck and one weekend, on our boat! If you don't want everyone on the morning commute to critique your pronunciation you can mute the speak back option for an hour at a time. Or if you forget your headphones you can make the entire lunch room Répète après moi s'il te plaít.

Doulingo does not teach the typical phrases first – my name is; where is the bathroom; what time is it...
As I pointed out before, they teach as a child would learn. I learned some basics first, then some greeting phrases, followed by plurals of those basics before ever learning colors, foods, or types of clothing. I have yet to learn the actual alphabet or where the bathroom is. I can, however order vin. And fromage avec du pain. 
I can't count to ten. But when there is vin, who really wants to count?
thank you little green owl, or should I say, Merci petite chouette verte.

I have found that I will randomly translate a thought from English to French in my head. Which completely cracks me up and causes me to confuse everyone on Facebook with my cryptic French posts about the weather and petits chiens et chats.

This is not to say that there aren't some problems. The biggest for me is a lack of understanding of the grammatical rules. Duolingo offers no explanation of why chiens and chiennes is different. (the answer is male vs female – for us slow learners)
And as best as I can figure it, if there are multiple things then you slap an 's' on the end of EVERY SINGLE WORD in the sentence – He has red shirts becomes Il a des chemises rouges. Where not only is shirt -chemise- plural -chemises- but so is the act of being red – rouge/rouges.
Its no wonder babies cry for absolutely no reason when they have yet to master speech.
It is only through repetition and some truly painful brain usage that these patterns begin to sink in.

My other big problem is more of a personal one.
They say it is so much easier for young children to learn a language. I believe this is because youngsters have much better hearing. There are days when the subtlety is completely lost in my half century old ear canals and goes back to the one lesson I learned from Open Culture.
Most French is pronounced with an ending of the final vowel sound sliding into the next word rather than differentiating with an ending consonant sound.
Thus explaining why a single woman eating a pizza - La femme mange une pizza.- Sounds exactly like, although clearly spelled differently from, many women eating a pizza – Les femmes mangent une pizza.
The best I can tell, you take a lot of information from context and just how many chairs are filled at the table.
Le journal et le vin. Also, post-it tabs. Tres jolie!
It helps tremendously to get a notebook and keep lesson notes.
It also helps that I have an addiction to notebooks, finding a brand new one just for my French lessons, complete with multicolored sticky tabs and a new ink pen.

I have not missed a day since I started lessons, although the app feels that I blew my streak the day I did a lesson before we went to the lake. Being afraid the internet would be less than helpful I practiced early. However, the app didn't count the lesson, I think now its possible I didn't actually pass it, but anyway... I blew my streak. Which the app keeps handy count of, giving you an encouraging, daily total. Then when you blow your streak, that green owl offers you a handy way to 'buy it back' for REAL dollars.
Sorry Owl. I may spend my fake gems to bet on myself or learn pick up lines for when I find myself single in a Parisian bar but I will not give you real dollars to keep tabs on how consistently I do lessons.

Yet it is a little painful to have my husband point out that HE has not only more gems than me (he is a tightwad when it comes to fake gems) but also a longer streak. Never mind that he started two months after me or that he is learning Spanish, a language which he has taken actual college classes as well as a brief Spanish for Law enforcement course.

I retained enough from Senorita Skelly to know when he is faking it.
And then I just look over my champagne flute, eat my baguette, roll my eyes and reply 'pffffttttttt!'