Friday, 17 February 2017

We Have Snow. Plus: Hello Bonjour!

First, a picture to show you the results of our storm on Monday:

We've had another 15-20 cm of snow since this was taken.

Even our fire hydrants are feeling overwhelmed:

The red and white extender is to help snowplow drivers see the hydrant, so they don't run it over.

I went for a walk the day after the storm (when I took these shots) and it was like walking in dry, loose sand at the beach. My feet and legs got a good workout, so good that I thought I wouldn't be able to walk again by the time I got home.

We really can't complain too much, because parts of the Atlantic Provinces got more snow than we did, and it's becoming a real problem to know where to put it. Since our snowfalls were all melting or being rained away prior to this one, we are in better shape than other places. Small mercies. Or maybe not so small.

*****

And now for something completely different. And embarrassing. I had to throw that in so you might be persuaded to wade through the first part and get to the rest. This memory re-surfaced while commenting on Yorkshire Pudding's post about blog stats a few days ago.


Canada, the country in which I live, is officially federally bilingual, with English and French being the two languages supported by legislation. French is taught in most, if not all, English Canadian schools. It can be offered as a single subject like history or math or science, or in a more intensive program, such as immersion where students study all subjects in French except for English grammar and literature. Immersion students can become functional or even fluent in French if they work at it.

Those of us in an earlier generation received only core French instruction (French as a single subject), for as little as eighty minutes per week for three years, with the option to continue for another three years if we wanted to. I did, because I enjoyed it, and by the standards of the day I did well in it. (Important foreshadowing there: "standards of the day")

When I saw a chance, years later, to use my French with several non-English-speaking people at a dinner my husband and I attended, I pushed my quiet, reserved self out of my usual safe little shell and opened up a conversation with them. Planning my sentences like a general plotting troop movements, I lined up my nouns and articles and verb tenses, gathered my accent (such as it was), and fired away.

I was almost simultaneously delighted that they understood me and horrified that they answered and I DID NOT UNDERSTAND A SINGLE SYLLABLE.

In hindsight, this should not have been terribly surprising, considering that the only oral French we heard was our non-native-French teacher asking questions such as What is your name, How old are you, Where do you live, What are you wearing, etc., and our equally non-native-French classmates laboriously giving stilted answers.

The people at our dinner table might have been interested in my name and where I lived, but the questions I had just asked them had nothing to do with that. Mercifully, most of my questions escape me now, but I do recall that one was about their children and grandchildren. I was out of my depth in both vocabulary and grammar. And they talked at a normal French-speaking pace, which was about 100 km/hr faster than I was used to.

Oh, the blushing that went on. And on. And on.

Luckily, there was one person in their group who spoke a little English, and with his help we all had a very VERY short conversation, with lots of huge, toothy smiles, after which I feigned keen interest in the guest for the evening who was about to give a speech. And the party of French speakers got up and left as soon as the guest speaker sat down. "Au revoir!" ("Goodbye!") (More smiles.)

I wonder if any of them remember that meal as clearly as I do, some twenty-five years later?



Pardonnez-moi? Je ne comprends pas ...  (Pardon me? I don't understand ... )  (Photo: Pixabay)


Have you ever (innocently) thought you knew more than you actually did? Are you willing to admit to it? C'mon, make me feel better, won't you? :)

Alternatively, for equal marks on this pop quiz, how many languages do you speak and how did you learn them?


I hope you have yourselves a good weekend! (Papers will be marked and returned within 24 hours of turning them in :))


39 comments:

  1. I had some school French. I lived in Quebec for two years. I had some vocabulary and grammar and like you could put sentences together. However, my oral French was almost zero. I did hear the language every day and had to navigate in French sometimes.

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    1. I think you're a few steps ahead of me, Red :)

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  2. Ou est le bibliotheque? Je m'appelle Little Red Hen. That's about the extent of what I remember from French class and I took it all the way through high school. But it was all grammar and conjugation so not really all that helpful.

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  3. Never took French. All I know is a few words I picked up from watching Sesame St with my daughter. I clearly recall getting a call at work from somewhere in the Maritimes and blidthely responding with Bonjour after which they launched in at faster than the speed of light French. I started laughing and said "Whoa Nellie, Bonjour is the extreme limit of my capabilities " We both had a good laugh and she started off again in English. Thank goodness.

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  4. I have exactly the same problem! I really enjoyed French in school and I was reasonably good at it. I can still read it fairly well and my accent isn't atrocious... but I can't understand more than one word out of a hundred when people speak it.

    I tried to get one of my French-Canadian friends to speak to me only in French, but it was doomed to fail since nobody else spoke French, not even his girlfriend. One of these days (if I ever have free time again) I'm going to join one of those conversational French groups... and blush my way through it! :-)

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    1. I tried one of those here ... what with the French guy who corrected everyone and the very fluent who conversed among themselves, it was not the group for me. I think the key might be either a more homogeneous group or more sensitive participants :) Too bad we live on opposite sides of the country - we could form our own group! and blush together!

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    2. That would be perfect! (Except my grammar is pretty poor and I'd probably still need at least one French guy or gal to correct me.) ;-)

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    3. Me too, but they'd need to be a bit more encouraging that the guy at our group was!

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  5. I have to rehears my words, too, especially Norwegian. Then they talk too fast back to me.
    Unnskyld. Jeg forstår ikke. Kanne du si det en gang til?
    It means: Excuse me. I don't understand. Can you say it once more?

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    1. Well, you've got the important phrases down pat!

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  6. It happens to me daily, Jenny! I always think I know more than I do! And I speak three languages. English (sort of), Guinea pig and Turkey. Oddly enough, those last two have made for much more conversation than the first one . . .

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  7. In truth, when I don't know something, I just say I don't know. From there, I learn from whoever I'm chatting with, or if no one knows, I go look it up in a book or online. Not the same as your situation, but as for not knowing something, I just flat-out say it.

    Happy weekend and Boogie Boogie.

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    1. You are a smart cookie, Ivy! Honesty is best.

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    2. How goes your weekend? We just came back inside. Like Spring, here. But too soo to bring out the cafe table from the shed. I think we will get more snow. I think.

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    3. I'm pretty sure we'll get more snow too. Like 100% sure ...

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  8. How weird is that? I swear I didn't read your post before I wrote mine! In fact I'm travelling so haven't been reading blogs at all!

    Apparently Canadian French and French French, if you get me, is completely different!

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    1. Yes, that's what we always hear, too. But I think they can understand each other better than I can understand either one!

      And what a coincidence on the choice of topic, eh? I think it's hilarious!

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  9. I can't say that I have ever been in a situation where I thought or declared more knowledge than I actually possessed. "Honesty is the best policy" has always been my maxim. As for languages, my brain is inappropriately wired but I know a bit of French, some modern Greek and some Rotuman. I am also fluent in bad language... so ****! ********!

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    1. Rotuman? Seriously? Wow.

      I guessed the last one. Uncanny, right?

      And you're right about honesty. I just thought I was doing a good thing trying to include this group of people in our conversation! I've never been faced with a similar situation in the intervening years, but if it ever happens again I'll probably just hide in the bathroom.

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  10. I've heard it said that if you speak many languages you're a polyglot, if you speak two languages you're bilingual, and if you speak one language you're American.
    I took French in the seventh grade, but I don't remember much of it. You'd think that I could at least speak Spanish from living in California for 56 years, but no.
    I'm actually pretty good at admitting when I don't know something. I think it may have come from when I was a machinist and welder and pretending to know what you were doing could be deadly.
    Glad you're walking around again. I don't do well in the snow, or really anything too slippery.

    -Doug in Oakland

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    1. Hah! I think you could add a whole lot of Canadians to that saying :)

      Yeah, dangerous situations call for complete honesty!

      As for the walking, I've been slacking off because it's been very cold. When it snowed, at least it warmed up. But they're actually asking people not to walk in the streets because the snowbanks are so high now that the plows can't see people easily. And the sidewalks aren't passable in many places. I'm going to have to just walk around the house to get some exercise!

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  11. Sorry about the snow. Hope that is the last of it. I can speak a little French and Japanese. I could probably hold a conversation with a 3-year-old. Every day I think I know more than I do and then I get reminded that I don't when I am trying to be a Dad. Holy cannoli. Parenthood is definitely one thing that has humbled me. Take care.

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    1. Take heart, Mr. S. Parenthood makes us all hyperventilate in private. And sometimes in public. Other people only LOOK like they know what they're doing. Trust me on this. And as long as you love your kids and they know it, you're doing 95% of the job right.

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  12. The trick is using it so it isn't lost...and hearing it, as in at least with films, music, radio. Of course, there are always people that speak rapidly and even in English, I find it annoying...

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    1. You make a good point. Practice is important, whether it's speaking or listening. And yes, I can't follow the rapid speech! I don't know if kids are speeding up these days or I'm slowing down. I don't really want to know, in case it's the second :)

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  13. It's one thing to understand a language in writing and on paper, and quite another to hear and respond. I have the same problem you do -- hearing and understanding is a challenge! And then to make your brain spin around and come up with a rapid reply is DOUBLY challenging. So, yes, I feel your pain. I fear I will only ever be able to order food in French.

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  14. HAHA! What a fun story. Don't feel too bad. I was born in Quebec and spent the first 44 years of my life there. I still don't speak French! My two daughters and my husband, on the other hand, are perfectly bilingual. Happy weekend to you!

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    1. You've just made me feel much better, Martha! Happy weekend to you, too :)

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  15. I can count to three in four different languages :-)

    We could probably use some of that snow you have gotten here in Colorado but from my personal view point you can keep it.

    Have a good week.

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    1. Ha ha! I wonder what that's called - quadlingual, maybe?

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  16. I constantly think I know more than I do. At least I did when I was younger. It's a common youthful affliction. Sometimes I just pretend that I do. When it becomes necessary. I only speak one language. I wish I knew Spanish but I'm not very good with languages. Incidentally, there's this twitter guy, @radiofreetom, who is an expert in National Security, teaches at the war college in Newport. He just published a book called the death of expertise about a growing trend of people who trust themselves and their rudimentary research or hearsay more than someone who has spent their career studying a specific subject, Sometimes with dangerous results, I.e. as with vaccines causing autism. He seems pretty bummed that society leans towards everyone's opinion being equally valid. I've only read the first few pages and it's interesting although I can't seem to decide whether I think the guy is an elitist or makes a valid point. I'm leaning both. I do get a kick out of his dry humor, though.

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    1. That sounds interesting. I could probably get the details from his twitter, yes? I think there are experts and then there are experts. Some are better than others, just like anything else. But I'd like to read what he has to say, because I think it's true that many more people these days don't listen to experts and/or can't distinguish between experts and crackpots when they're reading stuff online ...

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  17. Hi Jenny, Yes, the book is called, "The Death of Expertise" by Tom Nichols. I found him on twitter and followed because he's funny sometimes. He's also a bit full of himself a lot of times, but when you're an expert, I guess you can afford to be:-) Sorry about my deplorable grammar before. I was on my ipad, hurrying to finish before I had to run out the door to work.

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    1. Ah, thanks, Chicken! I'll check him out on Twitter as a first step. What deplorable grammar? I'm not seeing any!

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    2. I've just read an excerpt he provided from his book - very interesting; I'm thinking this is a book I'd like to read.

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