Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Pardon My French

French is my mother tongue.

I grew up in Montreal, in a French-speaking family, and went to kindergarten, primary and secondary school in French. My whole life was solely in French until the age of 17, when I studied abroad for one year in the USA.

I quickly learned English at my American high school, as it was a complete immersion. I was also very curious about learning English, and spent hours reading magazines like Seventeen and YM with a dictionary, trying to translate everything. I also spent countless hours watching English TV series such as Friends and Full House, and I feel like I learned most of my basic English expressions from Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. I was lucky to pursue my studies at McGill University in Montreal upon my return, where I studied English literature while living a life in French outside of school.

Since I've been living in Japan, I haven't used French so much. Even though I have a few French friends, still watch French movies and read French books, it's not nearly enough. I don't get to casually converse on a daily basis, and every time I use French I feel rusty for the first few minutes. I feel really sad lately about this, not only do I miss speaking French, but my brain feels confused, especially with learning Japanese. I should focus all my energy on learning Japanese, but at the same time I feel guilty I barely use French. I know I'll never forget it, as it's my mother tongue, but I don't want to become illiterate either.

Have you experienced something similar while living in a different culture? Any tips?

In other news, today I tried this cafe called Le Coutume, which is apparently famous in the chic Left Bank of Paris. It just opened a few days ago in Minami-Aoyama, and I know there will be long queues a few weeks from now once some food TV show covers it, so I went in to try the coffee. It's good, very creamy, and there is a nice space to sit. They open early at 7:30am, so I might go there occasionally for a treat.



Suteisi ♥ said...

J'ai grandi a Gatineau au Quebec et voyageais constament a Montreal, Gramby et Quebec pour visiter de la famille. Gatineau est juste a coté d'Ottawa, ou j'ai eu mon premiere emploi serieux, ce qui a tourné en une carière and next thing you know I moved to Ottawa and speak English every day, more than I ever speak French.

Meme si je suis encore pres du Quebec, que ma famille est Quebecoise et que je travail avec des gens qui parle aussi francais, la majorité du temps je parle en anglais. Les gens qui parle anglais ici rarement parle en francais. Ce sont les gens qui parle francais d'abord qui on appris l'anglais et qui se plis aux autres car autrement, on ne pourrait communiqué...

Françoise said...

Je suis francophone, de Belgique, mais j'ai vécu plus de 5 ans aux USA et en Angleterre. Maintenant, je lis beaucoup de romans en anglais et presque tous mes contacts artistiques sont anglophones. Il m'arrive d'hésiter pour l'orthographe française. Parfois, je mélange un peu les mots. Ah oui, depuis un an, j'apprends le japonais et j'adore ça!
A votre place, je lirais le plus possible de romans et de magazines français. On peut sûrement trouver ça facilement à Tokyo.
J'aime beaucoup votre blog! J'adore le Japon, surtout Kyôto.

Vivian said...

Suteisi- tu as bien raison! toujours les francophones qui se plient aux anglophones au Canada. Même chose à Montréal, de plus en plus. J'espère que tu as tout de même la chance de parler français avec des amis sur une base régulière…! Merci pour ton commentaire :)

Vivian said...

Françoise, merci pour votre commentaire! En effet, je devrais lire davantage, c'est facile d'oublier les règles de grammaire et l'orthographe de certains mots. Il y a quelques jours, j'ai dû écrire une lettre officielle à l'Ambassade française pour le boulot, et j'avais complètement oublié les formules de politesse! Ça me gêne énormément, mais j'imagine que c'est normal.

Bon courage pour l'apprentissage du japonais, et merci de lire mon blog, ça me fait bien plaisir!

エメリ said...

I felt the same thing with my swedish when I studied japanese in Tokyo. I was surrounded by japanese 24/7 and also english. I had some swedish friends, but our language slowly turned into a mixture of all three languages, like swenglish japanese.

A good thing is to skype with your parents or friends at home, I felt that my "ordinary" swedish came back that way : )

gtg007w said...

I'm a bit late responding to this, I just got caught up on my blog subscriptions, but I share similar sentiments.

I was born and raised in Kyoto for the first 8 years of my life, completely surrounded in Japanese environment, not comprehending that I was a foreigner (my family is from Bangladesh), then my family moved to Singapore, where I continued to attend Japanese school until the age of 13. I was then able to converse in English enough to transfer to a British International school for intensive ESL, but pretty much hung out with other Japanese students outside of class. I went to a local middle and high school the rest of my time in Singapore until I moved to the US for university and then slowly started not using the language at all, even though I'll watch Japanese movies for read mangas time to time that kept it up.

Now I'm thinking completely in English and it's my preferred language. I've been in the US for the past 10 years now, where being multilingual is not appreciated in my line of work or honestly, in the culture. On a recent trip to Japan few years ago I realized how much I had forgotten due to not using it and while I understood what was being said to me and I could guess the words I could read, I found it tough to speak or write except for few basic words which thankfully was enough to convey my thoughts. It's weird and interesting that the language that I grew up in will never quite disappear as you say, but it's not exactly along what it used to be.

I obtained the former JLPT Level 1 when I was 18, just 10 years on, that seems like a lie. I guess I could watch movies or join a speaking group (I tried few years back, didn't exactly get along with people, most were just anime or manga geeks). It's weird and it's one of those things where if I were to move to Japan, everything will probably come back in about 3 weeks or so.

Thinking about it does make me sad in some ways because that childhood did shape who I am today.

Vivian said...

gtg007w: Thank you so much for sharing your experience!! Indeed, it's such an unfortunate situation and it requires extra effort to keep up with the native language. I do hope you come back to Japan regularly if possible! Thank you again for reading my blog and sharing your story.

mina said...

Do you think in French or English?! I can't believe you learned English at 17. You are amazing!

My first language is Tamil. I joke that I learned English from Mr. Rodgers but that's not fair because both of my parents are fluent English speakers, they just spoke Tamil to each other. As soon as my brother and I started going to school, we started speaking English to them, but because my grandma didn't speak English, I remained fluent. After my grandparents died, there was no reason for me to speak Tamil, and I've pretty much lost it. I can recognize when people are speaking it, and understand it for the most part, but my vocabulary is pathetic.

I should probably feel guilty about it, but I don't because it's not useful in my life.