Ceci n’est pas une pipe: My experiences with the French language – Meine Erfahrungen mit Französisch – Mijn ervaringen met het Fraans.

French is a very unique language for me: my fluency therein is not only limited, but also seems to resist attempts at improvement. There are many things I could attribute this to, but I think the core problem is my motivation. Nevertheless, the language continues to intrigue me, and I keep telling myself that I really will learn it – eventually.

I think my very first experience with French was due to my bilingual Canadian cousins. When we were very young, I remember being surprised that my cousin couldn’t read English. I think I was probably also surprised that there was even any other option!

In 1998, I travelled to Paris at the age of 8. I remember my dad buying Metro tickets in French and being rather impressed. However, I didn’t quite get the concept of foreign languages yet, and so I didn’t voluntarily pursue it further.

Sometime in the next few years I participated in a French class offered at my school (at the school where my homeschooling program was located, to be more exact). I still didn’t comprehend what it meant to speak a foreign language. On the other hand, I quite quickly understood that going to the French class every week meant getting to eat a little bit of “French” food (which in retrospect was of course the American interpretation thereof – I mainly remember baguettes and cream cheese).

French for me also has a special albeit somewhat complex connection to Computer Science. In my “Introduction to Computer Science” course, the instructor made the point that there’s a difference between a representation of something, and the thing itself (in connection with discussing the difference between digital and analogue communications, but I don’t remember exactly). To illustrate the point, he used the painting “La trahison des images” (The Treachery of Images) by René Magritte. The painting, and the text written on it (“Ceci n’est pas une pipe” – “This is not a pipe”) is permanently engraved on my imagination.

Since moving to the UK, I have been increasingly exposed to French. The UK, although it is not in my opinion really part of Europe from the point of physical and human geography – of course I can’t deny that it is part of the European Union… at the time of writing. Nevertheless, it is very close, and that’s allowed me to visit France and Belgium. Through this brute-force approach, and with the help of phrase-books, I can now barely achieve the feat of ordering food in a restaurant in French. Although I’ve forgot almost everything I learned in the French class at school, the connection between French and good food is still pretty clear to me! (The food in Belgium is in my opinion at least as good as that in France, but I usually speak Flemish/Dutch or English there, so actually it’s more of a connection between France and good food).

Looking towards the future, I really hope to someday be able to speak French as well as I can speak other foreign languages. I have a computer-based learning programme for French, and I have easy access at home to French satellite TV. But more importantly, it’s becoming clearer to me that I really would enjoy the experience of learning the language and being able to speak it well.


2 responses to “Ceci n’est pas une pipe: My experiences with the French language – Meine Erfahrungen mit Französisch – Mijn ervaringen met het Fraans.

  1. Well, only the second blog post and the shops are already full of “Bench” leisure-wear. Quite a feat of marketing, but perhaps a little over-the-top? 🙂

  2. Hey, Ben. I liked this blog post. I have a similar relationship with French. Being a classical singer, I’ll also have to learn it eventually, along with Italian and naturally, German– not that I’m complaining. 😉 But while German and Italian make a lot of sense to me, French, I can’t wrap my mind around for some reason. Probably, I’ve got a block or something in my brain going, “No! French is scary!” Just took French Diction for singers at college. I did well, but I still find the rules of pronunciation a bit baffling and, trying to speak it, the words feel really awkward in my mouth, especially in comparison with Italian and German, which are extremely phonetic. IPA helps a lot for it, but I have a feeling that studying French and understanding the grammar and sentence structures would make everything a little easier, so one can understand the flow of speech and the inflections of words.

    Anyway, even though I view the French language from a different perspective, and with a different purpose for learning it, I definitely relate! Oh, and the bit about language-learning in America– so true!

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