December 30, 2013, by Guest blog

Picking up good and bad linguistic habits in Bordeaux

The thing about living in a foreign country is that you don’t acquire the sort of language suitable for fourth year essay writing. Unless, of course, the department decides to set an essay about the numerous swear words that are profligate in France. I like to think that I have learnt more than a handful of expletives in the two months I have been here, but even so, the other language I have learnt is quite specialised. I think it comes from working in a primary school. Before this year, I had massive problems with the imperative; I had such issues that I would rather use the subjunctive (il faut que tu etc etc) than use a verb in its imperative form. But now, thanks to two months with the kids at Jean Jaures, I can boss people around with the best of them. ‘Taisez-vous’ and ‘asseyez-vous IMMEDIATEMENT’ are two gems I simply could not live without.

I started out keeping a little vocab diary when I first arrived, but the sheer numbers of new words that I’ve learnt daily (mainly to do with food, admittedly) meant that after a while it became impractical. Even so, it’s obvious to anyone that my French is improving in leaps and bounds. Whilst Skyping my parents at home, I apparently often lapse into recitations of events, quoting people in French at length (which is completely lost on them, as counting from un to dix is about as far as either of them feel comfortable with the French language). It is very gratifying to feel that the influenza, the gastroenteritis, and general germiness have not been in vain.

But I must make a confession, before I go any further. I have picked up bad linguistic habits as well as good, perhaps as a by-product of living with a family who have a seventeen year old son. Barely a sentence can pass without my ending it with ‘quoi’, or embellishing it with a protracted and intensely Gallic ‘uh ben’ (it sounds much more Gallic than it looks on a computer screen). To my mind the ‘quoi’ is the Francophone version of young English people ending every other sentence with ‘like.’ Given I abhor this in English, it’s really quite ironic that it should be something that I am so fond of in French. This might be because I physically cannot stop myself from doing it, in part. I dread to think what next year’s oral examiner will make of it!

Finally, to my new favourite acquired language; anything with a distinctly bordelais flavour. For me, it will forever more be a ‘chocolatine’ over a ‘pain au chocolat’ or a ‘poche’ over a ‘sac’ (when, of course, referring to those reusable grocery bags). I have taken to the little regionalisms of my adopted department like a house on fire, even if ordering a chocolatine and a cappuccino will pretty much only get you a blank stare in the Paul at Paris Charles de Gaulles.

Posted in Language acquisition