Choose your language

An Alien in the UK
Bon anniversary

This January I am celebrating my 18th month in the UK, a year and a half living, breathing, working, speaking, writing, blogging and even dreaming in English. Of course before my arrival on the UK soil, I had already lived in English-speaking countries whilst studying or starting my career. And I had come and visited the British Isles many times as a tourist. However this is the first time that I am truly immersed in the British society (which since the fall of the Empire can no longer be a synonym to the previously evoked destinations).

My first reflex as an alien in London was to focus on the natives, eventually on their antipodean cousins, and to study their endogenous culture and differences. I wanted to acclimate and blend into the country that I had adopted, but before all to stay away from the French community. But as you can have read in one of my previous articles, avoiding French fellow citizens in London is as difficult as finding a flat-tummied pal in a pub.

But still, I think that I have managed to almost perfectly adapt and cope with the cultural choc that you might face when discovering this country. And, I am even trying my luck with the art of understatement... My immersion has been so efficient that it led me to experience some puzzling situations when having said something, I could not really tell whether I had spoken in English or French. Other example: whilst vaguely listening to some security instructions, I suddenly wondered why the loudspeaker was repeating itself, until I realised that it was just a French translation, and not an iteration of the initial English speech. My mind seems to have activated the English auto-pilot option, and this language as a second default mode.

Familiar foreign languages

The English language has never been a barrier to me. I even remember discovering some words at school for the first time, and immediately know what they meant... I tend to have a great affinity with foreign languages, but English has always outweighed the other. Maybe because it is so simple a language.

For us Latins, French, Spanish and Italian are so close that it is very easy to pick up. You can even kind of understand two Italian without having ever had a class of Italian. German on the contrary is completely different a language: different vocabulary, different syntax, different accentuation, different pronunciation, etc. And yet, I am tempted to say that German is even an easier language to learn... I can already see rolling eyes, and even some threatening fists from pupils struggling with Goethe's language. Blasphemy!!!

But think about it, this language is ideal to learn: little exceptions in the grammar, a consistent approach of the word constructions... Fair enough, it is a hell of a work to get a grip on the gender, even for us in Latin countries where we already play around with masculine and feminine. But then, once you have that in mind, and you know the few rules you are almost certain to avoid any mistake. Whereas in the Latin languages, the rule is that there are no rules... These are languages rich of their exceptions. In other words, German is hard to learn, easy to master, whilst Latin languages are easy to learn, impossible to master.


What about English in all that? Well, English is somewhere in between. So would you be ready to trade your mother tongue for an easier language like English? Jean-Claude Vandamme has been ridiculed in French-speaking Europe for the interview he gave once back in his native Belgium: he could no longer articulate proper sentences without adding some English in it (cocaine helped to refine the character of the now obsolete Hollywood icon). Ridiculous, but not that much when you have lived in a foreign country.

I am not there yet, however I realise every time that I go home that I suffer from a pauperisation of my vocabulary. If you don't use a language you will notice that you lose your ability. A language is like a muscle, it needs to be trained not to atrophy. Fortunately, my wife is French, and in her blood runs some family fluids that tend to ease the tongue... She speaks all the time, especially on the phone, and I benefit from it to a certain extend. She is my personal trainer, a coach who should avoid me to become a JCVD...

But I have some other back-ups in case she is away. During my Saturday class of photography, I realised that my camera was set in French. Having a look at it closely, I realised that my iPOD, my phone and my PS3 had been set to French too. This is quite interesting because, although I would be totally at ease to use these technical devices in English (it would even be more practical in some instances), I have configured the language setting to my mother tongue. Is this some kind of a reinsurance towards the potential frustration and difficulties of technology? I am not sure, but I have decided to turn the whole lot back to English, as a sign of my determination to embrace my host culture. Voilà! (Oups... sorry for this last French digression, I promise, I won't do it again).

1 comment:

  1. Vraiment terrible ton blog, dommage qu'il ne soit pas plus commenté! J'ai lu quelques articles, j'aime bien cette petite touche d'humour qu'on retrouve à chaque fois...
    Je souhaite m'expatrier comme toi à Londres, c'est toujours interessant d'avoir le regard de français comme toi sur la vie là-bas...
    Je suis informaticien passioné de photo (comme toi lol), j'aime bien la pub aussi ^^
    Jpense ouvrir un blog et partager mon expérience un peu comme tu fais...
    En tout cas bonne continuation!