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A Twisted Tongue

If you have been following along with my language struggles, you will know I profess to know and understand only two words in French. And, to a point, that’s true. But I do also know several very helpful phrases, which I use on a daily basis to get by with, while out and about in the city.

But these phrases fail me when anyone launches into a full-on conversation beyond the very basics, and I mean, the very basics.

And so it was, I found myself at the Dentist’s reception this morning booking an appointment to see the hygienist in a couple of months time.

You would think it simple enough to memorize a couple of sentences in order to fumble my way through asking to make an appointment, and, understanding the responses while providing my own. But I suffer from what I call, “Brick wall syndrome.” In that when anyone says a word I’m not familiar with or speaks too fast for my inept brain to translate quickly enough, I hit said brick wall with force. I then stall and become an idiot mumbling gibberish. Much, I might add, to the amusement of those on the other side.

Thankfully, the receptionist at my dentist is all to familiar with dilemma and is kind enough to try out her rusty English. So that, in the end, we get by.

It happens all too often and, you would think, that after all the time I have lived here, I would have improved. But no, I really do have absolutely no knack with languages, and especially, it would seem, French.

I’m no Joan of Arc so at least no one here, in Québec, is going to burn me at the stake for my heresy and abysmal language skills. I’m seen as someone to be pitied and given the benefit of the doubt. After all, I do try to speak the language, however badly. And, around here, they do appreciate that.

And for that, I am truly thankful!


  1. I think people really do appreciate your efforts to speak French, Alex, even if you aren’t fluent. You aren’t alone, either. Lots of research suggests strongly that it’s much easier for children to learn another language than it is for adults. There are several reasons for that, with which I won’t clutter up your comments section. But it seems to be borne out by the data. There are exceptions, of course, as there are with nearly everything. Add to that that other research suggests it takes 5 to 7 years to develop fluency even for children, and it’s not surprising that adults have difficult learning a new language, even when they use it regularly.

    • La Blonde says

      I do try to remind myself, Margot, that as someone in the retirement age bracket, it’s been 40+ years since I took French at school. So I knew moving to a French-speaking province was going to be a challenge. And the truth is, every week I do learn a little bit more. It’s interaction that helps and people willing enough, and patient enough, to take the time to let me talk, and teach in return.

      But I’m glad to know that data backs up the fact it’s a little more difficult with age, than in youth. But then again, some people just have a knack with languages. My partner speaks 3!

  2. Kenny Harrison says

    In most social interactions with people of a different tongue, they feel honored that you’re trying to communicate in their language, that you care enough to try.

    • La Blonde says

      I hope so, Kenny. Most people smile, some laugh (as well they might at my choice of word) and usually are benign about the whole process. Occasionally someone gives me the ‘look’. But that has been rare. So I consider myself lucky.

      I’m optimistic that one day it will all fall into place. What might help is language lessons this Fall semester. 😀

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