Learning French

Part of my preparation for October’s trip to Trois Riviéres in Quebec is to learn French. I learned German at school, and later taught myself Russian, but both of those were a very long time ago. And although I’ve been to France en vacances many times since the 1970s, I’ve never tried to learn the language formally. Now I have to. I tried to get on a local evening class, but it was cancelled for lack of interest. Then I found a tutor who thought she could maybe manage to give me private tuition, but then found she couldn’t fit me in between her other commitments. Finally I found a YaketyYak group which meets weekly in a café in North Berwick.

I was a bit terrified to start with – the conversation is conducted solely in French, and my limited vocabulary makes it hard to respond en français. Plus there are acoustic problems with the café setting. My increasing hearing difficulty means I have to wear two hearing aids, and they amplify everything, including background noise. I know that I might be able to get better hearing aids privately, but for the moment I’m sticking with my NHS ones.

So I mis-hear and often misunderstand the direct questions our tutor throws at me, but I’m usually able to chip in later in the general conversation. Unless it’s about the ethics of 3-parent offspring, smacking one’s children, or workplace bullying. Goodness knows what topic is going to come up tomorrow, but the common thread so far has been ethics. Maybe it’ll be about religion? I’d better go and brush up le bouddhisme Zen.  What’s French for enlightenment?

On the translations front, I have to bring 30 of my poems translated into French, and thanks to the kindness of a Scottish poet friend I’ve been put in touch with someone who can do this. I’m very lucky – translating poetry isn’t easy – but she now has half a douzaine of my poems to work on, and we’ll see how that goes. And one of my Dunbar friends is French, and he’s helping me very enthusiastically. I’m sure I’m going to manage it.



About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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One Response to Learning French

  1. hyllemannen says:


    – although the use of the term in a variety of contexts would render a number of different translations – good luck with that.

    Jennifer Reeser translates professionally (I think), so she may not have any time. She does tend to lend a helping hand though.

    A lot of French people, or some anyway, have had trouble understanding the Quebecois dialect, so expect a degree of opacity. I’m sure they’ll be happy enough just to know that you’re not English and that you’ve made an effort.

    Send me a couple of poems, or as many as you like, I’m a long way from being a professional linguist but I have no problem understanding your English and alternative takes are usually at least a laugh.

    Good luck with it. I’m slightly envious, but you deserve it and I don’t so there’s no pain in that.

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