Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Who am I - part one.

My first foreign language was French: I started in Junior High, but it started much earlier: It really began with imitating Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther movies. Then my superhero alter ego "Captain Quebec". In neither case was French actually spoken... but it was intended.

In Junior High, I suspect that of a class of 25, there may have only been 3-4 of us with any true interest in the language, and we had to play it down because apparently it was a "totally gay" language that you only took because Spanish was full (disclosure - this was JUNIOR HIGH in the early 1980s - sensitivity was not particularly en vogue). It probably didn't help that the teacher was a dashiki-wearing white guy with a combover, a lazy eye, and an effeminate manner.

It stuck with me through high school and into college. I took a class trip in high school - 6 students and a professor driving through France in a van and staying in youth hostels for a month in June. Perhaps the most idyllic way to possibly see the country, and images still stick with me - spotting the Michelin man on signs, running through fields of lavender, taking the tram up Mont Blanc in Chamonix, the train by the lake in Lausanne...

It all made me a francophile, and I continued in college. I even lived in a French-only residence, where it became painfully obvious that my grasp on the language was at amateur level, that I would slip too easily into Franglais, and that I simply couldn't hold my own in a philosophical conversation en francais.

I could have hit the books harder, really dug into the subjunctive tenses and the more esoteric details of the language... but this was college, I was young, and honestly, working that hard is nerd's work. I was trying to be semi-cool.

So I expanded - I took Russian. French remained a love, but I resigned my self that I would not master it. Russian was mysterious - it sounded even more strange than French, and nobody knew it well... unlike German which sounded supercool BUT there were dozens of people who could speak it excellently - I would be looking at a French-like situation, where I would be proficient, but not able to truly hold an academic conversation. Russian was a new program and we would all be equal.

So I did two years of language, and a variety of literature courses. And I stopped for a couple of reasons:
1) My major was Music and that took a lot of time
2) I realized that I was never going to Russia and wasn't sure I wanted to speak it all that well.
3) I watched my best friend have a doomed romance with a russian emigre, so I decided that the whole subject might be better left at the door.

To this day, Russian phrases still pop into my head - it was well drilled. I can still decipher Cyrillic... and it makes for a good party trick.

So this far, you're probably saying 'this guy is not exactly my idea of a language addict". I don't blame you. No, it was a series of events in early 2005 that flipped a magic switch in my brain and turned me into the addict I am today. In a few days, I'll relate those events.

Thanks for reading!

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