There are so many. And they are the key to understanding other worlds apart from your own. I feel like I have been fluent in Dutch and English for forever, so these languages are very comforting to me. I loved learning basic Indonesian so I could get around and order food while I was there. And it felt great to understand at least a fraction of the things the locals were saying. I realized how many things you can say with just a few words. Basic words that I already knew in French, but still I didn’t feel I was capable of communicating in French at all. I’ve been in France for a few months now, and the progress is there. I remember everything I learned in high school and I understand it much better than a few months ago. And now I’m craving fluency.
I love the language so much. The melody is so nice to listen to, the words can create subtlety, they can be very specific and they can be vague. There are so many expressions and they are used to convey daily messages. So yeah, I love learning all of it.
I’ve finally reached that stage where I don’t care about the many, many, many mistakes I make when speaking French. I realize that I can say anything and the message will come across. It’s just not always grammatically correct and my pronunciation can use some (a lot of) polishing. When I just arrived in France, I was very shy about speaking French. I was ashamed of the many mistakes I made and I didn’t feel free to just speak and use the words I already knew.
And that led me to the following realization, which is how the language you are communicating in, can change your (perceived) personality.
In Dutch, I’m me. I can be quiet and just listen to everything everybody else is saying, I can be loud and make jokes, sometimes involving puns. I can speak Dutch correctly, flawlessly. I can understand everything people are saying in Dutch and it makes me perceptive to what is going on around me.
In English, I really like the me I can be. First of all, people call me Sunny in English, which is name I feel suits me better than the boring Sanne. I can understand English without any effort and I like speaking English. I’m good at English and just knowing that I can speak two languages fluently boosts my confidence. I love jokes in English, I like the day to day conversations. In English, I can be myself, with an English (well, probably more American) twist. There are the occasional difficult words that I have to look up, and doing word games in English is harder than in Dutch. But all in all, the way of communicating in English feels very familiar to me.
In French, I was a very, very shy girl. I didn’t really speak a lot in the beginning, I was just listening to the conversations around me, trying to understand it all. I wouldn’t always say it when I didn’t understand what was said. Sometimes I would think of a joke during the conversation and I wouldn’t make it, because it would take me five minutes to find the right words. And this would frustrate me to no end, because that’s not me. I like to just blurt stuff out sometimes, to be able to participate in conversation. And I’m learning to live with this frustration every day, and it’s already getting a bit better. I just have to take my time to say the stuff that would usually cost me mere seconds to communicate.
In Indonesia, speaking the language made me a bule gaul. I was already white, blond and smiling a lot. Also speaking some of the language… well it just made me marriage material. I liked my Indonesian speaking self, because I did not expect to learn anything Indonesian and by the end I actually knew quite a lot. I also really like the fact that everybody (including me) smiles in Indonesia, which made the whole experience very happy for me.
Now, when I meet somebody who speaks French and only a little bit of English, I prefer to communicate in French. That way, I have the control over the conversation. Sure, when I speak in English, I could say much more and give better and clearer insights, but the other party will probably not understand all of it. So if I do it in French, it will take me longer and it will be less specific, but at least I know that my conversational partner will understand what I’m saying.
Fluency is something that will take years, and I’m well aware. But I’ve wanted it for years, and now finally at least there is some progress.
Who knows, maybe one day I’ll type a whole blog in French. That would be a real quick way to lose all my readers, I suppose…
So to end this language story, I want to share a little thing that happened to me the other day. I go to the local market near my house twice a week and I mostly buy the same things at the same vendors. At some point they will recognize the foreigner who always buys bananas and nectarines. So now I’m greeted so kindly:
‘Ah ma chérie, comment ça va?’
‘Bonjour mon coeur!’
Also, I get a bunch of free stuff and discounts, all the time. The best was when I got two little boxes of raspberry’s for free. But then this past Wednesday my market-boyfriend topped this.
I had already paid for my vegan supplies, and had put them away. And as I was turning to walk away, he held up a bouquet of parsley in front of my face.
‘Des fleurs,’ he said, smiling.
J’adore la France.