Friday 25 January 2019

I began three days ago

Monopoli in summer. Next time I am here, what will I be able to say?

I have been learning French for a long time and despite thinking that choosing maths as one of my Uni majors (maths and French) was wise given the dearth of maths teachers at the time that I graduated, it has always been the French that has got me the next job, onto the next adventure, living in the next place and meeting new people. I am competent in French, there is no doubt, but I continue to learn, and enjoy my language learning, every day.

My methods are tried and true - watching the French news (a whole lot easier now given that I can replay episodes on my computer, phone or television at any time), getting French email alerts (franceinfo) day and night, reading in French (a random choice of whatever I can lay my hands on from the libraries), communicating with my French friends (I never did think that Instagram and Facebook would work for me but they have proved me wrong) and being alert to any and all expressions, discussions and articles that would make my language more correct, more colloquial, more authentic. I also continue to speak French to my son, which keeps me on my toes but has become such a habit that I'm not sure we'll ever change our ways.

I have loved my role as a French teacher (no, I am not writing a cover letter although re-reading this it looks that way) and this too has continued to reinforce my own skills.

So, becoming a learner of a new language is exciting, but strangely disconcerting. I know how far I have to go, I know how much time and passion I will have to dedicate to my learning and, if I am honest, I am slightly trepidatious that it will impact my French (change my accent, interfere with my fluency) even though I know exactly what I would respond to someone voicing this fear to me.

In my last blog, I recounted the linguistic surprise that I received at the Italian Consulate, which resulted in me having to take a much quicker journey to speaking Italian than I was expecting.

I began three days ago...

by heading over to Duolingo. My teaching sensors were on high alert from the very beginning...why was I being taught this, what could the pattern be that I was being exposed to by repetition, would I learn which word needed il and which la without a list of masculine and feminine nouns by my side, would the lack of grammatical explanations hinder or help my progress...? It is so very different from the classroom text books which mostly start with simple greetings and progress so very slowly. In the first five minutes of Duolingo I was writing, repeating and putting together sentences.

I then headed to Babbel. Just the faffing around with setting up the microphone was a hint that it was not going to be the right fit for me, but confirmed when I was made to repeat Grazie, Ciao and Buona notte over and again in the same time that I had put together Io mangio il pane (I am eating the bread) on Duolingo. But, this is not to knock Babbel. I suspect that the rapid introduction of new words and grammatical ideas (without them being explained explicitly) over on Duolingo would be off-putting to many complete beginners.

Some of what I have completed so far: 

conjugation of parts of a few verbs (eat, cut, drink, be...but I don't yet know the infinitives), introduction to a couple of prepositions (nel, ai), making a sentence negative with a single word 'non' (in French you need two words), not noticing initially that 'no' and 'non' were different and used differently ('no' when you mean 'No' and 'non' to make a sentence negative), the use of gli (not i) to make an article plural when you have a noun beginning with a vowel (eg gli uccelli), the pronunciation of the 'c' in forchetta (not ch), discovering that some words are great fun to say (cuochi, bicchieri, burro, aglio), finding that my ear is not tuned into the difference between il and un when said quickly in the middle of a sentence and using il (French) for he (instead of lui) and wanting to pronounce un as I would in French...

Fingers crossed I can keep it up... what if this were just the universe's way of letting me know that my next adventure will be more verde, biancho e rosso  than bleu, blanc, rouge?

PS I love the photo of my son and I, which seemed to fit today's blog ... in Italy and reaching up, up, up.

Wednesday 23 January 2019

Io scrivo un libro and other linguistic tales

Io scrivo un libro ... I am writing a book.

No, this is not an announcement or something that I've been keeping from you. I have to learn Italian - and not just a few random words, or sentences that will get me a shot of coffee in the morning.

Let me hasten to add that this was always my intention BUT it would have been nice to have been forewarned before I spent hours preparing my application, paying copious amounts of money getting all manner of certificates and having them apostilled and translated, filling in forms and then paying even more money into foreign bank accounts that a B1-level language test would be mandatory before I could be granted Italian citizenship. Was this information anywhere to be found on the website detailing the process? No. When did this new rule come into play? Early January ... this year!

So, just for good measure...

Io mangio una mela - no, actually I am not eating an apple, but I am pretty happy with that phrase


Io sono una donna - but a pretty worn out one at that after this latest revelation.

We did have some success, though, at the Italian Consulate Offices this morning where I was greeted with this new linguistic challenge - four new Italian passports for my husband and children.

It takes me back ten years to the very up-and-down period before our departure for France. Re-reading the small excerpt from 'But you are in France, Madame' (below) never fails to make me want that all over again. The busyness, the tiredness, the trepidation, the worry that our passports wouldn't come through on time or that we wouldn't have enough money, the awareness that I would need to step up as the only real French speaker, the uncertainty over housing, schooling, work ... I'd take all of that again in a heartbeat knowing what I know now. If you are even semi-seriously contemplating a family adventure like ours, do it ... just do it. And, if you are hesitating and need someone to bounce ideas off, send me a message. I'm always very happy to help.

The final weeks before setting off disappeared in an exhausting madness of attempting to keep the lives of our children relatively normal, while completing the ever-expanding list of things to do. The children themselves, aged at that stage 6, 9 and 12, were in a blissful state of incomprehension about their future in a far-away, friendless, non-English-speaking environment and caught up in the excitement of having unusually indulgent parents—both of whom were constantly behaving rather erratically, forgetting to put them to bed or into the bath, and saying weird, unheard-of things like, “Help yourselves to whatever you’d like in the pantry”. And then distractedly, “Certainly”, to their quizzically opportunistic, “Including the lollies?” follow-through.

Even the full shelf of lollies, left over from the interminable round of ‘parties with party bags’ that the children had attended, was fair game. Surprisingly, my furtive nightly raids on their bags had not contributed to a significant reduction in the mountain of Minties, Smarties and chocolate bars. The children were obligingly happy to help change that and equally as happy to have packets of chips or spaghetti out of a can for dinner, with an ice cream chaser for dessert. How lucky it was that I could escape the healthy-eating, good-parenting critics, as it all took place in complete anonymity.

Our arrival in Geneva - after years and years of planning.

PS I'm not a McDonald's fan, but the billboard next to the bus stop, on the way home, was an emphatic full stop to the whole morning's linguistic story. 

"Cheese burger, anyone?"
"Quelqu'un veut un burger au fromage?"

Hmm, now what might that be in Italian?

And, why, you might ask, am I even going down this Italian passport route? One unfriendly-to-me word - Brexit.

Wednesday 16 January 2019

It is always a race when there are two boats on the water

The Derwent Hunter - our tall ship for a day

We had all been given bright yellow rain jackets to put on; the sort that I wore decades ago over my school uniform but under protest. Visibility was a little further than the railing on the boat, but not far enough to take in the Jurassic Park-lookalike islands, hiding out there somewhere in the fog and slanting rain. Instead, from my position under cover, I focussed on shaping the stiff, brightly coloured material, which I had stretched over my knees, into channels, and watching the water gush through them before cascading over my bare legs and onto the deck. 

We were in the Whitsunday Islands and, when booking our day's sailing and snorkelling adventure, I had had to put aside my fear of being in the water with deadly jellyfish and sharks, by focussing on the white sandy beaches in the publicity material, the Great Barrier Reef that I would get to see before it whites-out completely and the anticipated pleasures of a gentle breeze in my hair, the sight of an occasional bird and the singing and sighing of the tall ship. I hadn't envisioned dreaming of a hot bath at 8.30 in the morning.

She had a history this girl and I was impressed. Could the moral of my story be that experience counts, I wondered, as I listened to the crew distract us from the elements by recounting The Derwent Hunter's exploits? Lovingly, and expertly, crafted, she had survived mountainous seas, a trip to Antarctica, racing in a tall-ships' Sydney to Hobart, an inglorious period as a television-series prop and, intriguingly, running packages that probably could not have been posted at a regular post office. Her maker had seen 83 years before he began work on her and, would that he be alive, to hear of her 70-odd-year journey and know that she had surmounted each and every challenge that had been put before her. I know that I felt proud of her achievements and I had nothing to do with her conception.

The nearly all-female crew, too, had me beaming. Is it because I am a Mum, is it because I am a teacher or is it just what we should all be delighting in...but for days afterwards, I could not stop talking about the friendly, personable, efficient and knowledgeable way in which they guided us through the day.  

In the middle of the 'show-and-tell' session on our way back to harbour after snorkelling and lunch, the clouds lifted, the sun shone and, when all sails were hoisted, the engine was switched off. Calm, peaceful, warm, blue...until we spotted another tall ship. 

"It is always a race when there are two boats on the water."

I laughed and leant back to enjoy the spectacle, surmising that so often life's lessons come at you in the most unexpected moments. 

PS We are not in France this Australian summer and, as much as I miss Annecy, the snow and rugging up against the cold, this beach life, I have to admit, has been a lot of fun!

If you are a new reader of this blog, and would like to discover how we lived our French family life, here it is - 'But you are in France, Madame' (available in print or e-book).

The sun desperately trying to peek through the clouds. She made it.

Friday 4 January 2019

It seems that it isn't about the quality any more...and I like that.

I was late to social media and was following instructions when I hit publish on my first blog (picture above), started a Facebook account and learnt about Instagram. Sceptical, I figured that it was worth a shot as marketing was really the name of the game.

"Look here. How beautiful."
"Wow, that's a big project."
"Oh, I miss the snow."
"Ha! This pig has character."

What? I was interacting ... on social media, and not in a 'flick, click and onto the next' sort of way. I was genuinely interested in the stories that I was looking at. It occurred to me that I knew these people in the photos. I was not a friend, nor was I attempting to become that, but I was connected all around the world.

Curious, I looked back at my own Instagram photos. As far as quality goes; some are ok, some are very average, but the little waves of hello (likes) and the occasional comment always happen. It seems that it actually isn't about the quality anymore, and I like that. Of course, when I post classically beautiful scenes of France, I can count on more interaction from the other side of the screen, but mostly from people that I have never heard from.

The French word for an acquaintance is une connaissance from the verb connaĆ®tre (to know). That was what sent me to sleep last night; reflecting on the pleasure that I get from knowing my worldly connaissances and receiving frequent snap-shots, updates if you like, of what is happening in their worlds.

Friends, in an old-fashioned pen-pal sort of way. So nice.

For more of our French story - Kindle or print - click here But you are in France, Madame