10. a language adventure. travel and culture

The French pride themselves on their logic. Whatever goes against their logic is wrong, and is attacked without pity. For this reason they are sometimes seen as unfriendly or arrogant. To me, however, France was not only a stimulating country but also a very hospitable one. I received a scholarship that enabled me to enjoy my last two years in France. I met kindness and generosity from French people of all walks of life. While hitchhiking in the countryside, I was often invited to meals and to stay at people’s homes.

My commitment to the French language and culture helped create bridges with people. I am sure this would not have been possible had I remained a typical Anglophone North American. There are many English speaking North Americans who have been very successful at learning new languages. However, it is more commonly non-English speakers who make the effort to learn English. While this is unavoidable because of the unique international usefulness of English, it is a great loss to those English speakers who never experience the personal enrichment of learning a new language.

I delighted in visiting the countryside, seeing the historic villages and towns, and talking with people in French. As with most countries, France has regional accents. When you speak a foreign language you have to imitate the native speaker to acquire a native speaker accent. In my case, this meant that I spoke with a Parisian accent in Paris, a Southern accent on the Mediterranean, and so forth. This is hard to avoid, at least in the early stages. But it is also a good sign, since it shows that you are listening carefully to the pronunciation of native speakers.

Nevertheless, I have always felt that it is best for a non-native speaker to adopt the most standard form of the language rather than a regional accent. In every country there is a form of the language that is considered the standard. It might be the French spoken in Tours, the Mandarin spoken in Beijing,

or the Japanese spoken in Tokyo. It is always amusing to hear a foreigner speak in a regional accent, but the neutral feel of the standard pronunciation is usually the wiser course. Canadian English is such a standard or neutral form of English.

In a similar vein, a language learner is best to stay clear of idioms, slang and swear words. There is a lot of French slang, or argot as it is called, that I still do not understand. It does not bother me. I do not usually come across it in my reading, and I am not expected to be able to use it when I speak. Some language learners are in a hurry to use slang expressions before they know how to use them. I think a non-native speaker sounds best speaking in correct standard language.

The history of France is a history of the different people who have created Europe. Some of the earliest examples of human painting and sculpture are located in the caves of Southwestern France, dating back as far as 20,000 years ago. At the time of the Roman conquest over 2,000 years ago, the Celtic Gauls were dominant in France, although there were Greek colonies in the South, various other tribes in the North and the ancient Basques in the Southwest. The Romans brought with them their civilization, and created an engineering infrastructure that still survives in the amphitheaters, roads and aqueducts that tourists can visit today, especially in the South of France. With the Romans came the staples of the Mediterranean culinary tradition: bread, olive oil, and wine.

So France is a melting pot, as most countries are if you go back far enough.

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10. a language adventure. travel and culture